Home TA Online Rare earth ‘treasure trove’ in Kedah: Greed, desperation or economic salvation?

Rare earth ‘treasure trove’ in Kedah: Greed, desperation or economic salvation?

Kedah - Photo: Rizalis (Malaysian Macro Team)/Flickr

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From palm oil to rare earth minerals below the ground, have we forgotten something? JD Lovrenciear points to the housing and elderly care needs of the people.

Not long ago, it was the “Love my palm oil” slogan; now it is “Palm oil is God’s gift”.

This appears to be Malaysia’s marketing strategy to promote and penetrate the global market.

Developed on overdrive – often at the expense of our rubber estates, forests and many other potentially unexplored crops – palm oil is now the subject of a new campaign under the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.

Under pressure from a Western bloc protesting against palm oil, the previous Pakatan Harapan government came up with a “Love My Palm Oil” campaign.

Shortly after, the incoming Perikatan Nasional government dumped that and introduced a new campaign slogan that invoked the name of God.

But is palm oil the only gift of God? What about the oils from soya, coconuts, peanuts, sunflowers or even olives? Are they not gifts of God too?

The entire world does not live on one source of edible oil, oh Malaysia! God gave humankind many sources of oil to consume.

With this “re-branding” of palm oil, should we wonder if the PN government is only interested in marketing palm oil to believers of God, and not to atheists?

The change in slogan sets a new benchmark in how low we are sinking. Speaking of which….

The hunt for minerals

An MP has warned the Kedah government against its plan to mine rare earth elements in Kedah.

PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution Ismail told Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor he would be watching closely the progress of the hunt for rare earths in the state.

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We are told the rare earth elements could be worth some RM62bn. The snag is this supposed treasure trove apparently lies buried beneath the virgin forests of the Bukit Enggang Forest Reserve spanning 20,230 hectares.

The agreement that has already been inked by the state government will in all likelihood go beyond mere soil sampling.

The critical questions is will logging now take place? After all, you cannot dig out rare earth elements without uprooting flora and displacing animal life, can you?

We have to ask ourselves some hard questions.

For decades we had oil. Today, in the face of a coronavirus pandemic, where has all that wealth gone?

We plundered countless trees in many of our forests across the nation for decades. What is left? Has all that timber revenue made our economy resilient or eradicated poverty among the bottom 40% of households?

And now we are chasing after rare earth elements in Kedah. Where will it lead us?

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from the coal and diamond mining in Africa. To what extent has that really improved the plight of the local communities there?

It appears that we are either greedy, desperate or out to seek economic salvation for Malaysia. If that’s not the case, what then is this RM62bn ‘treasure hunt’ all about?

Proper living conditions for everyone

Meanwhile, many have highlighted the poor living conditions for foreign workers.

Since the outbreaks of Covid-19 clusters, especially among foreign workers in dormitories lately, concerned parties have zoomed in on factories and building construction sites that provide housing for their foreign workers.

But let us not end up again unable to see the forest for the trees. The focus should not be confined to proper housing and living conditions for foreign workers. The debate should include housing for university students, many of whom cram into apartments due to their financial constraints.

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Then there are the many low-income families who cannot afford a decent dwelling of their own. Often, they can be found crammed into smaller living spaces because they cannot afford the rent for more spacious homes. Just look at the cramped conditions in low-income housing, which the government takes great pride in. Likewise, many rural Malaysian youths seeking jobs in the cities have to live in cramped conditions.

The root of the problem is we lack the political will to regulate, control and provide enough affordable housing – a basic human right for all to enjoy.

Employers who hire foreign workers usually look at profit margins when deciding on the living floor space per worker. That is because these employers have to rent such premises that often do not come cheap, what with rents going up every year.

So the real problem is not the employers. The real problem is not even the various agencies responsible for granting permits to convert premises into hostels and dormitories or for ensuring municipal standards are kept.

The problem is that politicians and the government are not prepared to make decent housing a basic human right for the people, including foreign workers.

We must stop the housing industry from being turned into a cash cow for certain vested interests. We need to make accommodation affordable. We need to recognise that liveable space is central to the mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing of human beings.

When the housing needs of people are left to free market forces, the entire nation suffers as the EQ (emotional quotient) of the population gradually declines.

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What about elderly care?

It also appears that the government has not been proactive enough in planning for the care needs of Malaysia’s rapidly ageing population.

Professionals and NGOs have repeatedly warned that with 15% of the country’s population expected to be over 65 years old by 2030, Malaysia is running out of time.

While the call on the government to start raising the retirement age from 60 to 65 is a short-term action plan that has not yet gone through, the issue of elderly care is a serious social problem that has been ignored.

The mushrooming of unlicensed and perhaps even illegal elderly care homes suggests it is a case of business going after profits.

Has there been any study into welfare homes to examine if there are any unethical practices?

Unfortunately, the care homes that run on charity are too few to meet the exponential demand from low-income households or even the middle class.

What is the use of endlessly building more skyscrapers and resplendent mega-projects in the name of economic ‘progress’ when the number of homeless and the elderly in need of care is rapidly growing.

It is time for the government to come up with a blueprint to provide affordable, quality caregiving and care homes for the growing number of elderly.

Malaysia needs well-planned elderly care villages nationwide, with comprehensive nursing and medical care and social infrastructure designed to meet the needs of the elderly.

The government should not have to be prodded to provide affordable and accessible elderly care for the people, without compromising on standards. After all, that is the categorical duty of a responsible government.

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