The following just my DIY transcript of the interview part from Al-Jazeera’s 101 East: Fight For Power featuring Sarawak Land Development Minister DS Dr James Jemut Masing and Al-Jazeera correspondent Fauziah Ibrahim. 😉

*Update* Some typo error corrected in the transcript.  Also added is the Mkini report on that interview.

Fauziah Ibrahim (FI):
It’s been a lot controversy of the environmental fallout of the Bakun dam which currently it has not been finished yet and yet there are plans to build 12 more new dams. Are these extra dams necessary?

James Jemut Masing (JJM):
For Sarawak it is necessary. Sarawak will require clean and cheap electricity that is renewable and for Sarawak it will not be…it is only wise for us to utilise the rainfall that we have and the rivers that we have…dams need to be built to provide cheap and renewable energy.

FI – There are experts though say that Sarawak has enough energy and there is no need 12 new dams.

JJM – Sarawak has enough energy as it is today but we must look down toward 20 years down the road and by that time we may not have enough energy. if no renewable fossil fuel You know very well the cost of fuel (is escalating).

FI – Are you expecting the same sort of environmental fallout that we say from the Bakun dam?

JJM – I don’t think there is such thing as environmental fallout. I don’t believe that is correct.

FI – Ten thousand people displaced.

JJM – That is not environmental fallout..that is..

FI – Virgin forest being cut down.

JJM – Virgin forest are half of the area, half of the area has been felled, shelved by shifted cultivators so basically what is in that dictated exactly are felled forest…secondary forest…

FI – And what about the indigenous people that lived there? They lost their livelihoods, they lost their homes…

JJM – Well, not quite lose their home…they are resettled and have them moved to new areas which has have trend toward modern development and that’s what we’re trying to do.

FI – Were they consulted though? Many of them are unhappy that they have been moved. They had no say about this move and they lost their traditional way of life.

JJM – That is not quite correct. I was one of the social scientist that did the survey prior to the Bakun dam and I spend a few years with consultants from oversea try to work out make sure that they’re resettled in areas which they have the say in it and they have consulted and the fact that the longhouses that we built in Bakun are in fact are joint venture effort between the government and the people who were resettled and that is why they are still staying in the longhouses with the difference.

FI – But what about the 12 new dams? What preparation has been made for these indigenous tribes?

JJM – The proposal of the 12 new dams is just a proposal for the next maybe 20, 25 years down the road. I think government…any responsible government must be responsible for what happen in the future. You cannot assume today we have enough therefore no need to prepare for the future. If you that, to me that is irresponsible government.

FI – That is understandable that the future that you’re talking about, the economic future of Sarawak. But what about the future of these indigenous tribe?

JJM – They have been allocated for their future and that is why we have the consultant with them all the time. To accuse us that we don’t consult them is wrong.

FI – How much is the construction of these new dams link to boosting the family business for the chief minister’s family?

JJM – I don’t think there is…(Smiling)

FI – Well the family business is Cahya Mata Sarawak, CMS and they will be providing the construction materials for the dams.

JJM – Not for the next 12 dams…

FI – Not for the next 12 dams? Where would be…is CMS in any way link to the dams?

JJM – (Pause)..Not that I’m not aware of…That dam structure are done to legal tenders and the lowest tender gets it. It doesn’t matter whether if CMS or somebody else. It must be done on tender basis.

FI – Right.

JJM – And that is very transparent tender and international community can have a look at that.

FI – Alright Ok, but these dams have nothing to do with the chief minister?

JJM – No, what happen is done is done on very transparent methods of tendering process and that can gives open book for people to have a look.

FI – And so you are saying CMS will not be providing with building materials for these dams?

JJM – If they are qualified and they found that they deemed to be qualified, why not? It is open tender process. The best will get it.

FI – They has been though in the history of Sarawak that in the thirty years of the chief minister’s history with Sarawak there have been cases where there has not been open tender and this is flouting state’s legislation.

JJM – I’m not aware of it…(Smiling)

FI – Well right, I tell you that there is no open tender for the aluminium smelting project Rio Tinto, that was given to CMS family-owned business by the chief minister.

JJM – (Looks guilty…)

FI – There is no open tender for 2006 contract to repair or build bridges and that was awarded to Titanium Management of which the chief minister’s son is the major shareholders. Now both these two case that we’ve been able to come out with…there are others that people have told us. Now both these cases flout state legislation.

JJM – What…(try to interject and smile)

FI – Is it fair to say those state contracts are given to CMS and the chief minister’s family business.

JJM – What we must understand that we do have rules and laws regarding people to decide. If the decision is made by people with vested interest there are laws that would not allow it.
(Adjusting his neck-tie!)
It is illegal, you know also very well, it is illegal for people have their authority to give the authority with vested interest. It is illegal…you cannot do it because there is no illegality in it. I won’t assume there is none but all these things are done through tender process which are transparent.

FI – But these cases has been not given on open tender…

JJM – There are…there are bidding for it…

FI – Rio Tinto case…Titanium Management…

JJM – There are few companies that has been ask to bid for it, I know, and the best company gets it…and fortunately…unfortunately…given to the company in which the authority has some interest but it is done legally.

FI – Are you saying that there is no capital cronyism in Sarawak?

JJM – I don’t think so…If there is, those who deal with that will be dealt by the law. Until today there is nothing, so one word must assume there is no cronyism as such.

FI – The chief minister is also state finance, he is also planning minister. His family business includes the cement manufacturing, construction, road maintenance, property development…these same business that we found have been involved in lucrative infrastructure projects. You can understand how improper it may seem and you saying there is no capital cronyism in Sarawak?

JJM – That is assumption…to me that is assumption…as I said it must be very important that there are laws in this land that prevent the happening of that nature. If laws that people find that there are people who breaking that law, then they must be put to task but until today there is none.

FI – Who will hold the chief minister and his family accountable?

JJM – The electorate. Every five years you go…to the electorate and they will decide whether you are guilty or not. And I believe that the voters in Sarawak are very intelligent voters and they will know if you done wrong. And if they cannot get through legal means, they can get through the political process. So far you can’t blame them we come clean with it .

FI – In some ways though you also been considered an ally of the chief minister. You yourself…

JJM – I am…(Oh yeah..!)

FI – You admit you are an ally…

JJM – I am an ally…

FI – Crony of the chief minister..?

JJM – I don’t think…crony means friends…I am a friend of…

FI – A friend of the chief minister…

JJM – Yes…(Eye blinking! Wink! Wink!)

FI – You are of indigenous decend…

JJM – I am…(wink! wink!)

FI – You are also the state land development minister…

JJM – Yes..I am…

FI – And this is at a time when there is a lot of anger of the displacement of thousands of indigenous people because of huge dam that are as experts say economically unfeasible and useless.

JJM – I…(Smile)

FI – Do you feel guilty that as an indigenous person that these people have been displaced for economic reasons..?

JJM – I feel that is the correct way of doing it. I don’t think because I think it is correct. I don’t have any guilt feeling and trying to defraud help my people, no I don’t have.

FI – Minister, thank you for your time.

JJM – Thank you .

FI – We did invite the chief minister to appear on this programme but his office decline. And that’s all the time we have for 101 East, thank you very much for watching and see you again next week.


Masing pleads ‘not guilty’ over indigenous displacement
MKini, Mar 21, 09 2:32pm

Sarawak Land Development Minister James Masing told a tv news channel that he has absolutely no guilt over the displacement of indigenous people caused by the construction of hydro-electric dams in the state.

“I don’t feel guilty. I feel that is the correct way of doing it. I don’t have any guilt feeling for trying to help my people,” said Masing on the Al-Jazeera’s 101 East programme Thursday night. [Watch 10-min video]

Host Fauziah Ibrahim had asked Masing if he felt guilty, as a person of indigenous descent, over indigenous people being displaced to make way for economic development.

During the programme, Masing defended the construction of dams, such as the massive Bakun hydroelectric dam and the proposal to build 12 new ones, because the state government was preparing for the future.

“Sarawak has enough energy as it is today. But we must look 20 years down the road. By that time we may not have enough energy. You know very well the cost of fuel (is escalating),” he said.

Masing defends CM

Masing also defended the involvement of Cahaya Mata Sarawak (CMS), a company owned by family members of Chief Minister Taib Mahmud in the construction of the dams.

“The dam constructions are done to legal tenders. The lowest tender gets it. It doesn’t matter if CMS or somebody else. It must be done on tender basis.

“That is very transparent. The international community can take a look at it… it is an open book for everyone to look,” he said.

When Fuziah pointed out that there are numerous cases in which projects were given to companies linked to Taib without open tenders, Masing said: “I was not aware of it”.

Fuziah replied by that the Similajau aluminum smelting plant was given to CMS while the construction of several bridges were awarded to Titanium Management Sdn Bhd, which Taib’s eldest son Mahmud Abu Bekir holds substantial interest in.

‘Everything was transparent’

Even with evidence presented before him, Masing maintained that these awards were given fairly and in accordance with the law.

“We have rules and laws… If there is a decision made by people who have vested interest, there are laws which does not allow it. It is illegal for people in authority to give authority with vested interest.

“All these things have been done through open tenders. They are transparent,” he said.

“In the case of the aluminum smelter, there were a few companies that were asked to bid for it. I know. And the best company gets it.

“Unfortunately, it was given to a company where the authority has some interest. But it is done legally,” he added.

‘I’m a friend of the chief minister’

Meanwhile, Fuziah also scrutinised Masing over his links to Taib. Masing admitted that he was an “ally” to Taib, but gave a less outright answer when asked if he was Taib’s “crony”.

“I don’t think (so). Crony means friends. I am a friend of the chief minister,” he said.

On whether there was “crony capitalism” going on in Sarawak, Masing replied in the negative because no one has been brought to book over such matters.

“I don’t think so. If there is, those who deal in it would be dealt by the law. Until today, there is nothing. One must assume there is no cronyism as such,” he said.

On who would keep the chief minister and his family accountable, Masing said the electorate would.

“I believe the voters in Sarawak are a very intelligent group of people,” he added.