Translated by Dominic Loh (Guang Ming Daily)
SERI MANJUNG, Perak, Malaysia -- Covering almost 21,000 square kilometres, Perak boasts a multitude of pristine nature reserves, with at least 20 in the districts of Kinta and Seri Manjung alone, making the area the best preserved natural ecosystem anywhere in Peninsular Malaysia.
Unfortunately, after Barisan Nasional successfully wrestled the state administration from Pakatan Rakyat in February 2009, the state government subsequently approved two major steel and natural gas refinery projects in Tanjung Hantu forest reserve in Seri Manjung.
Over the past few years, environmentalists and NGOs have been urging the state planning committee headed by menteri besar Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir to reconsider the projects lest the pristine forest reserve is jeopardised.
The 287.94ha nature reserve is a haven for sea turtles to lay eggs, and the virgin forests and coastal ecosystem there is very delicate and must never be destroyed by human activities.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) field researcher Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman, himself an environment activist, told Guang Ming Daily that the Tanjung Hantu forest reserve is home to a very rare timber species Shorea glauca, a coastal hardwood species that can withstand seawater impact.
He said the wood is generally used to make boats and therefore he could not rule out the possibility that the area is developed because of the wood.
"As I understand, there are many Shorea glauca trees growing in that area which previously saw some intruders engaged in illegal logging. With the state government having announced the land use conversion in the gazette, the incidence of illegal logging has become even more rampant now, since the area is no longer under the jurisdiction of the forestry department."
Having joined the SAM for only three years, Meor Razak said candidly, "I really don't understand the menteri besar. There are so many disused tin mines in the state but why has he picked Tanjung Hantu?"
He cited an example. The menteri besar also announced in the gazette to convert 3,178.14ha of land in Bukit Besout forest reserve for oil palm plantation.
According to the Red List of Endangered Species by the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), Shorea glauca has been classified as LC (Least Concern) and VU (Vulnerable) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
EIA reports essential
From what we have found out, a reportedly "dormant" company Ati Gas Technology Sdn Bhd has yet to hand in an EIA report to the Department of Environment with only about a month to go before the project is slated to start by year-end..
The two contractors involved in the projects have also not briefed the public or the authorities on the latest developments, sending people guessing whether the two mammoth project would be carried out as scheduled.
DOE director-general Halimah Hasan confirmed with Guang Ming Daily through an e-mail that the Detailed EIA submitted by Maegma Steel Integrated Sdn Bhd had been approved by the DOE on May 23, 2008.
However, she said the project had yet to be carried out so far and MSI also failed to brief the DOE on the latest developments of this project.
She said so far the DOE had yet to receive any official application or EIA report from Ati Gas Technology.
"We urge these two companies to go by the rules and submit the necessary EIA reports."
From the DOE's website, it is found that Maegma Steel HRC submitted a Detailed EIA report to the DOE on November 27, 2007, and approval was granted on May 23 the following year. However, no records have been found whether Ati Gas Technology has submitted a Proposed EIA or Detailed EIA.
According to media reports, Perak state senior executive councillor Datuk Hamidah Osman announced on June 10 last year that the BN state government had allocated a 60ha plot of land at Pasir Panjang Segari for Ati Gas Technology to set up a LNG plant. She also announced back then that the company would import LNG from Qatar and that the project involved an investment of RM5.8 billion. According to her, the project, slated for completion in 15 months, should be able to supply to a third of the country's natural gas market needs.
SAM field researcher Meor Razak emphasised that the SAM was not against the steel and LNG projects, but the sites of the two projects are inappropriate.
These two projects will be carried out along the Pasir Panjang coast of Tanjung Hantu, an area with white sandy beaches, coastal forests and a haven for sea turtles to lay eggs. It is therefore obvious that the projects are bound to have negative impact on the surrounding environment, especially the marine ecosystem and mangrove swaps hat would threaten the survival of sea turtles and local fishery industry.
About 2km from the town of Segari and 5km from Pantai Remis, Pasir Panjang has the longest coastline in the district of Seri Manjung at six kilometres. With find sandy beaches fringed by mangrove swamps, the uninterrupted environment makes a perfect location for sea turtles to lay eggs here.
Sea turtles, 90% of which belonging to the Agar and Lipas species, will descend on the beaches here to lay their eggs from March to July every year. In order to protect the turtles, the state government established a 0.1-acre sea turtle rehabilitation centre back in 1990. Two years later, the centre applied to expand the facilities to 10 acres but the state government approved only 5.5 acres in 1994.
Records show that the number of sea turtles laying eggs there have been on steady decline over the years, now standing at 38, down from 200 in 1994. Besides, only one species of sea turtles still come here, down from a peak of three.
When contacted by Guang Ming Daily, DAP Perak state liaison committee secretary cum MP for Taiping Nga Kor Ming said MB Zambry should have briefed the public on the latest developments of these two projects and whether the projects were contrary to the principles of the National Physical Plan.
"Unchecked development would only trigger another round of natural disaster and rob the state of Perak of a tourist destination where turtles lay eggs."
June 30, 2011, Nga revealed in a press conference that the BN state government announced earlier in the month that the RM5.8 billion LNG project had been awarded to a dormant company with a paid-up capital of merely RM1.
SAM field researcher Meor Razak said the menteri besar had tried to evade this issue even though the SAM had written to the state government about this matter on three occasions, adding that the MB only replied on August 30 after he personally asked him about the latest developments of these two projects during a Ramadan feast on August 7 this year.
"The MB did not respond to my queries, but it was the MB's special officer Datuk Azhar Ahmad who replied briefly that the state government would look into this matter."
He said although the state government had the right to convert the land use, the MB had failed to consult other relevant bodies such as the forestry, fishery and environment departments before approving the projects.