English World

‘Issue will be solved’

KUANTAN: The Pahang menteri besar has given his word that there will be no more environmental issues in Kuantan once the massive clean-up of the bauxite mining sector is completed.

Admitting that the state could have done better in mitigating problems that had surfaced due to the state’s poorly regulated bauxite industry, Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob said there would be no repeat of the kind of debacle that had infuriated those in Kuantan.

The confidence, Adnan said, stemmed from the support he was getting from the Federal Government in plugging all the weaknesses and deficiencies that had contributed to problems involving the sector.

Adnan, in an exclusive interview with the New Straits Times’ Special Probes Team, said the three-month moratorium imposed on Jan 15 would give the state government enough time to relook current procedures and come up with a more holistic, iron-clad set of practices to ensure there were no leakages and that the industry was ecologically sustainable.

“With the moratorium imposed by the Federal Government, hopefully we can come up with something solid so that bauxite mining in Pahang can be regulated for the benefit of all, not only the miners but also the other stakeholders, especially the people.

“I am not embarrassed if people say that I am apologetic. When we look back and dig up all the records, we found so many loopholes and weaknesses that we need to address”.

At the heart of the constraints faced by his administration are the cross-jurisdictional issues, the lack of manpower, and “loose” laws and regulations.

The state government, Adnan said, had wanted to manage the crisis on its own but was hampered by issues outside its jurisdiction.

“I don’t want to play the blame game or be in denial, but the fact is, except for the Land and Mines Office (PTG), all the other enforcement agencies (the Minerals and Geoscience Department (JMG), Land Public Transport Commission, police and the Road Transport Department are under federal jurisdiction.

“I have acted proactively by calling the stakeholders and contractors, and even shouted at the transporters during one of our meetings.

We tried to solve it our way first, in our own capacity.

“For instance, we implemented a 24-hour ‘vigil-and-check’.

Unfortunately, that lasted for only two months after one of the PTG officers involved was killed in a traffic accident. It seemed that he had dozed off at the wheel.

You can understand the constraints they are under since PTG has only 18 officers (for the whole of Pahang).

I don’t see how we can do much with only 18 people.” Despite the many rules and regulations in place to regulate the mining industry, Adnan said, enforcement agencies faced an uphill battle in arresting the masterminds behind the 200 illegal mines.

Of the 236 bauxite mines in Kuantan, only 36 are legal.

“When NST asks me, what are you going to do with the illegal miners, I don’t have a definite answer because based on the current laws and practices, if the illegal mining is done on private land, then we can take action using the National Land Code 1965.

“If illegal mining is done on state land, we can raid the area but, almost invariably when we raid the area, the operators will run away.

Then, all we can do is seize their machinery.” The illicit stockpiles excavated from these illegal mines were reported to have been sold to certain individuals, who would then export the minerals to China.

Adnan, however, assured the people in Kuantan that the issue would be addressed and was confident that all loopholes would be plugged before the end of the moratorium.

Failure to do so would result in an extension of the moratorium.

“We cannot just seize the machinery; we must try to arrest the culprits and this can be done with the help of police.

Once we arrest them, we can work up the chain.

“We need to establish a paper trail based on the information we get from questioning the suspects to establish the identities of those financing the operation,” Adnan said, adding that cross-jurisdictional issues must be ironed out first for this to be effective.

He agreed that the fact that not a single mine owner had been arrested to date raised a lot of questions.

Adnan said during the moratorium, discussions at the state and federal levels would be held to work out key issues related to the bauxite mining activities, including the collection of royalty payment, with the objective of streamlining the processes involved.

“We will seek the help of the relevant authorities.

For example, right now, when it comes to the collection of royalties, so many parties are involved — JMG, Customs, Kuantan Port… What we need is one, clear-cut agency to do it.

“The current practice is not like timber concessions, where we collect the royalty first, and then the concessionaire cuts down the trees.

In this case, the miners can export their goods or bauxite first, and then JMG files the claim for the royalty.”

To prevent leakages in the revenue earned by the state government from bauxite mining, Adnan suggested the state government used the data collected by Kuantan Port Consortium Sdn Bhd (KPC) as the basis for royalty payment and that the royalties be paid before the minerals were exported.

NST recently reported that between January and November last year, KPC, which manages the shipment of the minerals to China, exported no less than 27 million tonnes of bauxite.

Between October and last month, some 10 million tonnes of bauxite left the port.

Adnan, during a press conference to announce the moratorium on all bauxite-related activities, said last year, the state earned RM47 million from bauxite export royalty.

This is just an RM10 million increase from the RM37 million revenue it earned in the first half of the year.-NST

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