By LIM SUE GOAN
Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE
Sin Chew Daily
After a heated debate between the ruling and alternative parties, the Dewan Rakyat accepted the report prepared by the Parliamentary Select Committee. Does it mean that there is no turning back for the rare-earth refinery plant?
It is baffling as the BN usually makes a sharp U-turn in many controversial issues, such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill has been sheved after its first reading in the Dewan Rakyat. Even though the BN has always claimed that the electoral system is fair, it has still accepted some reform proposals of the Pakatan Rakyat. Then why is it keep trying to justify itself on the rare earth refinery plant issue? Is it due to an ineffable difficulty or it is just because it cannot afford the cost of withdrawing the plan?
According to a poll conducted by the University of Malaya Centre For Democracy and Elections (Umcedel), 61% of voters in the Peninsula think that the government should close the rare-earth refinery plant. It is a public opinion since there are more than 60% of people are opposing it. The BN takes a great political risk to act against the public opinion.
It is also unfavourable to the BN as experts invited by the BN and its own words are no longer convincing. Take the Parliamentary Select Committee as an example, its report has depicted the plant too perfectly without listing down possible risks, including environmental disasters.
Committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said after his first visit to the plant that it is the world's best, safest and most advanced rare-earth refinery plant. Has the committee actually inspected all rare-earth refinery plants in the world to come out with such a conclusion? The committee has drawn a conclusion even before holding a hearing. It would inevitably make people think that it has preset a stand.
Therefore, it was not surprising when the committee recommended the government to issue a temporary operating licence (TOL). However, there are a few doubts needed to be cleared.
The committee recommended that waste should be shipped out of Malaysia only if its permanent disposal facility fails to meet the requirements. How long does it take to build the permanent disposal facility? It is indeed too risky and hasty to recommend the issuance of the TOL before the permanent disposal facility is ready.
Secondly, the committee claimed that giving the 12-year tax exemption to Lynas could bring economic benefits. However, it has neglected the cost of waste management. The disposal facility of Bukit Merah Asian Rare Earth has to be oversight and managed for 300 years and the hot potato has now been passed to the Perak state government. Would Lynas take the responsible to manage the disposal facility for the following 300 years? Who would bear the consequences if a disaster takes place?
Short-term economic benefits might not be able to cover a permanent waste management cost.
Thirdly, according to the report, Lynas originally planned to locate the rare-earth refinery plant in the Teluk Kalong Industrial Estate, Kemaman, Terengganu, but the Terengganu state government has rejected it due to the failure of the Bukit Merah Asian Rare Earth refinery plant. Why didn't the committee consult the Terengganu state government?
Another problem is, Lynas claimed that the rare-earth refinery plant is just a chemical plant producing rare earth, instead of a nuclear power plant, and thus, it would not be a threat to residents and the environment. Does it mean that the government will not build any nuclear power plants in the country?
The Himpunan Hijau has decided to hold the "Occupy Balok- Gebeng 24 hours" rally on June 23. It means that the rare-earth refinery plant issue will continue to simmer until the general election is held.
As the BN does not listen to the public opinion, it must then be psychologically prepared to face the political impacts. It might also be one of the factors causing the delay of the general election.