Criticised Norwegian leaves Sarawak’s world of logging and environmental crime

For those Scandinavians who may have read the intriguing book ‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ a Norwegian named Datuk Torstein Dale Sjøtveit will be familiar (Datuk being his official Malaysian title given to him). Described in the book by its author as a “gatekeeper between the criminal world of the kleptocrat and the global economic and political world” Mr Sjøtveit is in this book heavily criticised for his involvement in the destruction of the rainforest and the complete lack of care for Borneo’s indigenous people.

Sarawak: a native Malaysian tribe fishing on the Baram River Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Sarawak: a native Malaysian tribe fishing on the Baram River
Sarawak: a native Malaysian tribe fishing on the Baram River

Mr Sjøtveit, CEO of Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) since the end of 2009, is now stepping down from his position at the end of October when his contract expires, reports Malay Mail Online.

“When Datuk Torstein informed us of his decision in 2015, we were saddened but it is a decision we must respect.

“I also informed the state government and the chief minister who were surprised and saddened to hear that Torstein did not wish to renew his contract, but respected his intention to leave,” chairman Datuk Hamed Sepawi said in a statement.

Sjøtveit  had been repeatedly criticised by a Swiss conservation organisation, the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), over his involvement in the state government’s plans to build 20 mega dams in Sarawak.

BMF had accused the 61-year-old of personally driving the Baram Dam agenda that angered indigenous communities when he participated in a controversial “miring” ceremony to “bless” the dam in April 2012.

“He failed to develop a thorough understanding of the indigenous communities’ rights and needs and obviously underestimated their resolve in stopping the Baram dam,” BMF said in a statement.

It also claimed the Norwegian’s contract was not renewed because he had failed to gain the trust of Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s decision to cancel the plans for the 1200MW Baram Dam. However, Adenan refuted BMF’s allegation that the state asked Sjøtveit to leave the state-owned utility company.

“He doesn’t want his contract to be renewed. He wants to go home. That is all,” the chief minister told reporters here.

“The claims by Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss-based non-governmental organisation, is not true,” he added.

Late last year, Adenan announced that the state government had decided to put on hold the construction of the dam, a key project of Sjøtveit ’s plans for Sarawak’s enforced energy development.

Last March, the state government finally decided to cancel the construction of the dam after strong protests from the affected communities in Baram.

About 20,000 indigenous people from 26 villages and settlement would be displaced and large areas of tropical rainforest submerged if the dam is built.


Photo: Sarawak: a native Malaysian tribe fishing on the Baram River.
Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images [email protected]

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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