COMMENT | Perak is a mess because of poor leadership. At the moment, Perak Menteri Besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu is trying to outdo Umno-Baru.
He may have Mukhriz Mahathir's ear, having once served as his aide. He may have royal "consent" to be the MB, and he may be emboldened because Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has no issue with him.
Developers, timber tycoons and mining businesses may ampu-bodek him, but Ahmad Faizal does not have the support of the people of Perak; from the Orang Asli in the interior to the fishermen on the coast.
The challenge is not to try to convince Ahmad Faizal that developing Perak does not entail indiscriminate logging, kow-towing to big businesses, ignoring the rights of the Orang Asli, or to championing white elephants like the Movie Animation Park Studios (MAPS).
The real challenge is trying to mobilise the ordinary people to take an interest in those things that affect (or will soon affect) their daily lives, and to question the authorities.
Many will say, "what can we do, we are only orang kecil" or "no point because we will not make a difference", or they just shrug their shoulders because they just do not care until their own lives are affected.
In the past, it was alleged that when villagers complained to the former MB, Zambry Abdul Kadir, compensation was offered and the villagers kept quiet, but the problem remained.
The current Perak MB Ahmad Faizal (photo) has lurched from one faux pas to another and here is another reason why Perak is a mess. DAP and Amanah are also trying to outdo MCA, MIC and PAS in appeasing Bersatu, so the grouses of the Perak people are being ignored.
The reason why disgraced Najib Abdul Razak (and Mahathir) rode roughshod over the nation was because their fellow MPs did nothing to censure them. This disgraceful lack of responsibility exhibited by the MPs and the rakyat must not be repeated in "New Malaysia".
The shoddy treatment of the Orang Asli by the Perak MB, and his blatant disregard for the environment, may be the most recent scandals in Perak; but many people are not aware of the potential environmental disaster caused by sand mining, both legal and illegal.
This is where Penang comes in.
Perak's sands are being mined, and shipped to Penang, to build its three artificial islands in the Penang South Reclamation Project (PSR). The houses and development of the PSR are for the emerging middle classes and foreigners. One is not against development. One is against indiscriminate development.
The developers, and a handful of people, will make a lot of money, but what of the fishermen in both Perak and Penang? Who will speak for them? How will they benefit?
So, why should Perak suffer at the expense of Penang? In neighbouring Indonesia, stretches of beaches have disappeared to build Singapore's artificial islands. Some of our sand was also used.
More Perakians should be aware of the dangers caused by sand mining. Fishermen are not the only ones affected. Those living close to rivers and the mangrove estuary will be at risk, as are the flora and fauna.
Penang will gain, Perak will lose
Penang will gain three islands, but Perak will lose out when huge gaps are left in the river and seabeds off Perak. The Environmental Impact Assessment of the PSR did not address the effects of sand mining. The United Nations advice on sand mining was conveniently ignored. Why?
The dangers of sand mining can be likened to a ticking time bomb. Who would have thought that dredging for something as innocuous as sand could be so lucrative, but environmentally damaging?
Villagers in Perak have already complained about riverbank erosion, because the extraction of huge volumes of sand has destabilised the riverbanks.
Water quality is affected. Water pumps in water-intake treatment plants, which supply us with water are damaged because of sedimentation. Maintenance or repair costs mount up. It won't be long before Perak has a water crisis like parts of Selangor.
Irrigation channels extract water from the rivers, but if the river and its banks are stressed by sand-mining activities, in time, farmers will complain that they cannot irrigate their padi fields
Sand mining will affect the mangrove swamps of Perak, principally in Kuala Sepetang and Kuala Kurau. The mangroves form a natural barrier, thus protecting the lowlands against storms, tidal waves, rising sea levels and tsunamis. Tanjung Piandang is a cape and is particularly susceptible to the effects of tidal movement.
Although four areas have been earmarked for sand mining, in the seas off Perak, shores as far south as Segari, near Lumut, will also be affected. This an important beaching area for the green turtles to lay their eggs. Many species of flora and fauna will become extinct. Fish, shellfish and crustacea live in fragile eco-systems. Crabs will die in the mud, as will coral.
Sand mining leaves underwater craters and exposes rocks. These will damage fishing nets, which are costly to repair (RM400 per net). Fishermen have already reported decreased catches. Soon, they too will have to give up their jobs, which have been handed down for generations.
Penang's vanity project has serious consequences to both states. The Penang Master Transport Plan (PMTP), which will be funded by the PSR, is an ill-thought out plan. Moreover, who wants another Hong Kong or Singapore? Penang has its own character. Why emulate others? The lustre of the Pearl of the Orient is fast fading.
What of Perak? At a meeting in February between the Perak MB, Sahabat Alam Malaysia and the non-governmental organisation Kuasa, Ahmad Faizal allegedly told the NGOs that he supports the sand-mining project, especially in the Perak River, because it will deepen the rivers.
Perhaps, we should advise Ahmad Faizal to read about the ill effects of sand mining in the Irrawaddy, in India and in California, before he issues press statements that claim that NGOs are undermining the development of the state. The Department of Environment, the Land & Fisheries Department, the Jabatan Bekalan Air, the Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development, the Forestry Commission and the Housing and Community Development agencies should also have an input.
The DAP has to counter the alternative meaning of the party, which is "Development Action Party", but Perakians have just one barrier to overcome - their menteri besar!