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Hydro Tasmania Quits Controversial Sarawak Dams, NGO "Dirty Politics" Blamed

Malaysia, KUCHING

Renewable energy company Hydro Tasmania announced this week that it will pull its personnel out of Malaysia’s Sarawak state by the end of 2013. Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud has shrugged off the company's announcement as "no big deal", blaming "dirty politics" by NGOs.

The energy company’s CEO, Roy Adair, made the pull-out promise to a delegation of indigenous Sarawak leaders, who were in Australia to lobby the company to stop participating in Sarawak’s plans to dam most of the state’s rivers.

The government of the Australian state of Tasmania owns Hydro Tasmania. Hydro Tasmania’s professional services business, Entura, provides engineering and management services to the Sarawak electric utility, Sarawak Energy Berhad.

Hydro Tasmania has been under pressure from Malaysian NGOs and groups in Australia to stop its participation in the Sarawak projects, particularly the controversial Murum and Baram dams.

Adair said in a meeting with the Sarawak campaigners on December 3that Hydro Tasmania will leave Sarawak by the end of next year.

The company will fulfill its “remaining contractual obligations until that time,” Adair told indigenous leaders Peter Kallang and James Nyurang from the nonprofit group Save Sarawak Rivers and Peter John Jaban from Radio Free Sarawak during a meeting in Launceston.

He said the company’s role in the state’s hydropower plans was diminishing, and that it would not be involved in construction of the contentious Baram Dam.

He noted that “allegations of corruption made around the hydropower project are being investigated by the Malaysian authorities. Rather than pre-judge the outcome, the business awaits the findings.

“In the meantime, our people working in Sarawak will continue to adhere to our values, code of ethics and commitment to sustainable development as they would no matter where they are working.”

The Sarawak state government plans to dam most of the rivers in the state’s interior, with planned investments of up to $105 billion USD by 2030. The dams constitute the core element of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy.

Responding to news of Hydo Tasmania’s withdrawal from the Baram Dam project, Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said: "If Hydro Tasmania wants to pull out, then so be it. We can get other firms to help us with the project."

He blamed the company’s decision, which he described as “no big deal” on “dirty politics” by NGOs.