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Thursday, November 7, 2019

Mara Corp & Lynas: Wealth before health



There are four choice words to describe Mara Corporation Sdn Bhd's collaboration with Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd to develop the downstream rare earth industry in Malaysia: insensitive, sneaky, reckless and greedy.
Insensitive because Mara Corp does not care about Lynas' unresolved radioactive waste management and its impact on the environment.
Sneaky because the collaboration with Mara, a Malay institution, will act as a buffer against future protests against Lynas.
Reckless because Mara Corp appears to have brushed aside the concerns of the residents of Gebeng and the environmentalists. If the processing plant had stayed in Australia, it would have been subject to the most stringent regulations. We are a Third World country and readily accept other people's plastic and radioactive wastes.

Greedy because the move shows that Mara Corp is only interested in business opportunities, in its quest to dominate the rare earth industry.
This collaboration is probably a tactical and judicious move by Lynas. Our politics is dominated by race, and being aligned with Mara may stop future protests against Lynas. Bigots will claim that a protest against Lynas will threaten Mara/Malay business interests.
The carrot was dangled on Nov 4, during the announcement of the MoU between Lynas and Mara Corp. Choice words like "projects involving education and training", "drawing investments", "creating new high-value jobs", and the particularly attractive phrase, "Mara's role in fulfilling potential growth areas for the Malays and bumiputeras", are designed to massage Malay egos. Greedy people will not hesitate to put wealth before health.
Allegedly, non-radioactive residue from the Lynas' plant at Gebeng will be turned into soil conditioner. This soil conditioner (fertiliser) has been certified safe by the Standards and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (Sirim), and will be made available to Malay farmers.
Perhaps Chinese farmers are too savvy to accept the waste from Lynas. Once bitten, twice shy.
Thirty-five years ago, Malaysians were scarred by the operation of the Mitsubishi Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant (below) in Bukit Merah, just outside Ipoh. ARE workers were allegedly told that the residue from the plant would make good fertiliser for their vegetable plots. Later, some children were born with birth defects, and there were at least eight cases of leukaemia and seven deaths.
Last May, Al-Jazeera reported that Lynas would turn the waste into a soil conditioner called CondiSoil, which had been tested by a Malaysian university and an agricultural institute, in research funded by Lynas. The conflict of interest should have rung warning bells. The recycling would negate the need to build a permanent disposal facility.
Malaysians mistrust big businesses
Malaysians take things at face value. Whenever big businesses or politicians say that all is OK, many of the rakyat will believe them.
They don't ask questions, like "How safe is safe"? No-one scrutinises the test results or demands that an independent university test the veracity of the claim.
Our scientists and academicians, in both public and private universities, failed to challenge the claim, presumably because they don't want to rock the boat and jeopardise their rice bowls.
Sirim declared the soil conditioner safe. Will Sirim and the agricultural institute share the analysis? We don't want a repeat of Jakim and the Chemistry Department's refusal to share their procedure for detecting porcine DNA in food.
What crops were grown in the soil conditioner and how did they determine the safety of using the product? For how long were the tests conducted? Were they done over several growing cycles? What controls were used?
How does CondiSoil compare with other fertilisers? Do they know how animals or humans, who consume these crops, will be affected? Were there any adverse effects on those who handled the soil conditioner?
The chairman of Mara Corp, Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah Sanusi, bulldozed the concerns of the people of Gebeng in his desire to make Mara "a centre of excellence focusing on rare earths". He said, "As far as we’re concerned, Lynas is not just here to stay, but here to grow."
His defence of Lynas is shocking, especially as it's waste management issues remain unresolved.
Akhramsyah may have imagined himself as a visionary with business acumen, when he said, “We have allowed a strategic industry to go to waste. We have lost a decade of opportunity.”
Instead, he sounded callous and arrogant, oblivious to the dangers from the radioactive waste residue, and the public's anxiety, ever since this controversial project started.
With China dominating the rare earth industry, and Mara Corp desperate to gain a foothold in this lucrative trade, Mara Corp will want Lynas to increase production. A vicious cycle will ensue because processing more ore will generate more waste, including radioactive waste products.
The Australian government has refused to allow the waste back into Australia. Neither Lynas nor the Malaysian government has decided how to dispose of it.
If the decision is made to bury the radioactive waste, the location will also cause controversy. Most people will say, "Not in my back yard".
Will Lynas bear the full cost? Will the Malaysian taxpayer pay to clear up another mess caused by Umno-Baru and its cronies?
The day after the MoU was made public, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (photo, above), met Dr Mahathir Mohamad and asked him to drop all the conditions imposed on Lynas. Why should Mahathir and the Malaysian rakyat agree?
Australia exported its environmental problems overseas. Morrison should not hold a gun to Malaysia's head. Our people and environment matter, too.
Incredibly, the Mara Council claimed that it was not made aware of the collaboration between Lynas and Mara Corp. Why are we not surprised? It is the old Umno-Baru methodology at work. Mara's left hand does not know what its right hand is up to.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). BlogTwitter. - Mkini

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