Malaysia: Johor land reclamation for petrochemical projects

Picking up the scrap
Lim Mun Fah, translated by Dominic Loh
Sin Chew Daily 18 May 12;

I made a special trip to Pengerang during a May holiday.

Although it was a sunny afternoon, my mood was most dampened. I couldn't imagine what this scenic home of lobsters would get to be tomorrow.

Everyone knows that land reclamation is being fervently carried out here, along with active land acquisitions. Many residences, farmlands, schools, temples and even cemeteries will have to give way to two major projects: one by Petronas and the other, Taiwan-based Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology, with a combined investment value in excess of RM120 billion.

It has been said that once these two projects are completed, Johor will emerge a petroleum, natural gas and petrochemical hub in not only Asia but the world.

When residents in the three villages here begin to move out of their ancestral homeland next March, and when the fishermen can no longer harvest fish and shrimps here, the once scenic fishing village will be turned into a soul-less petrochemical hub and nothing else.

It seems that everything has been fixed and when residents are still vague about the first project steered by Petronas, land reclamation has quietly been carried out. And when their vision is still obscured by the lingering dust from the construction works, a "man-made island" has suddenly popped up in front of the eyes of the villagers.

When they start to complain, protest and get frustrated, a previously denied project is now confirmed. Taiwan's Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology has plans to have a stake at Pengerang, investing RM39.4 billion for a petrochemical base here.

No Pengerang residents need the opposition parties' "misguiding remarks" to know what Kuokuang is all about. They are well aware that the controversies around the Taiwanese company's investments back home had persisted for 15 years before they were eventually blocked in Taiwan last year, thanks to the aggressive objections from the islanders.

From the economic point of view, Kokuang's relocation to Malaysia is bound wreak havoc to Taiwan's petrochemical industry and its overall economy. On the contrary, Malaysia will emerge as Asia's, and probably the world's, petrochemical hub.

As a matter of fact, some Taiwanese have accused anti-Kokuang people of being manipulated by the politicians, sacrificing the island's economic lifeline in its course. That said, what kind of price do we have to pay for such economic spinoffs?

To be frank, most people know very little about petrochemical industry, which is, not unlike rare earth processing, highly polluting and risky. This is beyond question.

Because of this, Malaysians begin to question why we receive with open arms something trashed by foreigners.

When our politicians are weighing the economic gains from a project, does the future of our children and grandchildren ever flash past their minds? Why must we throw out a warm "Selamat Datang" when the Taiwanese people have turned their back against Kokuang Petrochemical?

We are not here to protest just for the sake of protesting. We want the truth, and hope our dear prime minister will hear our voices.