The issue of the well-being of the environment has been gaining importance in the minds of the electorate especially during the last few years. The pictures of what used to be jungles, being cleared has raised the ire of Malaysians and rightly so. Especially if it is suddenly discovered that there were no logging concessions awarded in the first place.
Repercussions due to the indiscriminate felling of trees has not only resulted in increased temperatures in the environment but have also spilled over to Parliament as well as the respective state assemblies where these illegal logging activities have taken place. This is because the right to award logging concessions belongs to the respective states.
However, as it has been rightly pointed out, as a developing nation, we need to allocate and clear land for projects that benefits the people. A case in point and one which is at loggerheads with certain environmentalist groups has been the clearing of land for new palm oil plantations. This is one case where it could have been quite straightforward as Malaysia has always argued that the clearing of land is not for leisurely pursuits but for economic reasons and even that, it is not a wanton and indiscriminate clearing of land but rather one that is systematic and well-managed.
However, this issue has been made complicated by those opposing this economic pursuit. Malaysia and Malaysians cannot be blamed if suspicions of the involvement of interested parties abounds. For example, in the United States, there has been arguments against the use of palm oil by interest groups, groups whose sources of funding and linkages are suspect and are said to be from parties that are in direct competition to the Malaysian palm oil industry. Hence, it can be confidently said that this issue will never go away and the fight for the consumer market shall be an ongoing one.
Malaysia has always encouraged investments, be it foreign or local, as these investments could provide jobs and thus, increase the economic activity of the country. It is common knowledge that the costs of living has been increasing to the detriment of the current quality of life of the average Malaysian. This is despite the efforts of the Malaysian government to control prices for food items, energy and amenities for the benefit the average Malaysian including through the selective use of subsidies.
Apparently the word ‘subsidy’ is a very ‘dirty’ word for some quarters and in some parts of the world. But for the average Malaysian, it helps to lessen the burden of the Malaysian household, especially those struggling to cope with raising and maintaining a family in the cities. Hence, the selective use of subsidies can be expected to continue until such time when these subsidies can be safely removed without causing a catastrophic fissure in the fabric of Malaysian society.
On Sunday 26th February, a rally was held in Kuantan, the capital of the Prime Minister’s home state of Pahang which is ruled by Barisan Nasional (BN). Dubbed ‘ Himpunan Hijau 2.0′ (lit. Green Gathering), it was reportedly organized to protest against the setting up of a rare earth processing plant by the Lynas Group of Australia, in Gebeng on the outskirts of Kuantan and subsequently, the awarding of a temporary operating licence for Lynas to commence operations.
Protests against the Lynas project has been quite vocal and are being led by the serving MP for Kuantan, who incidentally is a member of PKR, one of the three parties making up the opposition grouping, Pakatan Rakyat (PR). Opposition to the Lynas plant was mainly focussed on the issue of the environment and the effects of radiation on the local community and surrounding areas, culminating in the event taking place.
The permit to hold the rally, as is required by Malaysian law, was granted by the police authorities albeit with conditions attached. Amongst the conditions attached were that the rally should not be turned into a political circus, the rally was to be confined to the location agreed and no children under the age of 15 were to be allowed to participate at the rally.
Despite the Federal Government assurances of the safety of the project, and despite the project been studied by the relevant competent authorities in Malaysia, and despite the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) been consulted, and despite the investment being brought into the state and country, and despite the job opportunities that will be created, and despite the benefit of the economic spillover from the project to the local communities, the organizers of Himpunan Hijau 2.0 insists on the rally being staged. And staged it was.
It seems that what is important for the organizers is that they want the Lynas project stopped and be damned as to what everybody else thinks or wants. Despite the conditions set by the police authorities, Himpunan Hijau 2.0 saw the presence of opposition bigwigs and true to the nature of being politicians, they can’t resist the lure of the microphone, one after the other.
It makes one wonder what was the rally all about? Was it actually about the Lynas plant or did it represent a foreplay of a political ceramah in anticipation of the next General Election?
Media reports had the organizers demanding a positive response (well, positive from their viewpoint) from the Federal government to their demands (presumably, that the Lynas project be stopped) within 24 hours or else, another gathering will be held. Himpunan Hijau 3.0 on the drawing board perhaps or is it already in the cards?
Question is, would any self-respecting government of the day of any country elected by the people in an open, transparent and democratic manner bow down to blackmail? Because in the final analysis, the ultimatum given by the organizers boils down to it being blackmail. Sheer blackmail.
As to the statement by the police authorities that the organizers had breached the conditions of the permit to hold the rally, the organizers’ response was that the police claims were ‘ irrelevant’. This being despite photographic evidence of the presence of young children under the age of 15 at the rally. That it has turned out to be a political circus is in no doubt, what with the presence of the opposition bigwigs including Anwar Ibrahim. Irrelevant? Sheer arrogance and total disregard for the law, thats what it is.
It is always a worry for authorities anywhere in the world charged with law and order, that whenever a rally is organized that things do not get out of hand. The possibility that a rally may be hijacked and/or turned rowdy and/or violent is always there. But it seems that, in the case of Himpunan Hijau 2.0, one need not worry to the event being hijacked. Rather, it seems to have served the actual purpose of having the rally.
The biggest irony however must be the stand taken by one opposition MP from PAS, Dr Che Rosli Che Mat, who remained loyal to his academic integrity. The MP, who is now not in the good books of opposition MPs, stated in a news interview of his support for the project for so long as “the Lynas project adhere to strict safety standards and regulations to ensure that the health and the safety of the residents were protected.” He further commented that the opposition to the Lynas project is ‘unscientific and not at all academic”.
His qualification? He was a former lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in nuclear science. I wonder, does that count or is it irrelevant?