931 hectares too many — JJ Singam

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JANUARY 30 — Much has been said about the degazetting of 931 hectares of peat forest from the Kuala Langat Forest Reserve in Selangor. 

The executive of the state appears intent on going ahead with this in spite of thousands of objections to the plan, much to the chagrin of myself and like-minded people be they Selangorians or Malaysians. 

Since the Mentri Besar of Selangor seems to be spearheading the charge for degazettement against what I feel strongly to be against the wishes of the majority and also against the express wishes of some Selangor assemblymen from recent news reports, the question that begs to be answered by the Mentri Besar himself is “WHY”? 

To put things in perspective, 931 hectares sounds rather benign. However, if one were to try to visualise a full-sized football field and multiply that 1,160 times, there you have the size of the forest reserve in question. 

A jaundiced view of environmentally hostile projects already persists worldwide and quite understandably so with many countries reeling under the effects of climate change. 

Destroying part of an 8,000-year-old forest on the pretext of development in an already heavily industrialised state with much of its forests closer to populated areas already decimated flies in the face of reason and sanity. 

The bad habit of depending on property development to fuel GDP growth is like an addiction to a drug, it promises instant gratification but the devil sitting on your back is the price you pay. 

We are still very much in the throes of the current worldwide pandemic, and if any lesson is to be learned it is that Nature has its way of protecting itself against the continuous large scale assaults against it; meaning deforestation, loss of habitats for countless species to the point of mass extinction, loss of natural water reserves, loss of natural terrain and protection against landslides and floods; the list goes on. 

Weigh that against the so-called benefits of a mixed development project on the site; think of all the new housing and commercial projects already under construction and how much of deforestation and land clearing has already happened, and the huge numbers of additional foreign workers who need to be brought in from overseas and the associated social problems that are imported with the Covid-19 virus not being the least of them. 

Think of the large numbers of huge multi-storey office buildings, condominiums, hotels, malls and so on which have sprung up in recent years with apparently little regard for whether the existing infrastructure could support them, resulting in massive traffic crawls, increased pollution, increased trash output and the associated disposal problems, flash floods and so on. 

And also think about how the pandemic has altered the patterns of behaviour among the population and the devastating effects on the economy with offices, hotels and malls bearing the brunt of it. 

There is little that can be done about these lack of planning travesties, but plenty can be done about not repeating these same mistakes, and here is a chance to prove the mettle of the current state administration in this matter at hand. 

Selangor is the most industrialised, prosperous and populous state in Malaysia, and by implication and expectation we hope with the most progressive and forward-thinking administration in place put there by us the voters. 

Surely then you must be the model administration for other state governments, more so being led by an opposition coalition to the federal government. 

Pakatan Harapan (PH) currently only controls three out of eight states after ceding federal power in May 2020 and subsequently losing power in five other states in a domino effect. 

The Mentri Besar of Selangor is a relatively young man among his peer group of political leaders, and upon the shoulders of the young are carried the collective hope of the nation to bring issues of food and water security, health, education and welfare among others to the forefront of the nation’s challenges. 

None of these issues are going to be able to be successfully addressed if the environment itself is not protected but rather degraded further in the pursuit of material wealth for a few at the expense of the many. 

Too many loose and vague statements have been bandied about in defence of this project by its proponents and the Mentri Besar himself such as degradation of the trees in this patch of forest and posing a fire hazard, necessity to make way for national transportation projects and in this case the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) which in its own right is a mockery due to its shady history which PH helped to expose in the first place, assurances of different areas of forest to be newly gazetted as reserves, benefits to the Orang Asli in the area and so on. 

Hints of impropriety attached to the beneficiaries of the development project will invariably arise; questionable Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports, flipping of land for quick and easy profits, huge commissions and fees being paid, logging interests, corners being cut to please those in positions of power, these are just a few. 

Haven’t we seen all this before, the very same model used time and again by the former regime when they were in power in Selangor and elsewhere? 

The sense of frustration and hopelessness at these types of projects announced as beneficial for the people but in the end mostly at their expense, is what propelled the wave that brought PH to power in Selangor and the federal level. 

Take a page out of the recent Taman Rimba Kiara development case where the will of the affected residents and the public to stop developers and their colluders from riding roughshod over environmental issues specifically in destroying one of the last remaining green lungs in the area has borne fruit albeit through legal means. 

Remember that your fellow coalition party colleague and MP for Segambut and former speaker of your State Assembly has been fighting the good fight in this case even as some other colleagues were doing the reverse, unfathomable as that may seem. 

Put on your collective thinking caps; it has already been 12 years since PH took over the state administration, so where is the masterplan for Selangor to make the leap from the mundane and outdated development models that are keeping us bogged down and mired by lack of vision and planning? 

Stop being held back by scheming political dinosaurs who are preoccupied with how to remain in power at any cost, including race and religion baiting. 

Pandering to the gravy train riders and the lunatic fringe theologists among your cadre of fellow politicians is only going to drag us all down. 

We expected a gradual paradigm shift to a higher order of thinking skills to happen post 2008, but we seem to be caught in a loop and unable to escape to a higher plane. 

This is a defining moment, the Mentri Besar and his exco must stand tall and stand together and do the right thing by retaining the Kuala Langat Forest Reserve status. 

Send a message once and for all that the time for greedy profit driven individuals and colluding little Napoleons in the government and their agencies in the great state of Selangor is finally over. 

Selangor has many positives to be proud about after routing the Barisan Nasional (BN) led state government in 2008 and doing away with many of the excesses that prevailed then; please do not now shoot yourselves in the foot and destroy everything you’ve worked so hard for especially the trust of Selangorians. 

Because I can assure you this matter has the potential to tarnish your credibility and reputation badly enough to be etched in the minds of voters and to carry through to the next state and federal elections. 

There is already a trust deficit after the ignominious events leading to the rude surrender of power from PH to Perikatan Nasional (PN) due to the resignation of ex-PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad after just two years of the quantum leap event in GE 14 that saw any party or coalition other than the BN coalition finally being able to come together and succeed in holding the reins of federal power. 

If Selangor were to further erode the trust of voters by stubbornly insisting on this much maligned project against the will and interests of the people, perhaps it will prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

 

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