Village Chief sacked over Dam project protest
SINGKUI TINGGI (pix showing the termination letter) thought he was only doing his job as a village head when he appealed to the State Government to reconsider the proposed Sungai Kadamaian dam project in the interest of more than 800 villagers in Kampung Tambatuon, Kota Belud Sabah.
But, his bravery to speak up instead saw him getting a one-month service termination notice for the post that he had been holding for the past 28 years from the Local Government and Housing Ministry last month.
Singkui, 78, said they were really hoping that proposed dam construction would be deferred in order to save their homes and properties in the village that had been in existence for the past three centuries from ending up being submerged in water.
In his statement in March, Singkui had said that as voters and staunch supporters of the government the people in Kampung Tambatuon had high confidence on the government's leadership to protect their welfare and future.
He said that even though they were paid compensation for the loss of their properties and land, it would not be able to guarantee the future of their generation.
The letter dated April 16, 2010 and signed by Datuk Haji Awang Sharin Alimin on behalf of the Ministry's Permanent Secretary, however, did not state the reason for Singkui's service termination.
On June 6, 2010, Singkui received a pleasant surprise when almost the entire top leadership of Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) led by President Datuk Seri Panglima Yong Teck Lee came to the village to personally view the affected village and listen to the villagers.
Together with SAPP advisor, Datuk Paul Wong and veteran politician, Datuk Mohd Noor Mansor as well as Deputy Presidents Datuk Eric Majimbun and Datuk Liew Teck Chan, Wanita Chief, Melanie Chia, Youth Chief, Edward Dagul and Information Chief, Chong Pit Fah, SAPP Kota Belud CLC Chief, Agnes Liew, Yong went to Singkui's house for a brief dialogue with the locals.
Earlier, Yong and the other SAPP leaders met with the people as they walked around the village and then to see the Tambatuon bombon at the nearby Sungai Kadamaian.
In responding to the villagers questions not only on the proposed dam project but also on the shrinking land for them to develop, Yong first said that he was proud to note that a man like Singkui who dare to speak up to tell the government that something was not right even if it may cost him his job.
"This is the weaknesses of Sabah people they will back out the moment they are threatened," he said.
Even the people elected representatives or ministers from Sabah are afraid to open up their mouth to voice out issues of the people as they scared losing their positions, he said.
Towards this end, Yong who is a former Chief Minister said the spirit shown by Singkui in fighting for their rights was commendable and should be emulated by the people of Sabah.
"To me you are still the Ketua Kampung (village head)," he told Singkui.
He also concurred with Singkui that SAPP never made a pack with him in calling for the government to defer the project to somewhere else.
"We are here because of the failure of the Kota Belud MP and Kadamaian Assemblyman. If they had listened to what the Ketua Kampung had to say it (the issue) would already have been resolved," said Yong.
He also questioned the reason that the government was willing to see the picturesque Kampung Tambatuon to be destroyed.
"To us from KK this place is like a paradise," he said.
The proposed project, Yong said involved constructing a 340m high dam, which is already considered as a mega project that cost billions of Ringgit.
Since it would be a mega project, he said it should require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report and in order for the report to be approved, it must comply with many requirements among them listening to the views of the local people.
"And if the procedures have been complied the EIA would have failed because there are school, church and many people living in the area," he said.
"But what we are seeing here today is the style of the government which will simply take out those who disagree with them," he said.
Yong promised that this would not happen when SAPP forms the government.
"This is not an election promise but this is our stand because SAPP is a people's party," he said, adding that it was unnecessary for SAPP to come to Tambatuon, which is nearly 30km from the township along the Kota Belud-Ranau by-pass, if the present elected representatives here had done their work.
Singkui asserted that the relevant quarters were as though trying to keep the project a secret from the villagers who were never informed about it and even the people doing the soil test in the village came so discreetly.
"I urge YB Datuk Herbert Timbun Lagadan to stop trying to persuade the villagers by taking them in a fully-sponsored trip to Batang Ai (Sarawak) to purportedly show the way the people there lives after relocation.
"In fact, if he have the money to pay for the villagers to Batang Ai, it would be better if he donate it for the construction of the Pastor's house in the village," said SIngkui.
On the shrinking land for the villagers to develop as they were told that it is bordering the National Parks as well as within a water catchment area, Yong said the laws for National Parks are tighter than the laws on Forest Reserves.
He said villages are allowed within the forest reserves like in the Sabah Forest Industry concession area and in Tongod since these villages had been there before the area was gazetted as a Forest Reserve.
However, Yong said in the past five years there had been cases where houses of kampong people being burnt down and chased out (of the forest reserves).
Like Mt Pock, Semporna, where villagers were chased out of the 2,000 hectares area in the forest reserve then the government tabled a Bill in the State Legislative Assembly to alienate these areas and given to a company for plantation development, he said.
"What is this? If it is water catchment area then just let it be a water catchment area. This is the priority of the SAPP Land Reformation Committee that is to return the land to the kampong people," he said, adding the committee would also be looking at all pending land applications before 1990s.
"If the dam is built this will surely lead to the downfall of the BN not only in Tambatuon but in Kota Belud and whole of Sabah," he said.
On another note, Yong said SAPP is proposing small-hydro power plants as an alternative for generating renewable energy and it would be adopted as a party policy.
Instead of building one large hydro power plant, he said several small-hydro power plants with a generating capacity of up to 10MW could be installed along the rivers.
The advantage of these small-hydro power plants, he said it does not result to significant environmental impacts such as no submergence of forests, no siltation of reservoirs, no rehabilitation and relocation as well as no seismological threats.
At the same time, he said the small dam built would served as a flood-control mechanism as well as could be integrated into existing irrigation structures apart from being a fuel-free green source of power.
Such concept had already been implemented successfully throughout the world in countries like China, Guyana, India and South Africa, he said, adding that in Sabah context small-hydro plant is an ideal source of clean energy as many villages are located next to or nearby river.