Legal challenge to Lynas’ operation unwise, says lawyer

Some critics have not ruled out legal action to stop Lynas from operating in Pahang.

KUALA LUMPUR: Critics of the Lynas’ rare earths plant in Kuantan should mobilise public support to persuade Putrajaya to review conditions imposed on the factory management, a lawyer said.

A Srimurugan said taking the legal route to achieve their objectives against the government and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) might not be the best option for aggrieved parties

“Going to court to force the authorities to close the plant or tighten licensing conditions will not be a wise move,” he told FMT.

Srimurugan said this in response to a report that some critics have not ruled out legal action to stop Lynas from operating in Pahang, and another report that PKR president Anwar Ibrahim and Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad are not on the same page over the Cabinet’s decision to renew the licence of Lynas Malaysia.

Anwar, whose party is the most senior partner in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, is also calling for a review of the decision. “It should be done amicably with meaningful and effective negotiations,” Anwar told the media on Tuesday.

Srimurugan said interested parties could file an application in court to review the decision-making process of the authorities to extend Lynas’s licence and the conditions imposed to remain in business.

“However. it is hard to reverse the decision through the legal process due to some strict requirements as applicants must show that they have a strong legal standing to bring the action,” he said.

A Srimurugan.

He said it would be better to mobilise the support of MPs, civil society and experts to convince the government to review its present stand.

“They could request the government to be more transparent and accountable by releasing reports that favour Lynas remaining in operation,” he added.

Srimurugan said it was quite glaring that those who were critical of the decision were from within the government and backbenchers, not opposition MPs and parties.

Meanwhile, lawyer R Kengadharan said affected parties were entitled to seek judicial review to determine their rights.

“We want to know whether it is an arbitrary decision of Mahathir or a policy decision of the Cabinet,” he said.

He said Lynas was not just about the environment but was also about the safety and health of the people.

“The PH government has so far displayed a lackadaisical attitude and this is frightening,” he said.

The Australia-based company has yet to remove waste containing low levels of radioactive elements from its plant as previously demanded by PH.

Lynas started its operations in 2012 after obtaining a two-year temporary operating licence.

R Kengadharan.

The then Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition then approved a two-year licence in 2014 and renewed it for another three years. The current licence will expire on September 2.

The PH coalition which ousted the BN in the May 9 general election last year then began a review of Lynas’ operation and waste management.

It then demanded that Lynas remove its waste with radioactive elements from Malaysia in order to have its licence renewed but dropped the condition after Australia refused to accept the waste.

The AELB on August 15 announced a six-month extension of Lynas’ licence starting from Sept 3, along with three conditions.

Lynas will have to move its cracking and leaching process, which is currently conducted at its plant in Gebeng, Kuantan, out of the country.

It will have to identify a specific site to construct a permanent disposal facility (PDF), and it will also have to end all research and development activities related to the use of the radioactive water leached purification (WLP) residue as condisoil for use in agriculture.

Mahathir, who has defended the decision to allow Lynas to operate, despite protests from activists and some of his own Cabinet members, said the decision was based on the views of experts.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, who is also secretary-general of DAP, the second biggest partner in the PH coalition, said the party would continue to persuade Mahathir to understand the genuine concerns of environmentalists.

Kuantan MP and deputy minister Fuziah Salleh and Bentong MP Wong Tack have also been critics of Lynas from the time they were in the opposition.