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Thinking Allowed: White Elephants, Environmental Destruction and the Perak Corporation Bhd

By Mariam Mokhtar

Malaysians have a moral and social obligation to care for their environment but not everyone takes their responsibilities seriously. Companies also have a responsibility to preserve the natural environment, but more often than not, in Malaysia, profits matter more than environmental considerations.

What about the role of government? Whose side do they take?

The latest scandal involves the Perak Corporation Berhad (PCB).

Who runs big corporations like the PCB? Who sits on its board of directors? Are the members of its upper management, experts in their field, or are they merely political appointees with limited experience?

Many political appointees enjoy inflated salaries and perks, but what do they actually do? How accountable are these people? What are the criteria used to nominate them to fill the positions on the board of directors or the management tier?

On paper, the PCB is described as an entity which is “engaged in property and investment holding, property development and the provision of management services”.

It is very impressive stuff, but it does not tell you that its other speciality is being the main supplier of white elephants in Perak!

One such white elephant is the theme park called Movie Animation Park Studios (MAPS). Many years ago, experts advised against building MAPS but PCB and the erstwhile Mentri Besar, Zambry Abdul Kadir, pushed ahead.

Until it was closed down recently, the Perak MB, Ahmad Faizal Azumu, ignored suggestions by various members of his coalition to sell it off, as the Perak taxpayer had to pay millions of ringgit to prop it up. The money that was squandered could have been used for the provision of health services or improved social welfare for our elderly.

Last February, the spotlight was again on the PCB, this time for bulldozing several acres of land near Tanjung Malim, which are part of probably the world’s largest nursery for jungle trees.

Is the PCB against reforestation?

Is the board of directors and its upper management unaware of what is going on with its various development projects?

In a time of heightened environmental awareness, and concern for the ill-effects of pollution on the environment and the consequences of climate change, is the board and management of the PCB not at all bothered?

In 1996, when he was 60 years old, newly-retired James Kingham, who has a keen interest in trees, started collecting a variety of tree species, fruit trees and rare tree species.

Most retirees with a keen interest in gardening and growing vegetables and flowers for their own use, potter around in their tiny orchard or nursery of a few acres.

Kingham, who is affectionately called the “tree guru” is the proud collector of two million trees in a nursery of 200 acres. He is grateful to the Orang Asli and park rangers for tracing, acquiring and replanting many hitherto unknown and rare tree species. He has planted the area with around 1200 rare species of jungle trees.

Kingham confessed that he was self-taught, but he leased some land from the state, obtained the help of Sime Darby, and together with his two assistants, and supported by his son and grandson, he managed to successfully grow jungle trees, and plant seedlings of jungle trees and other rare trees.

He once had around three million trees, but rapid development around the area reduced the number of trees by around one million.

Such is his success, that he provides jungle trees for urban gardens to perpetuate their species, and the Singaporean botanical garden and other institutions around the world often consult him, for advice.

Today, the 84-year-old Kingham is devastated by the destruction of his labour of love. The state refused to renew the lease on his land and sold the land to the new owners who have bulldozed around 40% of Kingham’s collection of trees.

Too upset by the destruction of his life’s work, others came to his aid. One such person was the conservation activist Jules Rahman Ong, who rushed to the site to speak with the developers. He claimed that when he pleaded for the destruction to cease, it continued with greater intensity.

Ong told Malaysiakini, “I was up at James Kingham’s forest nursery. I spoke to a passionate worker from the Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre (TRCRC) who has been trying to save the trees since November. Every day she and her 20 young staff have been digging up and transporting the trees to a holding space in Kota Damansara.

“There are two million trees and 800 endemic and exotic forest tree species at the Tanjung Malim nursery, more than are held in the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (Frim) or the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia collection. In fact, these agencies come to this nursery to get seeds and saplings.”

Ong said that they were trying to get a court injunction to prevent the developer’s actions, and he was furious when the rate of demolition increased and the contractor was elusive when asked about the development.

It is believed that the land is designated for building houses and a golf course.

Ong also claimed that pleas to PCB and the office of Perak Menteri Besar, Ahmad Faizal Azumu, to postpone the bulldozers had fallen on deaf ears.

Undeterred, Ong publicised Kingham’s plight on Malaysiakini, and on social media. He has also started an online petition to stop the destruction.

Such was the anger of Malaysians, that an aide to Ahmad Faizal drove to Tanjung Malim to halt the development. A stop-work order was issued by the Tanjung Malim District Council, soon after his visit.

Malaysiakini contacted the PCB for a response. At the time of press, none was received.

Will this article in Ipoh Echo, elicit a response from PCB? Will they stop destroying Kingham’s treasure in the jungle?

When most countries value conservation, it is obvious that the Perak MB and PCB are more interested in making money, than being the guardians of our national treasure and a jungle which is several million years old.

Sources:

https://www.thestar.com.my/metro/community/2016/04/16/perak-corp-gains-control-of-maps

https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/perak-corp-and-only-world-group-scrap-collaboration-struggling-theme-park

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/04/12/builders-staff-of-scandal-hit-perak-movie-animation-park-paid-twice-says-au/1742571

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2018/12/03/just-sell-maps-perak-dap-chief-tells-state-government/1699527

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/12/03/perak-govt-should-sell-maps-theme-park-to-private-investors-to-cut-losses-says-nga

https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2019/04/481574/perak-govt-will-not-close-maps-says-mb

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/427007

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2019/04/21/maps-entertainment-park-in-ipoh-wont-close-despite-rm500-mil-losses/

https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2018/12/437542/perak-mb-maps-now-self-sustaining-doesnt-need-capital-injection

https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/perak-mb-meet-maps-management-workers-compensation

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/512100

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/512323

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2020/02/26/district-council-issues-stop-work-order-for-project-on-reforestation-land

Faizal Azumu asks people to pray for him to be retained Perak menteri besar

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