“1311 Whack a Pinata Family Day at Taman Gelora”

Save Malaysia Stop Lynas Media Brief

Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) to introduce a new interpretation of the piñata to mark residents’ strong opposition of the Lynas rare earth project.

On Sunday 13th November 2011 at Taman Gelora, a family day will be held with an early morning line dancing follow by the “Whack a piñata” action and the signing of a pledge to do what it takes to stop the Lynas project.

Traditionally, a piñata is a papier-mâché that is filled with goodies and then broken as part of a ceremony in Mexico and many Latin-American countries. On Sunday, 26 colourful and stunningly handmade piñatas will be hung up at various locations around the lake for this ritual.  Participants will take turn to whack the piñata to symbolise their anger and frustration towards the Lynas rare earth project. Samples of these piñatas will be shown at the press conference today.

“This Sunday is a family day for mums and dad, grandparents and kids to take part in healthy activities in the beautiful surrounding of Taman Gelora” says Mr Tan Bun Teet, Chairman of SMSL.

“The clean air and beautiful surrounding of Taman Gelora is a reminder of what a lovely place Kuantan is.  We cannot afford to simply sit back to let a foreign company ruined our future and the good life we have work so hard for.”

It has been nearly eight months since residents learnt about the construction of the world’s largest rare earth plant at the Gebeng industrial site in March of this year from the New York Times.  SMSL was formed soon after in response to the fear and the public outcry to provide a platform for ordinary citizens – mums and dads and local businesses as well as professionals – to campaign to protect our beloved homeland from being contaminated by dangerous toxic waste of the Lynas plant.

Since then, SMSL together with other groups have concertedly staged regular protest actions and engaged with the media, politicians and authorities both in Malaysia and in Australia. Tens of thousands of people have taken part to show their opposition to the project to date and the movement is growing in Pahang and around the country as well as in Australia.

Peoples’ power has so far managed to force the Government to take a closer look into the hazards and risks of the plant and the issuing of the operating licence has been delayed as a result.  Until people turned up in force and in numbers, the authorities were complacent.

Earlier this year, the director-general of the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) Raja Datuk Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan had merely repeated Lynas’ public relation spin that the waste from the Lynas rare earth plant is so safe that it can be scattered everywhere.  The AELB had once said the now closed Mitsubishi Asian Rare Earth plant in Bukit Merah, Perak was safe too, even with abnormally high number of fatal leukemia cases, birth defects and other health problems in the nearby towns.

Likewise the Menteri Besar of Pahang had said that the radiation from the rare earth ore was far weaker than that of mobile phones, completely ignoring the long term problem, health hazards and the risk pose by millions of tonnes of waste that would be left by the rare earth plant in all states – solid, liquid and gas.  Each year, the amount of solid waste alone is enough to fill 126 standard Olympic size swimming pools!  This waste will remain hazardous from the radioactive thorium and uranium as well as the range of by-products resulting from the use of highly concentrated acids and other corrosive substances in the processing of rare earth concentrate.

One wonders if the MB is aware that millions of tonnes of waste water will be discharged into our waters potentially polluting our riverine, mangrove and marine ecosystems contaminating our seafood and lovely coastline and the South China Sea.

On top of that, the plant will be emitting huge amount of waste gas into our atmosphere, posing additional risks of acid rain with radioactive particles.  The Malaysian regulators and authorities seemed to be ignorant of the scientific fact that radioactive particles from the various waste streams will enter the natural environment. Low radioactive particles tended to accumulate within organism in the ecosystem and they will find their way into the food chain and hence to the general population. This concern is real and urgent because thorium has a half-life of 14 billion years which means the radioactive particles will be hazardous and dangerous for as long as the human lifespan on earth!

At a time when coastal and marine tourism are beginning to gain some grounds in Pahang, the Lynas rare earth project has essentially halted any hope of further development in ecotourism and in the high-end tourism sector which are friendly to the natural environment whilst helping to boost small to medium scale local businesses and services vital to the livelihoods and income generation for the majority of the people.

Yet we find the Chairman of the Pahang Tourism, Arts, Heritage and Family Development Committee, Datuk Shafik Fauzan quoted in Sinar Harian in October 24th alleging that SMSL should focus on picking rubbish and not picking on the Lynas rare earth project!  One wonders if Datuk Shafik truly understands the implication and impact of the Lynas project on tourism and family for him to make such a statement.  He should be on SMSL’s side to fight for the integrity of the tourism industry.  After all who will want to spend money to come to holiday near the world’s largest rare earth plant?

In consideration of the range of hazards and risks, the best solution to keep Kuantan and the surrounding towns and our environment as well as food clean and safe is to get rid of the plant.  After all, it was constructed without our knowledge let alone our free prior informed consent!

Why should we the citizens shoulder the burden of proof and the risks when the entire project benefits primarily a foreign corporation?  The granting of the 12-year tax break is most puzzling and worrying when the country needs all the revenue we can collect to progress.  Why should the Lynas Corporation enjoy a pioneer status when we already had a costly and nasty experience with the now shut-down Asian Rare Earth plant?

The recent revelation by the AELB that Lynas Corporation has failed to meet any of the conditions set out by the Government is a step in the right direction. It is a stark contrast to Raja Datuk Aziz’s earlier careless dismissal of public concern.  Similarly, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, Minister for International Trade and Industry (MITI) has very recently slammed Lynas Corporation for pre-empting the government by repeatedly project unrealistic early start dates in the media for its Gebeng rare earth plant.

Clearly, Lynas Corporation has proven itself to be a recalcitrant company that have consistently misled its shareholders and potential customers on the progress of its plant against advice by the Malaysian authorities and against the reality on the ground.  Why then is our Government allowing the plant construction to be continued?

How can we trust such a corporation to operate a plant that will produce so much hazardous waste when it is already not facing up with its home truth?  How can we trust our government to be vigilant when it has continued to tolerate Lynas’ risky modus operandi?  How can Lynas take us seriously when our Government has done nothing to show Lynas Corporation that we mean business by putting an immediate stop to its construction when it failed to meet government’s requirement?

It is on these bases that SMSL has to continue to do our duty to keep the public informed and to keep creating democratic space for ordinary citizens, mums and dads to take part in legitimate activities to show their concerns.

SMSL fear this Sunday’s action may well be given the same treatment as the 109 Himpunan Hijau gathering with the government deploying large force of tax payers funded security forces to stop ordinary citizens and their family from taking part in a community event with a legitimate message to keep dangerous project out of our country.

Already we have been informed of empty tents being set up at Taman Gelora to take away public space and to create excuse for the authority to stop the 1311 event.  We also heard that the police force has recalled all its personnel from their leave in preparation for the Sunday event.

Why are our hard earned taxes being used to safeguard a foreign corporation’s interest when in the end our taxes will be needed to clean up and manage any accident and dangerous pollution from the plant?

How can the state apparatus funded by our own taxes be used to safeguard Lynas’ interests in a supposedly democratic nation such as Malaysia?
SMSL cannot afford to do nothing.  Doing nothing now will lead to the demise of the lovely city of Kuantan leaving a toxic legacy for the future generations and a costly burden for all Malaysians. 

If Lynas is allowed to proceed despite our strong opposition and show of strength, we will be sending a message to the dirty polluting industry the world over that Malaysia is a haven for toxic projects with lax environmental law enforcement.  This is a dangerous message to be sending out when industrialised nations are forced to drastically cut their greenhouse gas emissions and shelved their nuclear plans.  They will not be any shortage of dirty polluting projects looking for a home to park tax-free under lax environmental conditions.  We simply cannot allow Malaysia to become their haven!

“All of our active members and supporters love Kuantan dearly.  They have toiled and work hard to build their homes here and they want a clean and safe future for their family and their children and grandchildren.”

“They will and have pledged to do everything possible to stop the Lynas rare earth project.” Concludes Mr Tan.

Thousands of local people have already signed a pledge to do whatever it takes to stop the Lynas project.  Many thousands more will join with time.

SMSL will continue act as a voice of the people to tell the Government and Lynas Corporation that the rare earth plant has no place in Malaysia.