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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rare earth venture: ‘Stop your sandiwara’

Pakatan Rakyat does not believe that the Perak government is sincere about not wanting another rare earth plant in Bukit Merah.

IPOH: Pakatan Rakyat politicians want the Perak government to stop fooling the people with its “sandiwara” (stage show) on the controversial rare earth plant.

They said the state was merely harbouring a hidden agenda when it disallowed the construction of the refinery in Bukit Merah here.

They also cast doubts on the Barisan Nasional’s (BN) assurance that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between a Hong Kong-based company and the state-owned Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Perak (PSDC) or Perak State Development Corporation to explore and mine rare earth in the state will not lead to the establishment of another rare earth plant in Bukit Merah.

In a filing to the Hong Hong Stock Exchange on April 18, Commerce Venture Manufacturing (CVM) Minerals Ltd said it had entered into an understanding with PSDC, which reportedly agreed to carry out the project on a joint-venture basis in Bukit Merah.

DAP Batu Gajah MP Fong Po Kuan said: “The MoU specifies the entering into or establishment of a joint venture in Malaysia for the purpose of the exploration and mining of rare earth and other potential minerals and activities in an area in Bukit Merah.”

“The word ‘activities’ speaks volumes of the hidden agenda of the state… we don’t know what the joint venture will eventually lead to but this has not been publicly disclosed,” she said.

She accused the BN state government of working silently to ensure the success of this controversial joint venture.

However, Malaysians were alerted to this deal when CVM publicly announced about it in Hong Kong, she said.

Conflicting statements

CVM, through it local subsidiary CVM Metal Recycle Sdn Bhd, has applied to the state’s Land and Mineral Office for a licence to explore an area covering 250ha in Bukit Merah.

She made available a copy of the MoU to the press yesterday at the Kampung Bukit Merah wet market after holding a protest gathering against the project together with other Pakatan leaders.

Fong also pointed out the conflicting public statements made by BN leaders and PSDC CEO Samsudin Hashim.

Samsudin has reportedly said the matter was still being studied and the state government had yet to give its approval.

However, State Health, Local Government and Environment Committee chairman Mah Han Soon was quoted as saying that even if the project was given approval, the rare earth processing plant would not be built.

Fong pointed out there is no safety mechanism in the MoU to ensure that the joint venture does not result in the construction of the refinery.

The other DAP leaders present were Ipoh Barat MP M Kula Segaran, Pasir Pinjiman assemblyman Thomas Su and PKR state vice-chief Chang Lih Kang.

No categorical assurance

Said Kula Segaran: “BN will always have its way in bulldozing through all its public projects even if the people object or protest.”

He also asked why Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir did not come out openly to give a categorical and immediate assurance that there will be no rare earth plant in Perak when informed of the MoU.

Instead, Zambry chose to be silent while allowing Mah and senior state executive councillor Hamidah Osman to make conflicting statements, he said.

Hamidah was quoted as saying that the Perak government would not allow a second rare earth plant to be built in Bukit Merah.

She was also quoted as saying that the MoU was merely a low-level agreement and CVM Minerals would not get authorisation for any rare earth project under any circumstances.

Kula Segaran also asked whether there are many more other low-level agreements of which Zambry was in the dark.

Su questioned the state government’s claim that the deal was only for exploratory purposes without giving any concrete clauses on the objective of the project.

He claimed that the state government was only fooling the public into believing that no rare earth project will proceed but was silently making arrangements for such a venture.

He took the BN government to task for forgetting the 1980 episode in Bukit Merah when the first rare earth plant was built.

It was closed in 1992 after years of protests from citizens. The area is still undergoing a massive RM303 million clean-up helmed by Mitsubishi Chemicals, which built the refinery.

Residents of Bukit Merah, which is situated in the outskirts of Ipoh, blamed the rare earth refinery for birth defects and eight leukemia cases. Seven of the leukemia victims have since died.

Mitsubishi Chemicals also reached an out-of-court settlement with nearby residents by donating almost RM500,000 to the community’s schools, while denying any responsibility for the illnesses.

Said Su: “This is a sensitive issue that involves the health of residents, but BN is bent on going with this project without paying heed to the safety aspects

“I urge the public to vote BN out in the coming general election,” he said.

Chang said Zambry should resign as he was misleading the public on this controversial issue by claiming to be in the dark over the matter.

He claimed that BN was only keen on its own political agenda without taking into consideration the welfare of the people.

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