Saturday, May 16, 2009

Politicians in bed with bad company at Sg Pulai

May 15, 09

Johor was a state endowed with vast tracts of coastal mangrove. Note the past tense used.

Ironically, it is also the only state in the country with the highest number of Ramsar sites. The recognition for the protection of wetlands such as mangrove swamps of international importance was awarded to Pulau Kukup, Tanjung Piai and Sungai Pulai in January 2003; all located in the southwest of the state.

The three sites are part and parcel of the bigger Pulai river basin which incidentally is one of the highest fishery production centres in the country due to its unique geographical location.

In terms of bio-diversity, the wetlands are home to the endangered dugongs, turtles and seahorses as well as being the flyway of migratory birds. Unfortunately, the eagerness of the state in listing its Ramsar sites is not matched by its protection measures.

In the last one decade, the region's pristine mangrove forests have seen tremendous destruction - from the construction of the port of Tanjung Pelepas to the setting up of the 2,100MW Tanjung Bin coal-fired power plant to, now, the reclamation of a further another 913ha of the forest for a petro-chemical hub.

The development, which has largely escaped scrutiny of the Malaysian public, has ignored various national laws and guidelines.

Firstly, the approval of the Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (which means no public review) reports for the power plant and the petro-chemical hub are highly questionable as public participation was sorely inadequate.

A coal-fired power plant and a petro-chemical hub carry with them inherent environmental and health effects that have yet to be clearly communicated to the local communities.

Secondly, a provision under the Environmental Quality Act (Prescribed Activities) Regulations requires development projects encroaching into more than 500ha of coastal wetlands to be subjected to a Detailed EIA (not just a Preliminary EIA) which compels the report to be reviewed by the public.

Thirdly, the Sg Pulai wetlands are clearly identified as an Environmentally Sensitive Area Rank 1 by the National Physical Plan - a plan that was approved by the cabinet and tacitly endorsed by the various state governments.

Forget about scrutiny by public regulatory bodies like the Department of Environment which is powerless when our legislators ie, the politicians, are in bed with corporate devils.

All three projects are operated and owned by various subsidiaries of a giant public-listed company, which, hypocritically, professes to uphold Corporate Governance and Corporate Social Responsibility.

To salvage its tarnished image, the company now attempts to green-wash its activities. To ensure that the strategy is effective, it needs the endorsement of the greenies.

In November, 2007, it enlisted the ‘help' of none other than the Malaysian Nature Society by funding a coffee-table book project to document...ahem...the rich biological heritage of Sg Pulai.

Recently, it also managed to quell dissenting voices from the fishing communities by compensating some full-time fishermen to the tune of RM10,000 each and further promising a monthly RM800 compensation scheme for the next 20 years. So, looks like the fisher folks are throwing in the towel.

In 2007, using a tried and tested formula to pacify initial uproar through the mainstream media, the Johor menteri besar ‘ordered' the project developers to submit a DEIA report.

But the menteri besar has since turned his back on the environment, ignoring the threat posed to food security and potential health problems arising from these development activities in the much-hyped Iskandar Development Region.

Tomorrow, in typical oxymoron fashion - ‘destroy first, restore later'- the menteri besar of Johor, Ghani Othman, will sink his feet into the Sg Pulai mud to plant some mangrove saplings to show the state's ‘commitment' to the environment and further green the image of the environmental crime perpetrator.

Your readers may never have heard of Sg Pulai and will probably never get a chance to experience its beauty but they ought to know of this carnage and hopefully will stand up against further destruction of our precious, life-giving wetlands.

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