Critics of the Bakun Dam hydro-electric project in the state of Sarawak have described an initial payout to affected residents as 'paltry'. A coalition of 'Concerned Non-Government Organisations on Bakun' also condemned as 'outrageous' a plan to have the residents pay M$50,000 (HK$137,500) for a family unit in traditional-style longhouses at the resettlement site. It said the sum was twice the amount required for a low-cost house in peninsular Malaysia, where homes were generally more expensive than those in the Borneo state. About 9,500 people, who have been making their living by fishing and farming along the banks of the Batang Balui River, are being forced to leave their homes because of the dam, which will flood an area the size of Singapore. They were promised a first instalment of 30 per cent of an agreed M$300 million in compensation but at a cheque presentation ceremony organised by the Bakun Resettlement Committee on Tuesday they received only M$500,000, or less than 0.2 per cent of the total amount. The committee chairman, James Masing, who is also state Tourism Minister, said the Sarawak Government was making the payment from its funds. 'If we wait for the Bakun Hydro-electric Corporation, I believe the compensation cannot be made this year,' he said. The corporation is engaged in a dispute with the main contractor, Asea Brown Boveri, which has delayed the project. The Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, said last month that if the parties could not resolve their differences the Government would have to break the contract. The project has been strongly criticised by environmental groups, Bakun residents and economists, who have suggested power needs could be better supplied by smaller dams or other forms of electricity generation. Yesterday, Dr Kua Kia Soong, spokesman for the coalition of non-government organisations, said he was concerned that the state Government was 'footing the bill' for the compensation payout instead of the corporation and worried by the possibility that the public could end up paying for the entire hydroelectric project.