Torstein Dale Sjøtveit, a Norwegian, has just been appointed CEO of Sarawak Energy Berhad Group, a state-owned electricity monopoly in East Malaysia. He used to work at Norsk Hydro.
He’ll be in charge of implementing the Sarawak government’s plan to build 12 new dams along Sarawak’s major rivers. There’s a good chance these dams are going to ruin the livelihoods of thousands of natives and further damage Sarawak’s fragile tropical forest. Construction work has already started on another megaproject, the 940 MW Murum dam, even before the highly controversial 2400 MW Bakun dam is completed.
A protest memorandum was delivered to the authorities in Kuching by fifteen native leaders last September, despite the government’s denials.
Indigenous lawyer Baru Bian says damming rivers disrupt native communities’ traditional lifestyle. They’re losing their land and history. The dam plans are also a “pretext to extinguish native land rights in the watersheds of our main rivers, under the name of a public purpose.” Baru, who chairs the Sarawak branch of Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party (PKR), thinks the dams aren’t just a threat to their existence and livelihood. Sarawak has enough power, so there’s no need for these dams.”
He said that he had visited both the Bakun and Murum dam sites and found them to be very impressive in a first media briefing. The 54-year-old replaces Taib Mahmud’s brother-in-law Abdul Aziz Husain, who handed him over without any explanation.
In addition to receiving a salary of 1.2 million dollars (tax free), Bruno Manser receives a free housing allowance. Approximately 10,000 USD (35,000 Ringgit) per year is the average annual household income in Sarawak.
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