By Arveent Kathirtchelvan
Dearest Minister, I read your reply to Lynas employees and can’t say I am not dismayed. I write this as one of the only voices in support of Lynas as your government, with specific respect to your ministry, seems unwilling to budge on any issue with regards to heavy metal processing and radiation-related activities. As a holder of an MPhil in Advanced Chemical Engineering from the University of Cambridge, I expected more from you as a minister especially regarding issues unpopular to the public.
Minister, I would like to refer you to the, often repeated, clarifications Lynas has done on the topic of waste management. In it they have clearly stated their commitment to undertake recycling of their wastes to take advantage of the rich concentrations of highly valuable minerals present within them. For this, Lynas have invested a good amount of their annual profits to undertake detailed research and development. In my opinion, as the Minister for Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, you should be supportive of this and even partner with Lynas to speed up their efforts, whilst training Malaysians on the very same matter. As you would be rightly aware, the rare earth metals processed by Lynas are imperative to many technologies, especially those that produce green energy. How can you, dear minister, antagonise a company that is imperative in producing the very solar panels and wind turbines you have championed?
But I digress. Your point was waste management, let me come back to that. Lynas have for years stated their commitment to recycle their waste, failing which they will identify and build permanent disposal sites for their wastes, failing which they will extract all wastes from Malaysia. This has been their commitment for so long. For you to imply only the extreme latter shows your bias against this company and it is unbecoming of a person of your stature to do so.
Another matter I would like to discuss lies in your own ministry’s website. I wonder, dear minister, if you have read the report of the Executive Committee of the Operational Assessment for Lynas (LAMP). In their recommendations there is none that states immediate removal of wastes from Malaysia. Granted, there are recommendations to remove wastes from Malaysia if sites of permanent disposal cannot be located or approved. On environmental considerations, an Environmental Impact Assessment and a Radiological Impact Assessment are recommended to make sure LAMP procedures are in line with what is safe. Moreover, on the release of a greater concentration of heavy metals into water streams, the report recommends research into where this breach of regulation comes from. Again, there is no immediate need to remove these wastes.
You have mentioned in your reply, dear minister, that the Lynas management is trying to stage a drama, that the usage of paid advertorials and press conferences are to paint the ministry in a bad light. Let me ask you a simple question. In a situation where the current government is made of those who are against their business, in an era where people do not understand their operations and are constantly attacking them unfairly, what is Lynas to do? It just so happens that Lynas has the means to get their side of the story out and so they do, through whatever means possible. I would argue that, in fact, it is you who is trying to paint Lynas in a negative light by presenting sly arguments that wilfully hide most of the story to make you seem better in the public’s light.
I wonder where your zeal goes when considering the myriad of coal-fired power plants there are in Malaysia. In fact, I remember our Prime Minister saying we should go into Sabahan coal for energy rather than nuclear power. Where were you then? Why have you not gone to the multitude of IPPs burning tonnes of coal in producing electricity to slap them with fines? Or are they all miraculously clean-burning? Are you unaware of the polluting ways of coal? Or are you more interested in political power compared to doing your job well?
I don’t understand, dear minister, why you mention Lynas not keeping to their word when it is you who are trying to prematurely remove Lynas’ waste from Malaysia. No talk of recycling, no talk of looking for permanent disposal sites, pure vilification as if they are hoodwinking the public. What is this vitriol? Why Lynas?
It is truly suspicious. What more, Lynas is an unpopular company, often regarded as the ultimate bogeyman. It seems like you don’t care about proper procedure, only about votes. Or that you care about your image as a green minister, a minister who fights for a cleaner Malaysia. While I can commend you for moving against plastic straws and trying to make solar power more popular, I must say it is deeply disappointing that such an intelligent person would willfully obfuscate the public on this. Shame on you, minister!
I read as well the partial reply to your letter from the Deputy President of Lynas, Mimi Afzan Afza, on your non-response to Lynas’s multiple invitations to you to come visit their site. Now, I cannot comment on whether this is true but assuming it is, how can you judge a company without having engaged with them in the first place? Is this another attempt to undermine Barisan Nasional’s policies just to make yourselves feel better? If so, how dare you utilise your esteemed offices to further your own cause when it is for that very reason the people of Malaysia kicked out Barisan Nasional last May. Or is that too far to remember?
Enough with the silliness. Stop antagonising Lynas and work with them to better their process, if needed. It is not rare-earth metals that are our enemy, it is coal and other fossil fuels. Yet we are seeing the development of a third national car with no talk of divestment from these harmful industries. From what I can gather, Lynas are following procedure quite well. Most of their processes and activities are not harmful and where there are problems, they can be dealt with locally. When all else fails, Lynas can and have promised to remove these wastes poste haste. It is even economically of low impact, as you have rightly pointed out. So please, move on and stop deceiving Malaysians further. It takes away from the great work you are otherwise doing. Thank you for your time.
Arveent Kathirtchelvan is the Chief Coordinator of Liberasi
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