Politicians and wannabe politicians have hijacked the green movement to pursue their political goals at the expense of genuine environmental concerns.
HIMPUNAN Hijau activist Wong Tack has found himself facing a barrage of criticism after deciding to contest under the DAP banner in the coming general election.
His fellow members in the anti-Lynas movement feel let down because they see his decision as politically opportunistic.
They want him to step down from the movement but he says it is unwarranted because Himpunan Hijau isn’t registered anyway. He is even saying that his position as chairman is not an official position.
But what Wong has not said is that all this while, he has been freely making press statements in that capacity.
Dr Kua Kia Soong, adviser for human rights group Suaram, has expressed similar sentiments about Wong, saying the latter must step down.
Dr Kua was a Chinese educationist who quit the United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) in 1990 to contest under the DAP in the 1990 general election. He won the Petaling Jaya Utara parliamentary seat but he did not last long in the DAP as his idealism and uncompromising principles did not fit in the opposition party.
The respectable human rights activist, who was detained under the Internal Security Act in 1987, left the DAP bitterly and ended up pouring out his frustrations in a book, Inside the DAP: 1990-1995.
Dr Kua has returned to NGO activities.
As he rightly wrote recently, “Politicians like to spout the platitude that ‘politics is the art of the possible’, but movements must bear pressure on them to make their demands possible.
“Now, before Wong has even started his career as a politician, he is already faced with his first dilemma.”
Pakatan Rakyat chief (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim, Dr Kua wrote, “has demonstrated the ‘art of the possible’ by declaring that if Pakatan comes into power, Lynas will be given a chance to prove the plant’s safety”.
Wong, when asked to respond to what Anwar had said, was quick to support the Opposition Leader’s statement. That was a far cry from his earlier pledge to burn down the Lynas plant himself if Pakatan comes to power.
That’s precisely the trouble with NGO leaders, especially some activists in Penang, who decide to take a partisan political stand. They begin to make compromises and, worse, they begin to lose their neutrality as they openly side with Pakatan.
At least one former NGO leader has taken up a Senator’s post while others have been co-opted into various state government posts. Others cannot remember which hat they were wearing when they made statements.
The only beacon that stands out in Penang, home of NGOs, is the Consumers Association of Penang, which has consistently spoken out about issues affecting the country and state.
Unlike many NGOs which are actually one-man shows, CAP is professionally run and is focused on education and research. It does not need to flirt with politicians and has kept its credibility fully intact.
Wong obviously owes the thousands of people who took part in the anti-Lynas protest walk an explanation. Was he using them to increase his profile so he could secure himself a candidacy?
His commitment to the environment itself has now been questioned as he has maintained a stoic silence on the blatant raping of forests in Kedah and Kelantan, two states run by PAS, a partner in the Pakatan.
Again, I quote Dr Kua in reference to NGO leaders who have wavered after becoming involved in politics: “Is it because they are so caught up with the political hoopla they have also stepped down a notch from their previous uncompromising stand?
“It’s time they found their own voice now that their erstwhile chairperson has gone on to pursue his political career.”
There have been high hopes that environment issues would play a major role in this coming election but it would appear that much of it has been tainted with political motives. Politicians and wannabe politicians have hijacked the green movement to pursue their political goals at the expense of genuine environmental concerns.
Take, for example, the Bukit Koman gold mine issue. Purported environmental activists have claimed that the mine’s use of cyanide caused medical problems among the residents nearby. Until now, however, not a shred of evidence has been produced to support their claims.
Last year, DAP Kepong MP Dr Tan Seng Giaw, a skin specialist, said “there is still no evidence to show the occurrence of skin problems among Bukit Koman residents in Raub is linked to cyanide used in gold mine activities”.
“It is difficult to attribute the skin problems to a certain substance as it is a very slow process. I think we should approach this issue in a rational manner,” he said.
Yet, the same allegations have been recycled, with the hope that if a lie is told a thousand times, it will become fact.
Interestingly, the gold mine employs over 300 local residents, and Barisan Nasional is claiming that most of the protesters are actually from outside Raub.
It is also interesting to note that a gold mine operator in PAS-run Kelantan uses cyanide and actually explained its operations on its official website. But there’s not even a whisper of protest against it from pro-Pakatan environmentalists, who seem to choose their targets.
Two other gold mines in Pahang are said to also use cyanide but again they are not in the political spotlight. Bukit Koman, however, is in the Raub parliamentary constituency, which the opposition feels it has a chance of wresting from the Barisan.
Environmental awareness is crucial and important. Malaysians must demand that protection of our environment be included as part of the national agenda.
This newspaper has exposed wanton logging, illegal or otherwise, in Pahang, Kedah, Kelantan and Perak. We have highlighted the problems of the natives in Sarawak and incurred the wrath of politicians and developers over our reports on the excessive hill development in Penang. Then there is the never-ending issue of illegal sand mining in Selangor.
Our reporters have been threatened by both sides of the political divide but that’s the price we have to pay if we are to pursue the issue passionately.
The Buku Jingga, for example, is totally silent on the customary land rights of the orang asli, public transport system and even a sustainable energy policy. Environmental groups and voters must insist on these when the Barisan unveils its manifesto.