Some perspective on the issue and real-life concerns which have barely been looked at.
On May 13 2011, PM Najib announced that Petronas will invest RM60bil in a major integrated refinery and petrochemical complex in Pengerang, Johor. The Refinery and Petrochemicals Integrated Development (RAPID) project by Petronas, as it is known, is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2016, as part of the national oil company’s efforts to expand its downstream production.
Exactly a year later on May 13 2012, the RAPID project was officially launched (now valued at a total of RM120bil) with expected investments from Taiwanese and German petrochemical companies, easily making this Pengerang project the biggest ever in the history of this nation.
In the midst of all the excitement and promises of economic benefits to the state of Johor and the rest of the country, there has been some disquiet amongst the Pengerang community. Local NGOs were formed and they submitted memorandums to various authorities, not to mention organising several protests this year.
It would be wrong to say that these NGOs and the people they represent are against any form of development in Pengerang as what many are concerned about is that it has to be sustainable. These local NGOs have adopted a unifying theme – ‘Kekalkan Pengerang Lestari’, or ‘Maintain the Sustainability of Pengerang’. Development of such a scale must be embarked upon with regards for the people affected by it and be done responsibly to minimise its impact on the environment.
We have to ask honest questions and hear honest answers to these questions so that the concerns of not just the Pengerangites, but also of all Malaysians, are allayed.
There are many issues and questions to ask but I want to list down 10 big questions to ask the government about this massive project.
Question 1 – The RAPID Project requires 6,424 acres of land but why is the Johor government using the Land Acquisition Act 1960 to acquire 22,500 acres of land? We hope a plausible and detailed explanation for its justification is forthcoming so that the government would not be accused of using RAPID as an excuse to grab land from the ordinary people of Pengerang.
Question 2 – What is going to happen to the fishermen and smallholders who would lose their means of livelihood? There are about 3,100 residents within the seven villages affected, almost all who have earned their living as fishermen and smallholders. Though some may argue that 40,000 jobs would be created during the construction phase and 4,000 by the time the projects are completed in 2016, the reality is that for many of these affected fishermen and farmers, it would be difficult for them to work in these new jobs because their skills are different.
Question 3 – It has been reported that licensed fishermen are being offered RM30,000 compensation whilst unlicensed ones are offered half that amount. Smallholders with 1-2 acres land are offered between RM65,000 to RM105,000 for their land. As a “sweetener”, the Johor government is offering “subsidized” alternative housing on 6,000 sq.ft. of land with built-up area between 750 to 1,600 sq.ft. The discounted prices the villagers would have to pay for these houses range from RM35,000 to RM105,000. In short, they would have given up their 1-2 acres of land and houses in exchange for 6,000 sq.ft. of land with a house on it, some 15-20km away, with little or no money in their pocket and no land to earn a living. I am told that much of these pieces of land are shared between several siblings to begin with; thus, after dividing the compensation they won’t even be able to afford the “subsidized” housing. Is this a fair deal?
Question 4 – Why is our government so keen to welcome KuoKuang Petrochemical of Taiwan when they have been rejected by their own country? Again, like the Lynas case, is our government telling us that Malaysian lives are worth not only less than that of the Australians but also now, less than the Taiwanese? We have to understand why the Taiwanese people were so against KuoKuang before we welcome them into our land.
Question 5 – Is it true that a petrochemical plant the scale of RAPID would need massive amounts of processed water a day to operate – almost 75% of Johor’s current daily consumption? If this is true, wouldn’t it cause acute water shortages in Johor? Has the government foreseen this and made plans to increase the supply of processed water for the state?
Question 6 – Apart from the above, would it also need large quantities of electrical energy? If not, has the government made plans to increase the energy output in Johor? Has this got anything to do with the rumoured nuclear power plants to be set up in Pengerang? What would our neighbours across the straits have to say about this, especially in the light of the recent Fukushima nuclear disaster?
Question 7 – In May 2009, during a visit to Singapore, PM Najib proposed to his counterpart PM Lee that a third link be built linking Pengerang to Singapore. When would this proposal be followed-up with another announcement? Would it be that, after all the land near this third link has been acquired and parceled to third-party companies, they can make a killing?
Question 8 – Currently, the Department of Environment (DOE) requires developers to submit the EIA report. This report is paid for by the developers, in this case Petronas. Can we trust the glowing DEIA (Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment) report by Integrated Envirotect Sdn Bhd? Isn’t it a case of “he who pays the piper calls the tune”? Shouldn’t an independent panel of local and international experts be appointed to do the DEIA so that the integrity of the report would not be compromised and the truth of potential environmental impact can be known?
Question 9 – It is oppression to the local communities when you unilaterally announce a major development without consultation. That was what happened in Pengerang. When PM Najib made the announcement in May 2011, it was said that even the local state assemblyman was clueless, let alone the villagers. Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is an approach outlined in international human rights law and declarations. It recognizes the right of local affected people to be consulted, and to negotiate with, project developers on the impact of a project on their community. Have the voices of the Pengerang people been heard?
Question 10 -For all the claims of huge economic benefits these petrochemical projects would bring to this country, we hear that the Taiwanese company -KuoKuang Petrochemical – will be given a tax holiday of ten years! Their government rejected them and ours has in turn given them this incentive to move here. While we, the taxpayers pay our government to look after us, hazardous foreign companies are invited into our country to pollute us tax-free, denying us billions in taxes which could have been used to clean up the environment and improve health care here. What is going on?
What do we value in our society? Have we come to a point where everything is valued by ringgit and sen? If a project is valued at RM120 billion, is it then more valuable than the rights of our people, our heritage, creatures under our care, our flora and fauna, and the environment? This may well appear to be a case of prostituting ourselves to the highest bidder.
As Malaysians, we are concerned with what is happening in Pengerang not because it could directly impact us but because it could be our homes and livelihood that could be taken next. What we are confronting is not an isolated situation, but a systemic problem of lack of transparency and disregard for the people’s rights and the environment.
These are honest questions in need of answers from the only people who can answer them – the government. We hope that honest answers will be forthcoming in the days to come. We hope that the declaration “Rakyat didahulukan, Pencapaian diutamakan” (People first, Performance now) is more than an empty slogan when it comes to Pengerang.
But for now, myself and thousands of others will be attending the Himpunan Hijau Lestari Pengerang on 30th September because we are seeking answers and standing in solidarity with our fellow Malaysians in Pengerang. For more information, you can visit www.hijau.info.