While we protested Singapore's attempt to carry out a reclamation project at Pulau Tekong in 2002, why is a similar project being carried out off Tanjung Kupang, a marine-rich environment?
Traditional fishermen are those who use equipment such as fishing rods, cages or nets with small boats and outboard engines to fish. They also include those who collect shellfish and snails by the shore.
Reports of the country’s total fishing catches in 2011 show that the quantity of inshore fish catches reached 65% compared to deep-sea fish landings which recorded only around 17% of the total.
Therefore, traditional fishermen deserve more attention. In terms of the size or area of inshore fishing operations, it’s about five nautical miles from the coastline.
Traditional fishermen’s workstations, or base, is in the coastline area, which means anything that happens in and around the shore area will directly affect them and their work.
Any sea reclamation project that takes place within the five nautical-mile radius of the coastline without proper planning, is destructive development. It is wrong, morally and legally.
Fishes and their food sources such as seaweed and seeds or fish fries will be significantly reduced, the water quality will decline and the mangrove forest will be lost.
The beach too will be eroded, along with the coral reefs and eventually the life forms there will die off and part of it will drift out to the high seas.
Imagine if your office or working area was disturbed, discoloured or even damaged by insensitive people. How would you handle it?
Would the traditional fishermen be able to venture into deep sea fishing in their small boats and with outboard engines that they have?
In the next five to 10 years, inshore fishermen will face declining catches and eventually lose their source of income. Ultimately the effect will be felt by consumers.
‘Ubah Island’ project
One example of this ‘crazy’ project is now being carried out in the waters off Tanjung Kupang, located in the Straits of Johor. DAP’s Gelang Patah MP Lim Kit Siang has named it the ‘Ubah Island’.
The project area, located not more than 10km from the Singapore coastline, is approximately 2,500 acres and is located within the Iskandar Development Region (IRDA).
The Shoreline Management Plan 2013 identified the waters off Tanjung Kupang as having a rich marine biodiversity because it has seaweed (sea grass beds) which may be among the largest in the world.
It is also the breeding habitat of the sea horse, as well as a playground for dugongs. In fact, the IRDA authorities have suggested that this area should be protected and gazetted as a marine protected area.
But these waters are now being transformed (reclaimed) into an island for unknown purposes.
In the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), approved by IRDA as the Iskandar Malaysia Masterplan, the ‘Ubah Island’ does not exist at all in the masterplan.
However, the island is now growing in size, qualifying as the first ‘miracle’.
How was this project carried out without an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report from the Department of Environment (DOE)? Do the state agencies not know or do not care about this matter?
Is this project getting protection from certain parties? If that is so, whose power is being used to instruct them to close their eyes? This must be the second ‘miracle’.
All of these questions are related to the issue of integrity of the state and of good governance. Overall there’s a lack of transparency from the authorities. No plan, no signage project and also no EIA report.
The Johor state government needs to be reminded that, in the words of the late Karpal Singh, ‘jangan main-main dengan undang-undang’ (don’t play with the laws).
Calling the kettle black
Malaysians have not forgotten about the Singapore government’s attempt at doing a reclamation project off Pulau Tekong in 2002. During that time we protested and opposed it.
At that time we had questioned the Singapore government’s move which had bearing on the economy and the ecosystem of our waters.
Media reports and coverage on the issue were widespread, and seemingly showed that we were concerned about the environment and its impact on the local economy.
But apparently, the protest is just another form of political hypocrisy of our government. Then, we had opposed the Singaporean government vigorously, now we are making the same move like it.
Part of the sand and stones that would have been used for the Pulau Tekong reclamation project was to have come from Malaysia, but thatnot reported by the mainstream media then.
In the case of this Ubah Island, Singapore hasn’t protested to this project. Why? Is it because it is aware that the objection will create tension between the two countries?
Or is Singapore intentionally allowing it because this reclamation project will eventually ‘bridge’ the peninsular with the Lion state for its strategic benefit?
Administrative integrity and rights
The integrity of the state government and the plight of traditional fishermen are important matters as it will determine the future local fishermen, food supplies and economic development.
We need to ensure the existence of the traditional fishermen, not because we want them to continue to be traditional fishermen, but because we want to preserve their rights.
Therefore as a responsible government, the rights of these fisherman must be protected by the government.
The people also have the right to ensure that the supply of seafood is guaranteed and the environment protected. And all of this is the people’s right to progress and development in the right manner.
As for the BN government, it shouldn’t be a ‘pot calling the kettle black.’
Mahdzir Ibrahim is a fan of arts and culture, national executive committee member of Dapsy (DAP socialist youth) and committee member of Johor DAP