LAWLESSNESS seems to pervade in Cameron Highlands. If law enforcement has been effective, illegal land clearing could not have been as rampant and blatant as it is. The latest report says that some 1,000 hectares — a size equivalent to 1,400 football fields — have been illegally cleared in the past three months for farming. Only corruption and fear can allow for such criminality to occur right under the noses of law enforcers. Some attribute this to inadequate security personnel but the district officer’s (DO) request, made to the Home Ministry last year for the highlands’ law enforcement personnel to be armed, clearly highlights the latter. That it was shot down is no reflection of the reality of possible violence, a not unexpected scenario when dealing with criminal elements.

Now, suspicions of corruption are being slowly confirmed after the authorities threatened to get tough on offenders with the participation of a multi-agency force meant to rid the area of the cause of its rapid destruction — a fearful prospect for the country’s ecosystem. Already, water catchment areas are being destroyed and landslides occurring more frequently following heavy rains. And, only last week, a mud flood swept away lives and property. Inaction is no longer excusable, hence, the recent raids on illegal workers. Almost 200 have been apprehended thus far. While this demonstration of will by the federal authorities is happening, fear mounts. Recent months clearly showed that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) means business. Corrupt officers and private sector corruptors are being charged in court. Now, as the revamped, no longer toothless MACC is roped in, the nervous twitches have produced “yellow letters” of instruction to allow certain well-connected parties to open and develop the highlands, putting the Pahang Palace, though not the Royal House, in the line of fire. Meanwhile, a long-serving retired DO has come out declaring that corruption is nothing new. Apparently, everyone knew of it but nobody was able to stem the flow. Painting an image of Hollywood’s Wild, Wild West, these actions have brought Cameron Highlands to the brink of what geologists refer to as a catastrophe “of an unimaginable scale”.

The evidence of immense ecological degradation is now too obvious to ignore. While, thus far, the matter has been under the Pahang government’s jurisdiction, surely a threatened collapse of the entire hill system must warrant stern action from the federal authorities. Geologists have identified an already shaky hill structure caused by massive illegal clearing, removal of top soil, heavy siltation and excess groundwater. This year alone, there have been 150 mudslide incidents. So dire is the situation that the doomsayers are saying that the problem is beyond control. But surrender is not an option. First step, therefore, is aggressive law enforcement accompanied by nothing less than prison terms for all found guilty; from the lowly labourer through to the senior civil servants and implicated palace officials.