HSAP Ineffective in Corrupt Sarawak Dams
An interesting debate has unfolded following the release of a video last week by Dateline Australia investigating the relationship between the Australian energy company, Hydro Tasmania, and the highly controversial dam projects being built in Malaysia by the state-owned Sarawak Energy Berhad SEB. Both Hydro Tasmania and SEB are Sustainability Partners to the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP), a voluntary assessment tool that is threatening to displace existing social and environmental standards in dam development. The Dateline video exposed the corruption surrounding the
Hydro Tasmania’s involvement in Sarawak goes back to 2008 when Entura began consulting on feasibility studies for the Belga, Metjawah, Punan Bah and Pelagus dams; and provided a monitoring and evaluation assessment on the Batang Ai Dam. But greater attention was brought to Hydro Tasmania’s involvement as a safety consultant for the highly controversial Bakun Dam, which displaced 10,000 indigenous people and has violated internationally recognized human rights. These dams are part of a mega-dam scheme being launched by the corrupt Sarawak Chief Minister Abudl Taib Mahmud, whose family and cronies have their hands in numerous companies profiting off of the dam construction. As both videos show, the Australian public has scrutinized Hydro Tasmania for using their taxpayer money in a project mired with corruption. In fact, Australian Green Party Member Kim Booth wrote a letter to the Internal Review Officer of Hydro Tasmania asking why the company refused to release information about their consultancy work for SEB, noting that Entura must be using the HSAP to assist them as hydropower consultants given Hydro Tasmania’s role in the HSAP development. But as revealed in the Dateline video, Hydro Tasmania’s reply was simply that the details are of “commercial and financial nature” and, if released, would “expose them to competitive disadvantage.”
Hydro Tasmania says it is committed to the highest standards of sustainability, but it only seems to be flaunting the HSAP. During the ABC interview, Roy Adair touted the HSAP as a representation of the company’s values. “Hydro Tasmania has been at the heart of the development of this Protocol,” he stated, underscoring the heavy influence of the dam industry in the protocol’s development. When asked twice during interview about corruption auditing before entering a project, CEO Adair first replied, “We have checked that Sarawak Energy Berhad is a member of the International Hydropower Association and following the International Hydropower Association’s Protocol on sustainability.” When questioned a second time, Adair said that Hydro Tasmania does “not so much auditing” but conducts “pre-bid checks,” adding that they found SEB a company of “absolute integrity.”
Likewise, SEB is promoting the HSAP. SEB is also a member of the IHA and its CEO Torstein Sjotveit is on the IHA Board. One of the first Sustainability Partners to implement the HSAP on a project, SEB conducted an unofficial assessment on the Murum Dam this past April. However, the HSAP has already been proven ineffective in this project: not only were social and environmental impact assessments (ESIAs) never made public, but the 1,500 affected indigenous people have not been involved in any aspect of the project’s management or resettlement plans. Moreover, project director of the Murum Dam Andrew Pattle, who was contracted by SEB from Hydro Tasmania, said himself that SEB does not give much importance to safety and environmental compliance. Local Sarawak natives have been protesting the 12 proposed dams and calling out the clear breach of international standards on human rights and basic rights guaranteed under Malaysian law. Nonetheless, a representative of SEB said in the Dateline video that the government’s position on the need for the dams “overrides everything else.”
What standards are Hydro Tasmania and SEB actually following? Their staunch support of the HSAP is proving ineffective in addressing the corrupt Sarawak state's poor approach to dam building, and explicitly violates existing standards such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) (to which Malaysia is a signatory) and ILO Convention 169, which recognize the rights of indigenous people and requires the free, prior, and informed consent of affected communities before project development begins. Hydro Tasmania and SEB would do better to follow the strong recommendations of the World Commission on Dams, which clearly outline guidelines for open and participatory stakeholder engagement and transparent environmental assessments. These international standards offer protection against companies becoming involved in corrupt practices.
Although Hydro Tasmania and SEB may flaunt the voluntary and non-binding HSAP as best practice, with no punitive measures to enforce compliance and no requirements to abide by existing international standards like the UNDRIP, the HSAP has not been effective in guiding these Sustainability Partners in the development of the corrupt Sarawak dams. Stronger, binding standards – beyond the HSAP – are necessary for these companies to achieve best practice. Indeed, basic human rights are at stake.
- Learn more about the Sarawak dams
- Australia SBS Dateline Investigate Report Video (Part One: The Damned)
- ABC Radio Australia Interview (CEO Roy Adair speaks about SBS Dateline report on Sarawak)