Najib claims wanted Lynas waste out while PM, but admits Malaysia has little to fear

Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak speaks at a special forum called ‘Hard Truth: Cash is King’, at the Umno headquarters in Kuala Lumpur August 7, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak speaks at a special forum called ‘Hard Truth: Cash is King’, at the Umno headquarters in Kuala Lumpur August 7, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 8 ― Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak last night claimed to have been in negotiations with Australian miner Lynas Corp to ship its waste out of Malaysia.

Even as he admitted that there is “no threat” to public health from its rare earth waste, the Pekan MP accused the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition of distorting the facts to defeat his Barisan Nasional (BN) in the general elections last year.

“We cannot run from our stand when we were the government then. When I was in power, I supported Lynas operating in Malaysia, but I was a little concerned about the waste.

“At that time, I felt that if there was a way where the waste can be taken out, that is the best way, so the people will feel more safe, more confident, and truthfully, there is no threat,” he said at a public forum here by Umno last night titled “Hard Truth: Cash is King”.

He blamed the uproar over the radioactive waste from Lynas’ refinery in Gebeng, Pahang on Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh and Bentong MP Wong Tack, claiming the duo had “cheated the people” on the facts.

“These two must resign because they cheated the people. If they have any dignity, resign,” he said to cheers from the audience.

Speaking to reporters after the forum and pressed on the terms of agreement between BN and Lynas on its waste management system, Najib said that his government had not concluded the negotiations then.

“We were negotiating with them at that time. It was still hanging at that time. It was still hanging, but we were still looking at other options,” Najib said when asked to reveal the outcome of the discussion.

“I'm concerned because I don't want the people to feel that they are under threat,” he said.

He noted Lynas had provided scientific arguments that its radioactive waste would not jeopardise anyone’s life or health, and indicated he shared the same view.

“We can take the risk. Nothing might happen. Just psychologically, emotionally, the impression, I thought it might be better if the waste can be shipped out,” Najib added.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad confirmed last week that the government was dropping its requirement for Lynas Corp to repatriate its water leach purification (WLP) residue as a precondition for its licence renewal due by September 1.

Instead, the firm was directed to explore a permanent disposal facility to treat its rare earths processing residue.

The decision was a departure from the ruling coalition’s insistence shortly after winning the general election that Australian mining firm must remove its WLP residue from the country.

Following the latest announcement, Malaysians on Facebook mercilessly mocked Fuziah and Wong over the government’s decision on Lynas, dredging up the duo’s claims against the Australian mining firm from before.

Among others, they reminded Fuziah of her teary-eyed press conference from December last year when she appealed for Lynas to “stop bullying” the residents of her constituency.

Facebook users swamped the comments section on her Facebook page regardless of the topic to demand her explanation on the decision to no longer force Lynas Malaysia to export its waste in order for its licence to be renewed.

They also mocked her over previous claims about the possible radiation risks that the Lynas Advanced Material Plant in Gebeng, Kuantan, posed to residents and the surroundings.

On anti-Lynas crusader turned Bentong MP Wong’s page, commenters refused to take consolation from his public criticism of the government decision.

Instead, some pointedly invited him to repeat his 36-day protest at Dataran Merdeka against Lynas Malaysia previously.

Lynas Corp yesterday, also expressed confidence about Putrajaya’s process to renew its operating licence as it is not “hiding any dirty secrets.”

Its chief executive officer Amanda Lacaze told Bloomberg in an interview that the rare earths miner is aware that the government cares about economic development, and that its “safe and sustainable” operations will mean that there won’t be any environmental trade-offs.

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