Posted by: ulumuda | August 11, 2008

Logging issue lays bare Pakatan’s Achilles heel (NST 29 June 08)

DAVID YEOW

The fallout between the DAP and Pas over the logging of the Ulu Muda forest reserve is symptomatic of the lack of coherent policies in the Pakatan-ruled states, writes DAVID YEOW

THE Ulu Muda forest reserve in Kedah, one of the oldest rainforests in the world, is under threat, ironically, by the very guardians of the state, the state government.

Kedah Menteri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak wants to start logging in the reserve, transforming the land twice the size of Singapore into a RM16 billion jackpot for the state.

The Pakatan Rakyat-led Kedah announced last week that the BN federal government was not channelling enough funds to the state for development and that tapping into the natural resources of the land was the only solution.

Azizan even told his critics last Tuesday that they should not be too obsessed with caring for the environment “like parents who are extremely obsessed with their offspring”.

“The child is so pampered that he does not need to go to school. The child does not want to leave home.

“This is like our forest. We are too obsessed with preserving the trees that we don’t cut them.

“We leave the trees till they get old and rot. The trees die and fall and affect the growth of others.”

Azizan did not seem bothered by the fact that Ulu Muda is one of the water catchment areas for the Pedu, Muda and Ahning dams which provide raw water to Kedah, Perlis and Penang.

Environmental groups immediately opposed Azizan’s proposal to log timber in the water catchment area, a move which they claimed would result in almost one million valuable trees being felled.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) honorary secretary R. Meenakshi described Azizan’s claim that the logging activity would be environment-friendly as “nonsense”.

“How can he make such a preposterous claim? I am waiting to see what great plans he has which he terms environment-friendly,” she said.

Malaysian Nature Society (Penang branch) chairman K. Kanda said the water catchment area should be left as it is.

“Water is an extremely important resource,” said Kanda. “There are consequences. I do not think logging is the best solution for Kedah.”

Even opposition colleague, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, is opposed to the idea.

Lim, whose state’s water supply would be affected by the logging, appealed to Azizan on grounds that both the trees and water in Ulu Muda are God’s gift to man and must be preserved.

Azizan’s reply was: “Timber is God’s gift and I want to make money from it. What’s wrong with that?”

He added that even if the Federal Government were to give the state RM100 million in compensation, he would still cut down the trees.

And as the tension between the two opposition leaders escalates, PR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the glue that seemingly holds the loose coalition together, is no- where to be seen or heard.

Leading one to ask: If the tables were turned, what would BN have done? The BN has shown what it would do.

In 2003, the BN Kedah government approved a 122,798ha timber concession to WTK Holdings Sdn Bhd from Sibu and Yayasan Islam Kedah to carry out heli-logging in six areas.

They were the forest reserves of Ulu Muda, Pedu, Padang Terap, Chebar Besar, Bukit Keramat and Bukit Saiong.

Environmental groups were up in arms. Sahabat Alam and the Malaysian Nature Society sent petitions to the Federal Government to intervene.

And the very man who today wants to chop down the trees in Ulu Muda, Azizan, was then an ordinary opposition member and he was one of the more vocal protesters of the proposed logging of the forest reserve.

Technically, the Federal Government could not order a freeze on logging concessions as such matters come under the jurisdiction of state governments, but the cabinet met anyway.

After a few months of mediation between the state and Federal Government, then Primary Industries Minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Lim Keng Yaik announced that all logging at the forest reserve areas would be prohibited.

The Finance Ministry also announced that the state governments would be paid a compensation for their projected profits from logging.

The menteri besar then, Datuk Seri Syed Razak Syed Zain, said the state would abide by the cabinet decision to prohibit logging in the Pedu Dam forest reserve area.

“It would seem that a seemingly environmental issue in Kedah has revealed to the nation PR’s Achilles heel, their lack of organisational hierarchy,” said Universiti Utara Malaysia political scientist Dr Mohamed Mustafa Ishak.

Mohamed Mustafa said that unlike BN, the PR, a loose coalition formed by DAP, Pas and Parti Keadilan Rakyat, does not have a proper hierarchy.

“Anwar is the de facto leader, but who put him there? Was it unanimous?” asked Mohamed Mustafa.

“Who is the secretary-general? It’s been more than 100 days since March 8, does PR have a supreme council yet?”

Mohamed Mustafa said that while the PR was a marriage of convenience during the 12th general election, the honeymoon is now officially over.

He added that the issue in Kedah not only opened up the question on where PR stood on sustainable development and environmental issues, but also the bigger question of whether PR had a common vision and plan for the future.

“Sharing a common enemy (BN) is not enough. But sadly, that seems to be the only thing the three parties have in common.”

According to Mohamed Mustafa, the issue of logging in Kedah would have been addressed by now if PR was anything like BN.

“Penang can only dissuade Kedah from logging, but if Azizan insists, there is nothing Lim can do. There is no superior coalition committee to seek redress from.”

Instead of formulating a coalition constitution and deciding on a long-term development plan, Mohamed Mustafa said PR was more interested in playing politics.

“Stop the invitation to cross over. They should instead ask themselves is there anything worth crossing over to?

“What is PR’s stand on the role of Islam in Malaysia? Will it be the extremist version as endorsed by Pas? Or will it be secular in nature as endorsed by DAP?”

Mohamed Mustafa added that such topics would be on the minds of the Sabah component parties PR was said to be in talks with.

Even the topic of “crossovers” is a debate among opposition leaders. While Anwar is for it, both DAP chairman Karpal Singh and Pas spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat are against it, calling it unethical.

“And if the three parties in PR can’t even agree on the basics, then forget about attracting other component parties, or more voters for that matter.”

But, there are some observers who see the difference of opinions within PR as a form of healthy politics.

Universiti Sains Malaysia political analyst Lim Hong Lai feels that it is all right to be in the same coalition but have conflicting values.

“Look at the Democrats in America. Two blue states can be next to each other but still have different state laws,” said Lim.

“Different views towards same sex marriage and the death penalty. What more three distinct parties in a coalition.

“Politics is about defending your own interests, so conflicting views are bound to happen.

“But having said that for the sake of its survival, PR must from now move on towards having a common ideology and direction.”

Lim said BN was founded on the common value of freedom from the British colonialists and forming an independent state by the people for the people, regardless of class.

“The BN founding fathers had the same ideals, they spoke the same language, they were by-products of the same education system and enjoyed the same lifestyle.

“They were bonded by friendship and patriotism.

“If PR wants to become a rival to a mature and stable coalition like BN, then they have to find a common ground. They don’t have to agree on everything but at least agree on enough points for the coalition to exist into the next generation.”

The question now is, do Pas, DAP and PKR have what it takes to change, compromise and agree on a common vision or ideology.

“If the ‘Anwar Factor’ is the only thing that holds Pakatan Rakyat together, then forget it,” said Mohamed Mustafa.

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