Malaysia’s RM700 billion trove of mineral wealth

Tanjung Tualang dredge is the last remaining tin mining dredge from Malaysia’s heyday. (Facebook pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has RM732 billion in mineral reserves and the federal government is looking into exploiting these to boost the economy, the Dewan Rakyat was told today.

The minister for natural resources, Xavier Jayakumar, said the minerals were coal, tin ore, iron ore, gold, manganese, silica sand, and kaolin.

He said early studies showed that Malaysia could also tap into processing of rare-earth elements, as a few towns were rich with this resource. These were: Tanah Merah and Jeli in Kelantan; Jerai, Baling and Kulim in Kedah; Kati, Trong and Grik, in Perak; Muar, Johor; and Simunjan and Sematan in Sarawak.

“The ministry is studying policies and laws governing minerals so that rare-earth sources are mined with best practices,” he said.

Malaysia’s mineral reserves comprise:
tin 1.3 million tonnes;
aluminium/bauxite 169.8 million tonnes;
copper: 5.85 million tonnes;
gold: 115 million tonnes;
iron ore: 498.6 million tonnes;
nickel 75 million tonnes; and
manganese, 5.7 million tonnes.

Natural resources minister Xavier Jayakumar

Xavier said the government was considering setting up a Malaysian Minerals Development Board so as to harness the mining of minerals as a “new economic powerhouse” for the country.

He said the existing law, the Minerals Development Act 1994, and subsidiary regulations ensured extensive control on rare-earth mining. There were also enactments by state governments regarding minerals, he added.

Xavier said the government would develop policies and frameworks that were suitable for an upstream rare-earth industry and to make available processing technology for rare earths for small and medium industry entrepreneurs.

He said this during Question Time in answer to Edmund Santhara Kumara Ramanaidu (PH-Segamat).

Wong Tack (PH-Bentong) then asked Xavier why advanced economies such as US, Europe and Japan did not process rare earths if there was so much potential.

Opposition leader Ismail Sabri Yaakob asked Xavier if he was aware that his own party, Pakatan Harapan, had been against rare-earth processing in the past. He asked what measures would be taken to ensure there were no health problems.

Xavier said currently, rare earths were being exported and processed elsewhere. He said there was a big chance of boosting the country’s economy if rare earths were mined and processed here, and exported.

“We need to give this a chance. Let the new minerals board discuss this. If other countries don’t do it, it does not mean Malaysia can’t. We will of course ensure stringent measures are employed to protect our environment.”