If Malaysia doesn't get serious, it may turn into a can-do-anything country. Not just for Malaysians, but for foreigners, too. Yes, the Wild Wild East.
Take rare earth mining in Bukit Enggang, Sik, Kedah. Here is how to go "wild wild" there. Just fly in as a tourist from China, take a few excavators to Bukit Enggang and mine the rare earth elements (REE) away. And if it is a forest reserve, all the better for you get logs as a bonus.
When asked about approval, just say the government has given the go-ahead. No one will know given the secrecy shrouding the project. That's exactly what a Chinese national did until he was arrested on Sept 26 with a lorry-load of REE. He paid a compound of RM630,000 and walked away a free man when he should have been jailed and banned from entering Malaysia again.
But that isn't the end of the story. Last month, Berita Harian reported that illegal REE mining had been detected at the same forest reserve. Guess what? This time, it is not a lone foreigner, but a group.
It is not clear if this is linked to the REE mining memorandum of understanding signed between Menteri Besar Kedah Inc, Jangka Bakat Minerals Sdn Bhd and Xiamen Tungsten Co Ltd. Lack of transparency doesn't aid us here. B
e that as it may, the Kedah government has yet to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment for REE mining in Kedah to the Department of Environment, according to Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad. Let's hope Kedah doesn't repeat the disaster of the illegal durian plantation on Gunung Inas.
But don't go thinking it's just foreign companies that are illegal operators. Or that it's just a Kedah curse. The curse has spread nationwide. Consider Lojing Highlands in Kelantan. There, farmers operating a 20,000ha farm have been illegally extracting water from state-owned resources for a very long time. What's worse, they have been selling the stolen water to Cameron Highlands farms through a network of pumps and pipes.
But like Kedah, Kelantan is only too happy to make the illegal operators pay for the theft of water. Kelantan — and other states, too — must know laxity begets recalcitrance. Lojing Highlands that began life as such is no longer one because of state laxity. Now it is best to name it Lojing Hills.
Kelantan seems to be waiting for non-governmental organisations and media to expose illegal activities there. This newspaper did that in a series of articles over the past year. We are glad to help, but the state must do more. Fines, compounds and temporary stop-work orders don't help, especially when big companies are involved. Try more punitive measures, such as cancelling licences of repeat offenders.
Non-governmental organisation Yayasan Jariah Malaysia is right in calling for a special investigation tribunal to find out what went wrong in Bukit Enggang. Villagers there, too, are understandably calling for one. Kedah could have avoided such a call if it had been transparent about the project from the start.
This is a lesson for Kedah and other states. It is in the interest of those governing the states to stop turning them into can-do-anything land. Malaysia Boleh must never mean that.