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A conditional trinity as ‘no-go’ against non-credible development? Resettlement, customary rights and Malaysia’s Kelau Dam
Posted on 04 January 2017 by Azlinda Abd Rahim (Assistant Manager)
Abstract

The eruption of contestation is likely when development projects involve the displacement and resettlement of local communities, such as for dam-building, mining and plantations. Impact assessments are regarded as critical to mitigate a project’s adverse effects. However, development projects are institutional interventions and dependent on the endogenously grown context in which they are implemented. An oft-disregarded principle is that land-based institutions in a rural, developing context play a role in the provision of social security and welfare, rather than functioning for economic transfer. When that function is not acknowledged, the impact assessment – be it an environmental impact assessment (EIA), social impact assessment or hydropower sustainability assessment – merely serves as ‘windowdressing’ to legitimize the imposition of institutions that inevitably evolve into empty or non-credible institutions. The paper provides a compelling case: the resettlement of the Orang Asli, a Malaysian indigenous community, whose land was usurped for the Kelau Dam. By utilizing the Formal, Actual and Targeted (FAT) institutional framework (see Introduction, Ho 2016), it is demonstrated that the impact assessment served the supposition of communal rights by non-credible, private title. It is concluded that improved implementation perhaps does not lie in the impact assessment, but rather in distinguishing pre-conditions that constitute a ‘no-go-area’.

Keywords: development-induced displacement and resettlement (DIDR); dam building; FAT institutional framework; endogeneity and credibility; land as social welfare


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