Langat 2, Lynas and luck

Posted on 30 October 2012 – 03:10am

Azman Ujang


THE fate of two controversial multi-billion ringgit projects, whose names both begin with the letter “L” is hanging in the balance. While the Langat 2 plant to treat raw water from Pahang can’t get started as the Selangor government has refused to grant it a development order, the Lynas rare earth plant in Pahang is ready but can’t start firing up because of protests by residents who have taken the matter to court.

The High Court in Kuantan has kept on hold a licence granted to Lynas of Australia to operate the plant and is expected to decide on Nov 8 whether to consider judicial reviews aimed at blocking its production permanently.

Activists calling themselves the “Save Malaysia Stop Lynas” group want the court to suspend the licence until two judicial reviews challenging the government’s decision allowing the plant to operate are heard. Both projects are hot political issues ahead of the general election and decisions made are bound to reverberate long after the votes are cast.

Like Lynas, it now seems unavoidable that the Langat 2 plant, in all probability, would also have to be decided in court although Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin again said last week he did not rule out the possibility of the project being carried out without the Selangor government’s approval.

But he qualified his remarks by saying that the attorney general’s opinion had been sought on whether there are provisions that will allow the federal government to proceed.

He said: “We have sought the opinion of the attorney general if there are provisions in the National Land Code or the Land Acquisition Act where because this project is in the public and national interest, and if approval is not given it will give rise to big problems, probably we could proceed.”

A highly placed source told me that as far as the AG’s Chambers was concerned, the project would need the development order but the Selangor government could only reject the application within the law.

This would mean that partisan politics, which I would argue is the real reason behind the stalling tactics of the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government over the project, would not stand in court.

“If they unreasonably delay or reject the application, we must take them to court,” the source said.

Without the Langat 2 plant, the RM8.65 billion project to transfer raw water from Pahang to Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya via 44.6km of pipelines and tunnels would be useless when ready in two years because it was planned to coincide with the full operation of the plant.

With all kinds of political obstructions being laid along the way, the Langat 2 plant is already 597 working days behind schedule. The plant with its downstream components like pipe network and reservoir tanks is estimated to cost RM3.7 billion but further delays are bound to result in cost overruns.

A former Selangor mentri besar told me that under the National Land Code, the court could decide on matters of public interest.

He said in cases of public interest, the federal government is empowered to acquire state land and the state government has no power to block it. He said for any development exceeding 100 acres, the power to approve rests with the National Development Council chaired by the prime minister. It’s interesting to see when the federal government would, like the case of Lynas, let the court decide on the matter. The earlier, of course, the better.

However, Muhyiddin, who is tasked with resolving the water issue with the state government, seems to still hold out some hopes when he again appealed last week to the state government to issue the development order for the sake of the people.

And for the first time, he very rightly described it as a “life and death” issue. “This is not about politics. We have never politicised the issue of life and death, and basic human needs,” he said after visiting the Sungai Selangor dam near Kuala Kubu Baru in Hulu Selangor which supplies 60% of water to the Klang Valley and Putrajaya.

National Water Services Commission chief executive officer Datuk Teo Yen Hua warned that if the Langat 2 plant was not completed by 2017, millions of consumers especially industries in Selangor would face an acute water shortage. As it is, water resources in Selangor are enough only until 2015.

While the raw water transfer project plus the Langat 2 plant are all about water security, the decision on Lynas is also keenly awaited by the government and the environmentalist group.

The group, whose protests centred around possible radioactive residue from the project, has rejected all assurances from Lynas and the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board that issued the licence that it is safe to operate the plant. Lynas also issued many assurances that it will comply with all safety requirements to operate the plant, the biggest outside China. It is considered economically important to breaking China’s monopoly on the processing of rare earths which are used in products like smartphones and hybrid cars.

The Australian company is naturally anxious to start production since it has invested over RM2.5 billion on the plant in Gebeng, Kuantan. It has kept its side of the bargain and is looking forward to us keeping ours.

As an attractive destination for foreign direct investments and having recently been voted the world’s 12th most business-friendly country, Malaysia and Malaysians have much more to gain if decisions to be made on Lynas are based on points of law and the larger good of society especially our economic interests.

“L” can stand for luck. Let’s hope that at the end of the day, Langat and Lynas have it. Good luck to both.

Azman Ujang is a former editor-in-chief of Bernama. Comments:

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