Politicians sometimes fail to learn from other people’s mistakes. The environmental disaster in Pasir Gudang, Johor, should be a reminder to all, especially politicians and civil servants.
It happened after decades of mismanagement and a lack of enforcement, the possible receipt of backhanders, and illegal operations by brazen company owners and opportunistic government employees, leading to health issues, the loss of income, school closures, an expensive clean-up and a breaking of the law.
What will it take to persuade the MP for Sungai Petani, PKR’s Johari Abdul, to meet his constituents and discuss the matter of heavy pollution from illegal waste recycling factories?
Lydia Ong Kok Fui, the spokesman for the Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar Sungai Petani, has tried to meet Johari, to resolve the problems of illegal factories and environmental pollution.
Instead, the MP has rebuffed her request to meet, brushed aside her concerns about pollution, and dismissed her allegations about the presence of illegal factories.
Ong led 250 residents, in two peaceful rallies, to highlight the presence of the illegal factories, which they claimed operated “day and night” despite being sealed by the local council. The first rally was held at the Kedah Halal Park in Sungai Petani and the second held in Alor Setar the following day.
Despite the protests, the state executive councillor for housing, industry, investment and local government, Tan Kok Yew, has not responded to the residents’ issues, while Johari has been dismissive about their concerns.
The least that the Sungai Petani MP could do is to meet the residents.
Johari claimed that there were no illegal recycling factories in Sungai Petani, but Ong said that a meeting would give the residents the opportunity to provide evidence that 20 illegal factories exist.
She said that residents have been lodging complaints for the past year, but no action has been taken: to add to their woes, the factories were expanding to nearby Gurun, north of Sungai Petani.
Instead of meeting the residents, Johari went on the defensive and said that the protesters did not have accurate facts. He accused outsiders, and not Sungai Petani residents, of being instrumental in orchestrating the two rallies.
To add insult to injury, he claimed that the local environment department officers and local councillors had advised him that only licensed factories were allowed to operate.
Is Johari a very naive MP, a very ignorant one, or one who is clueless?
Newspaper reports are full of prosecutions against officials and government servants who closed one eye to illegal factories, human trafficking, and large scale corruption. If Johari needed further reminding, 1MDB is a case of officials closing one eye to corruption.
Furthermore, the mismanagement of Felda, Mara, Tabung Haji and the National Feedlot Corporation are other cases of complicity in corruption and fraud at the highest levels.
Why, then, is Johari so dismissive of this claim by the Sungai Petani anti-sampah group?
Johari should wonder about other possible violations by these illegal factories. Are the rivers, soil and atmosphere being polluted? Is waste managed according to government procedure?
Johari and Tan should investigate and close down illegal factories.
If they cannot resolve the problem, they should seek federal help from the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin. She is the ultimate authority on the environment.
Perhaps, the residents should lodge a police report so that the relevant bodies can be hauled up for questioning. Perhaps, more reporters should descend on the constituency office to demand reasons for the lack of action and concern.
The world dumps its waste in Malaysia because we lack proper enforcement.
Johari could be at the forefront of stopping these criminal acts. When will he agree to meet the residents and address their concerns?
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.