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Of wildlife sanctuaries and semiconductor production

(This article can also be read at the Penang Institute in KL Column in the Malaysian Insight, 23rd July 2017)

WHAT does an elephant wildlife sanctuary have in common with semiconductor production? Both require a supply of clean water to be sustained. Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Sungai Dua Water Treatment Plant which is run by the Penang Water Supply Corporation (Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang or PBA for short). This water treatment plant supplies more than 80% of the water used by residential and commercial users in Penang.

The Sungai Dua water treatment plant’s water source is the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve, which is where I also spent a few days. The reserve also serves as the water catchment area for the Muda dam as well as the Pedu and Ahning dams. (See below)

Most Malaysians have never heard of Ulu Muda, let alone visited this national treasure. It is home to 50-60 wild Asian elephants (the estimated total population in Peninsular Malaysia ranges between 1200 to 1600).

I was fortunate enough to spot two schools of elephants during my first evening in Ulu Muda as our boat was slowly gliding down the river. Other than the Asian elephant, Ulu Muda is also inhabited by other large mammals including tapirs, sambar and barking deers, spotted leopards, sun bears and the agile gibbons, as well as 10 species of hornbill including the helmeted, great and rhinoceros hornbills. We spotted many groups of hornbills flying in majestic formation during our evening rides down the river.

Apart from the animals, there are vast varieties of plants and insects in the forest including the tualang tree, which can hold over a hundred beehives and the kundur trees with their massive buttresses (see below).

Sadly, logging of the secondary forest, which has been ongoing for many years, is starting to edge closer and closer to the areas critical to the elephant habitat, namely the salt licks. These are areas in the forest that produce minerals consumed regularly by the elephants and other large mammals to supplement their diet.

(The Ayer Hangat Salt Lick, the only salt lick which is also a hot spring. Notice the elephant droppings all around the place)

We spotted an old logging road skirting the bank of the Muda dam and upon visiting the area where the logs were collected before being transported out, we found plans for a new road going into the heart of the Ulu Muda forest reserve, very close to the eco-resort where we were putting up.

This sort of irresponsible logging not only has a significant impact on the animal and plant life in Ulu Muda, but it also will have an impact on the quality of water supply to the residents in Kedah and Penang.

As it is, the many years of logging on the outskirts of Ulu Muda have turned the river brown with sand and sediment. If more and more logging is allowed, it is possible that the quality and quantity of water taken in at the Sungai Dua treatment plant may be jeopardised.

Of course, the state government of Kedah will argue that it needs revenue from logging for its coffers. One way in which the Kedah state governments (or any state government in Malaysia, for that matter) can be compensated for keeping its forests intact is through international funding under the Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (or REDD+) initiative. Funding, for example, is available through the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and in South-east Asia, our neighbours Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are part of this initiative but sadly, not Malaysia. The federal government needs to work together with the relevant United Nations bodies under the UNFCCC framework so that a clear and transparent path towards obtaining funding through REDD+ can be obtained. Strong leadership from federal government on this matter has become even more urgent given that irresponsible parties and companies are trying to dupe certain state governments into participating in so-called REDD schemes.

A semiconductor plant, which requires a regular and clean supply of water, may seem very far removed from the elephant sanctuary in Ulu Muda, but in fact, they are part and parcel of a larger ecosystem. The preservation of the Ulu Muda water catchment area, which is part of the elephants’ habitat, is crucial to ensuring a clean and regular water supply to the largest water treatment plant 200km downstream in Penang.

* Dr Ong Kian Ming is the Member of Parliament for Serdang, Selangor and is also the General Manager of Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University, an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

Why hasn’t Prime Minister Najib spoken up against President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement?

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 3rd of June, 2017

Why hasn’t Prime Minister Najib spoken up against President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement?

President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, signed by 195 countries in 2015, on Thursday, 1st of June, 2017. Immediately, a number of world leaders responded by criticizing Trump’s decision as well as to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron chimed in on the US decision[1] while China[2] and Russia[3] reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement.

I commend and agree with the statement made by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, when he said that “Malaysia would like to express its profound regret and deep concern at the latest action by the United States of America”.[4]

But the silence, till now, from our Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, is deafening. While Malaysia was one of 30 countries which was part of the joint communique issued at the end of the Old Belt One Road Conference in China in May this year, where the commitment of the Paris Climate Change Agreement was reaffirmed, the recent declaration from Trump necessitates a response from the leader of our government, who is our Prime Minister.

Is Prime Minister Najib staying quiet on this issue as part of a larger strategy not to offend President Trump so as to get the Department of Justice to drop the 1MDB kleptocracy case and not to pursue the individuals involved, including Jho Low? Let us wait to see how long Najib maintains his deafening silence on this issue.

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/02/world/europe/paris-agreement-merkel-trump-macron.html?_r=0

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/world/europe/climate-paris-agreement-trump-china.html

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/russia-paris-agreement-climate-change-donald-trump-us-decision-global-warming-moscow-putin-a7766481.html

[4] https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/4203/

Concession Agreement for the Kepong Incinerator project must be publicly disclosed

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Serdang, on the 10th of February, 2017

Concession Agreement for the Kepong Incinerator project must be publicly disclosed

It was reported in the Edge Weekly (January 30 to February 5, 2017) that three companies have been shortlisted for the controversial 1000 ton per day solid waste incinerator in Taman Beringin, Kepong. These three companies are Malaysia Resources Corp Bhd (MRCB) in partnership with South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem Co, Cenviro Sbd Bhd (formerly UEM Environment Sdn Bhd) in partnership with Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd and DRB-Hicom in partnership with Malakoff Corp Bhd and Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. It was also reported that the concession agreement to build and operate this incinerator will be awarded in March, 2017.

Concession agreements in Malaysia, from lopsided toll contracts to the Express Rail Link (ERL) contract that allowed for unreasonable price hikes, have almost always favoured the concession holders at the expense of the consumer / user. The nature of many of these lopsided contracts were only discovered after they were signed, usually when the government has had to explain why they had to allow these concession holders to increase the price of tolls or train tickets by large and unreasonable increments.

This incinerator will be the largest incinerator of any kind in Malaysia. Recall that much smaller scale incinerator projects in Pulau Pangkor, Pulau Langkawi and Cameron Highlands have failed in the past, at great cost to the federal government. The nature by which these contracts were awarded to the company, XCN Technology, was called into question by the Auditor General. If the Kepong Incinerator project fails, the cost to the taxpayer will be far greater than the smaller scale failures in the abovementioned locations. Recall also that this is the second time that the Kepong incinerator project has been tendered out because there was only one company that made a final submission in the first round of tenders.

In order to avoid the mistakes of the past, I call upon the Minister in charge of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, to disclose the details of the Kepong incinerator concession agreement including the projected cost of the project, the tipping fee that will be charged to DBKL, the conditions of the waste guarantee to the company, the length of the concession period, the performance indicators and the terms by which the government can take over the project if it fails to deliver.

In addition, the Minister must convince the raykat the need for the Kepong incinerator given that KL has started the separation of municipal waste which should decrease the overall amount of waste that needs to be disposed.

Failure to do so will only invite more protests from the residents and the high probability that the taxpayer and the ratepayers in KL will end up footing the bill for another lopsided concession agreement.

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang