International Hydropower Association urged to cancel Sarawak conference

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The industry group has been warned over risks to its reputation arising from concern over corruption surrounding Malaysia’s dam construction scheme and its lack of sustainability, reports Bruno Manser Fund.

Photograph: International Hydropower Association via Flickr
Photograph: IHA Central Office via Flickr

LONDON, UK — The International Hydropower Association (IHA), an industry group that claims to advocate the sustainable use of hydropower, has been urged to cancel its annual conference planned to be held in Kuching, Malaysia, in May 2013.

The conference is hosted by Sarawak Energy, a public company controlled by Abdul Taib Mahmud, the controversial Chief Minister of the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

In a letter to the IHA, the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) called on the lobby group to call off the Kuching conference and shift it to a new location. “Sarawak Energy is currently involved in one of Asia’s largest dam-building schemes, in which none of the relevant international standards are being applied,” the Bruno Manser Fund wrote.

The planned 12 new dams would flood large tracts of the Borneo rainforest, one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world. Tens of thousands of Sarawak natives are facing forced resettlement without being properly consulted on the impact of the dams scheme on their livelihood.

“There is a real and high danger that your association will be abused to greenwash the Sarawak government’s dam plans,” the Bruno Manser Fund wrote. “These plans are facing fierce local opposition and will mainly benefit companies linked to Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud.”

The Bakun mega dam, which has been constructed in Sarawak during Taib’s tenure, has been labelled by Transparency International a ‘monument of corruption’ and there are no indications that Taib’s latest dam plans will not be linked to massive corruption.

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Earlier this week, lawmakers in Switzerland announced they would push for a freeze of Taib assets suspected to be held by Swiss banks. In a criminal complaint lodged with Switzerland’s Attorney General, Swiss MP Carlo Sommaruga called for the Taib family to be declared a criminal organisation. The Taib family’s assets, estimated at US$20bn, are largely the fruit of corruption and abuse of public office.

“We believe that the choice of Kuching as venue of the next IHA conference would be extremely damaging to the IHA’s reputation,” the Bruno Manser Fund wrote to the industry group. The International Hydropower Association has not replied yet to the letter, which it received last month.

Source: Bruno Manser Fund

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