For the past year, the Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar (PTAS) Sungai Petani (SP) had unsuccessfully tried to alert their MP, Johari Abdul, about pollution and illegal factories. Last week, Johari finally responded to the group’s request, but he was less than gracious about it.
He denied being invited for a meeting and said: “I still do not understand their real cause.”
Johari’s ignorance about PTAS’ issues was trashed by PTAS committee member Dr S Tneoh, who said that when they organised a demonstration on April 12, Johari had been informed via Whatsapp. Moreover, he said that they had appeared on national TV and in the press to highlight the issues.
“The Majlis Tindakan Daerah meets every month and it is attended by three Aduns (assemblymen), the District Officer (DO), the OCPD and other state officials,” Tneoh said.
“The minutes of the meetings, held since May 2019, show that this issue was discussed. Johari claims he is unaware of the issue of illegal factories. However, we have evidence to prove that he attended those meetings.”
Johari’s remark of “has anyone fallen seriously ill?” angered PTAS members.
Tneoh said that those who were hospitalised were just the tip of the iceberg, but many with chronic coughs and bronchitis were unaware of the real cause.
Mentioning two SP residents who were most seriously ill, he said: “Renee Ong was admitted to the ICU, because of aggravated asthma. Ang Jia Thong was admitted three times, with bronchitis. Renee’s case was shown on National TV and two Aduns visited her in hospital.”
Tneoh added: “Will we have to wait until the pollution becomes as bad as Pasir Gudang before Johari will act?”
Perhaps, Johari needs a lesson in communication skills, because his remark, “Why don’t they (PTAS) protest over the Kalimantan forest fires, which have caused the haze and resulted in many people falling ill?” is foolish and ill-judged.
SP residents have mainly been affected by localised pollution, which intensified when irresponsible companies imported dirty plastic waste and opened illegal waste recycling factories in the town.
Residents have sought treatment for eye irritation, coughs, respiratory problems and skin allergies. According to PTAS, the burning of waste is conducted in the middle of the night and early morning. This causes an odour, which leaves a burning sensation in the throat and eyes.
Johari claimed that the Kedah government, the Department of Environment, (DoE) and other state agencies had followed up on PTAS’ complaints but could not substantiate them.
Tneoh said: “The DoE teams operate at night, but found no pollution. They failed to produce any reports and so we suspect that factories were informed about when the monitoring would take place.
“When Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin or Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir visited SP, the air quality miraculously improved.
“The DoE should publish their reports and the frequency of the surveys.”
Johari countered: “You can’t place enforcement officers in every other place in SP,” but Tneoh said: “SP is a small town and a patrol to detect all the illegal factories could be completed in two to three hours.
“A volunteer managed to monitor the situation, but he was arrested and remanded for six days on suspicion of arson on May 10. They did not charge him because they merely wanted to intimidate him.”
PTAS urged Johari to address the pollution from the 30 waste recycling factories, which they claim are emitting the odour. They have recorded a high pollution index, of PM2.5, at night and in the early morning.
Tneoh claimed that residents living within 3km of the illegal factories have fallen ill and urged Johari to ensure government agencies act to close these factories.
He suggested proper tracking of toxic waste from factories to prevent the poisoning of ground water, irrigation sources and the household water supply.
“Johari should close waste recycling factories or move them from industrial parks meant for light industry. Factories should be relocated away from residential areas to the outskirts of SP,” Tneoh added.
“Johari’s office should monitor complaints to government departments and help ensure proper enforcement.
“When will the Municipal Council of SP (MPSP) demolish the unnamed factory, which recycles electronic waste in Taman Songket Indah, which is a residential area? The MPSP promised to demolish this factory on Sept 5 but the factory was still operating on Sept 30.
The members of PTAS were less than impressed when Johari told PTAS to “ask Zuraida” to cancel the approvals for plastic recycling factories, so that local authorities in SP could take action.
His remarks show that a serious communication problem exists between MPs and their ministers in Putrajaya.
Why should Johari’s constituents do his work for him? They have already expressed their dissatisfaction about lack of enforcement and the increasing pollution. Johari should translate their concerns into action.
So, is the MP unable, or unwilling, to communicate with Zuraida? Or are there other problems?
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.