Sultanate land may be our best hope to preserve our parks

Recently, a gazette dated Oct 25, 2018, notifying that the state authorities will cancel Pulau Kukup as a national park under subsection 3(3) of the National Park Environment Enactment (Johor) 1989 had sparked concerns that have gone viral on social media.

Lawyers for Liberty asked why was the stripping of the national park status done “silently” without any public announcement, until the gazette was leaked online.

One cannot help but wonder if anyone can profit from the de-gazettement, and whether the state intends to develop the area.

Only Tunku Mahkota of Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim has come out to explain the issue. He claimed that Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar has a different vision, and that all the national parks be changed to sultanate land for better protection and preservation for the future generations.

The term “sultanate land” might be foreign to us but a quick search reveals that similar concept exists in the United Kingdom where the parks – 5,000 acres of royal parkland across London are owned by the Crown and managed by the Royal Parks.

They include eight of London’s largest open spaces: Hyde, The Green, Richmond, Greenwich, St James’s, Bushy and The Regent’s Parks, Kensington Gardens and other important open spaces in the capital including Brompton Cemetery, Victoria Tower Gardens, Canning Green and Poet’s Corner.

As controversial as it may be, this move, if done right, might be a game changer for the betterment of our environment. The Johor Royal House, after all, did confirm that Pulau Kukup will remain and continue to be used as a state national park where it must be guarded and regulated to become a state tourist attraction.

Similarly, in the north, we have the Royal Belum State Park that was conferred the royal status by the late Sultan Azlan Shah back in 2003 as a form of appreciation and recognition of the importance of the park to the sultanate and its people.

The “royal” title is not a mere title or another form of lip service. It gives nuance to the importance and significance of the conferred entity. The closest example is our Royal Malaysia Police that was conferred the title “royal” on July 24, 1958, as a tribute and appreciation for their commitment against the communist insurgency.

One can only hope that the royal title will provide Pulau Kukup its due protection. Declaring national parks as sultanate land could finally provide us with a right check-and-balance mechanism where state governments can no longer degazette national parks, green lungs and forest reserves for development according to their whims and fancies.

The practice of developing forest and green lungs has been rampant and we have witnessed it many times before. The Selangor state government degazetted parts of Selangor State Park for the construction of the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE), Bukit Cerakah and Sungai Buloh forest reserve for the Damansara Shah Alam Highway (DASH) and Bukit Sungei Puteh forest in Hulu Langat for the Sungai Besi Ulu Kelang Highway (SUKE), regardless of public outcry.

And most recently, another exercise to degazette a part of the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve in Gombak for a housing development project is ongoing. Not to mention the DBKL’s plan to develop Bukit Kiara despite the area being intended as a green lung of Kuala Lumpur.

For far too long, sustainability and environmental conservation had been put on the back burner or seen as something ideal, but not essential. If this is what it takes to save our environment from the state governments’ arbitrary move to degazette the parks and forest reserves in the future, by all means, we should welcome this new form of check and balance.

After all, the Johor Royal House did play an active role in preserving the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park in Mersing. The area has vastly improved after the rebranding exercise and preservation efforts, making it one of the top attractions for scuba divers.

Preservation efforts include approval and quota for diving activities, a coral restoration programme that saw the participation of the sultan himself, and strict enforcement against the encroachment of illegal fishermen which are designed to help protect the pristine waters and maintain the right ecological balance for flora and fauna to grow in their natural environment.

Soon, the marine park will also have its very own dugong sanctuary at Pulau Sibu.

Call me an idealist but for the love of the environment, I believe that this model is our best bet available to protect our environment against the state government’s monstrosity. And since there has been a success story with the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park, I believe the best thing for Pulau Kukup is to be gazetted as a royal national park.

Brian Lee is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.