KOTA KINABALU: Former chief minister Yong Teck Lee says Sabah government leaders seem ready to exploit the coal in the pristine Maliau Basin after their repeated statements to open up the state for coal mining.
The Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president said it was disturbing that these leaders were seemingly determined to open up “The Lost World”, believed to contain huge amounts of high-quality coal, instead of rejecting the proposal outright.
Maliau Basin has virgin tropical forests accessible only to scientists and researchers in search of plants with potential medicinal properties.
“It is for this reason that Maliau Basin was gazetted as a heritage conservation site in 1997. To even think of opening up Maliau Basin for coal mining is the most selfish, cruel and short-sighted act of this government.
“Opening up Maliau Basin will devastate one of the last untouched nature reserves of its kind.”
He said for greedy businessmen and corrupt politicians, such land clearing would provide an immediate “golden opportunity” in the form of high-value timber.
“To paraphrase a famous quote from an ex-federal minister who challenged Sabah to choose between ‘monkey or gold’, if we choose the gold now, we will also lose the monkey later.
“We should let the coal remain where it has been for a million years. In another million years, the coal would still be there.
“And the monkeys too. But if we take the coal now, the ‘gold’ will be gone in 10 years. And the ‘monkey’ too will be gone.”
Sabahans had successfully stopped the previous government’s attempts to open a coal-fired power plant in Sabah to address power supply shortages in the east coast.
The revival of this plan to utilise coal to generate electricity was mooted by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently. He said Sabah and Sarawak still had large coal reserves and it was better to use this resource for the benefit of the people.
The suggestion received much criticism, particularly from environmentalists.
The Sabah government has stated that it will review the matter further.