Health steps being taken at Baleh HEP site

Baleh HEP Project site.

KUCHING: The Ministry of Utilities is collaborating with Sarawak Energy to resolve the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected the implementing agencies at the Baleh Hydroelectric Project site.

Sarawak Energy is undertaking containment measures with the cooperation and guidance of the District Disaster Management Committee and Health and Security authorities, both of which have deployed teams to the site.

Minister of Utilities, Datuk Sri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom said the Baleh Hydroelectric Project is a critical state infrastructure project that employs over 500 Sarawakians from across the state, including Kapit and the surrounding areas, with foreign workers filling the remaining positions.

Since March 2020, the project has implemented strict Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) with regulated entries and exits, which have kept the Baleh site Covid-19-free until recently.

On April 18, a local from Kapit district who had returned to work at the Baleh site was confirmed positive Covid-19 as a result of contact with cases from the Pasai Cluster causing mass testing to be immediately initiated, and a large number of positive cases were discovered among project staff.

Even before the enhanced movement control order (EMCO) was issued, the site emergency response plan was initiated, and the Baleh HEP site was placed on lockdown, resulting in the site’s closure and the segregation of all employees into onsite quarantine centres.

It was discovered that 60 of the 970 contractor employees at the Baleh site missed the requisite permits, and all were expelled and escorted out of the site by Immigration officers on April 24.

Sarawak Energy had initiated an inquiry and a physical site enforcement audit would be carried out as soon as the Emco is lifted, as part of SEB’s efforts to implement its zero-tolerance policy for employees without valid permits on worksites.

“All errant contractors discovered to be hiring employees without valid work permits would face significant penalties, as conveyed to the contractors,” stressed Dr Rundi.

Meanwhile, the Baleh HEP project team would also increase monitoring of its contractor camps by conducting more regular audits and spot checks in addition to the routine joint operations between Sarawak Energy, the Sarawak Immigration Department and the police at the Baleh site.

“We hope that the tightening of border protection will help to prevent illegal immigrants (Pati) from entering Sarawak through porous borders.

“I’d like to thank all of the relevant authorities and agencies for collaborating with Sarawak Energy and my Ministry to keep our people and communities secure,” Dr Rundi said.