April 13, 2016

Najib Vows to Rectify ‘Mistakes,’ but Mine Operators aren’t too Pleased

Najib Vows to Rectify ‘Mistakes,’ but Mine Operators aren’t too Pleased

Bauxite mining can exact a terrible toll on the local environment. Photo Credit: CR Agency

Malaysian politicians aren’t exactly renowned for taking responsibility. They are, however, prone to occasional bouts of candor. It was during such a moment that Prime Minister Najib Razak owned up to his government’s failure to prevent the environmental calamity caused by rampant bauxite mining in Pahang. “Of course, sometimes we make mistakes. The bauxite contamination on our East Coast is an example,” he conceded during his keynote address at an investment event in Kuala Lumpur.

“But we are taking steps to deal with it,” Najib added. “We have just extended the ban on mining for another three months, and we will insist that strict guidelines are put in place before it is lifted.”And extending the moratorium on bauxite mining for another three months the federal government has indeed done, much to the relief of environmentalists and locals affected by extensive pollution from the red aluminum ore in Pahang.

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Bauxite slurry covered some Kuantan highways so thickly last year that they became almost impossible to navigate by car. Photo Credit: GERAM

“I salute the government and Wan Junaidi particularly, for taking into account the interests of the residents of Kuantan, who were previously affected by the bauxite mining activities,” commented environmental activist Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, president of the Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia. Pahang’s Mentri Besar Adnan Yaakob likewise welcomed the extension to the ban, even though the state, which benefited handsomely from bauxite mining last year, is set to lose a large source of its revenue in 2016. “It is the best decision for the wellbeing of the people who must always come first,” he told reporters.

That said, clean-up efforts spearheaded by his administration have been running well behind schedule. Another 3.6 million tons of bauxite ore in stockpiles has yet to be cleared up and exported from Pahang – a fact that was largely responsible for the federal government’s decision to extend the mining ban from April 15 to mid-July. Local green activists have accused the state’s authorities of continuing to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the clean-up work. Meanwhile, the government has yet to spell out the specifics of new Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) on sustainable mining practices as well as the attendant regulatory and enforcement mechanisms.

“Previously, we were promised a special bauxite central collection centre and a special 15km road to transport the mineral to the port but so far, none of the facilities have yet to be provided,” explained Ali Akbar Othman, chairman of the Stop Bauxite Mining Movement. “Similarly, on the standard operating procedures (SOP) on bauxite mining activities, the ministry should announce it to enable us to report to the authorities, in the event of any breach of the directive by miners or transport operators.”

Local mine operators, however, aren’t too pleased. Tengku Zulkifli Tengku Ahmad, president of the Pahang Iron Ore Operators Association, has decried the length of the new extension, deeming it excessive. “It is understood that only three per cent of bauxite stockpile is still available at the storage area in Kuantan Port and at the same time, works to improve infrastructure, including the building of washing bay are actively being carried out there,” he said.

“All the works are expected to be completed within two months. If it can be completed in a shorter period, why should this (moratorium) period be extended?” he added. “We will appeal to the government on this issue because the longer this period is imposed, more people will lose their source of income.”

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