ETP project destroying virgin mangroves in Pitas
By James M. Alin,
The clearing of Mangrove forest in Pitas, Sabah: Who is responsible?
The wanton destruction of 4,000 acres (or 1,600 hectares) mangroves in Pitas Peninsula has in a way spoilt our mood for celebrating Christmas and New Year. It is a dark moment in the living memory of the hardcore poor villagers residing in the vicinity of Sungai Telaga area in Pitas particularly Kampung Sungai Eloi, Kampung Datong, Kampung Kuyuh, and Kampung Ungkup. Mr. Kan Yaw Chong’s article (Daily Express 22 December 2013) has done good service in highlighting the plight of Orang Sungei families severely affected by the action of the greedy peoples. Someone said, “Berapa berat mata memandang, Berat lagi bahu yang memikul” (can someone translate it into English?).
In his article Mr. Kan Yaw Chong reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPD) served a compound fine of RM30, 000 in 23 September 2013 and ordered the said company to stop work pending EIA completion and approved. However up until 18 December, the contractor had neither paid up the compound fine nor abides by the said stop work order. If what Mr Kan reported is accurate, then we have bigger problem than the proboscis monkeys losing their habitats or the opportunity cost of losing an eco-tourism potential. We the conservationist are confronting people who are not only very arrogant but also not afraid to violate the regulations, what more to say having a little respect towards EPD. They did not pay the penalty of RM30, 000? They can if they want to but that is not the point.
According their official website, this project (together with Pintasan, Kota Belud project) was estimated to attract RM716 million with RM266.5 million impact to GNI and will create 3,626 new jobs. Furthermore it was expected to spearhead commercial development and production of cultured shrimp (farms and processing factory) with an investment value of more than RM360 million by Borneo Shrimp (sabah) private limited.
You think this is too good to be true, look at their bizarre claim. “The project was expected to generate RM320 million in annual sales from the estimated annual production of 15,000 metric tonnes upon fully operational in five years time”. If this figure is what was written in the document submitted and approved, then the ability of clever people working for SEDIA is a suspect. Here is why; prawn landing at Kudat, the nearest port to Pitas was 1,388 metric tonnes (2008). Sabah’s gross production of prawn (by none other than the much hated trawlers) was 8,514.46 tonne value at (RM’000) 122,766.33. Even if we combine production from private sector (aquaculture) on fry wholesale value amounted to RM4,562,280 (59,000,000 tails of Penaeus monodon/ benih udang harimau + 169,114,00 tails of Penaeues Vannamei /benih udang putih) will not match the Return of Investment from Pitas project. Do you to need a degree in aquaculture science or economics to tell me there is something wrong with the ROI mentioned above? Their Cost-Benefit Analysis is also dishonest because it does not tell us the social costs.
So much for the digression, let us return to the issue of JV Company who ignored EPD penalty and order. Again, what is RM30, 000 to the multimillion projects? That begs another pertinent question. Are they being recalcitrant because they are feeling invincible or immune to the law? The answer is resounding yes. Continue reading if you want to know why.
Who is to be blamed? Who should be held responsible for the irreversible damage resulting in the felling of the pristine mangrove? Should we put all the blame on the contractors? Contractors (if they are independent business entity from the JV Company) were just doing their job. Is it not? Or is it the fault of the Joint Venture Company who hired the contractors?
To be precise, the responsible falls on the shoulder of shareholders of the JV Company. But who are these greedy people?
How about the people working along the chain of custody? The “paper trail” starts from the top i.e. Economic Tranformation Program- Najib administration’s agenda financed by taxpayers’ money to increase economic growth. Below it are the PEMANDU followed by Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (SEDIA) the one stop agency at the implementation level. Down the chain is an investment entity i.e. Inno Fisheries Private Limited (General Manager – Miss Watie Ambu) one of Yayasan Sabah Group of companies and wholly owned by Sabah government. Their Joint venture partner is a company named Sunlight Inno Seafood (GM is Mr Cedric Wong King Ti; Perak based company according to Mr. Kan Yaw Chong article).
So it was the JV Company that actually proposed the project to SEDIA for consideration. But then, why did SEDIA agree to a project that cuts an equivalent to 12% of the adjacent Bengkoka Peninsula Class V Mangrove Forest (total 13,283ha) without regard to the livelihood of the local people? Did it occur to them that the project site is delicately interlinked with biodiversity of the remaining pristine mangrove forest reserves?
There is the rub; Sabahan they may be, but do they even have the rights or “standing” over ownership of that mangrove land? They don’t because it was a state land anyway, but is it ethical to ignore them in calculating the cost benefit of the Shrimp Aquaculture Park? It seems unlikely that the clever people working for SEDIA were not thinking straight at that moment in time.
We are going to open a can of worms. Who is on the BOD of Yayasan Sabah group of companies? The executive Chair is Datu Khalil bin Datu Jamalul and the members are Hj Ampong bin Puyon, Hj Mohd Safari, Dr. George and Datuk Sam Manan. Sorry I omitted their titles to save space. Who is on the Board of Trustees? Chair is the CM- Musa Aman, State civil servant boss Sukarti, YB Sapawi, Peter Pang En Yin, Datu Ismail Abdullah and Jame Alip. By logic, since YS group is wholly owned by the State (that why CM is the chair?), shareholders is the taxpayers (Sabahan), the Perak based company is private business entity with unknown shareholders. Chief Minister is also the ultimate boss for SEDIA and EPD.
Clever people in SEDIA are accountable first to those politicians and then to the public. That if and only if, they have a conscience and the guts to tell and do the right things. No wonder the JV company so daring, they must be thinking they can (and will?) get away with impunity. Who needs EIA, why should they stop to clear cut the mangrove when the boss of Forestry is on board? I almost have forgotten to mention that YS group has three corporate objectives in which two are relevant to the issue at hand. The YS group aimed to relieving people of poverty and undertaking of activities which are benevolent and charitable in nature. Well, look at what they have done in Pitas, above and beyond everything else, profit over people for sure.
So what now? Even if the JV company submitted (therefore will be approved –that what happened usually) the EIA, it does not solve the problem. The experience of Penang, Perak, Indonesia, Thailand or the Philippine in aquaculture serves as a cautionary tale. That shrimp aquaculture has short product life cycle- meaning it will start by producing high volume but at the expense of environment and soon reached diminishing returns. Many of us heard about Larut- Matang Mangrove area- the poster boy and a much publicized world most successful big scale mangrove reforestation project.
But not many of us know as what happened to the origin mangroves long before the replanting. Can you guess? Do we want to repeat the expensive mistake of Larut –Matang? History of aquaculture in Penang demonstrated aquaculture is the most expensive way to produce shrimp both in term of socio -economic as well the environment. We conclude by explaining the social costs mentioned in paragraph three. The mangroves in Perak and Penang was destroyed as early as 1960s, and by 1970s the fish catch declined resulting in an intense competition between artisanal fishers and commercial vessels, tension built up and erupted as ugly physical violence.
Even if this so called Integrated Shrimp Aquaculture projects succeed in exporting the projected volume, the revenue it generates will never compensates for the loss of livelihood of the hardcore poor and the degraded environment. The consumers in Peninsular Malaysia (where our shrimp being sold) and other importer countries are indifferent to what happen to the mangroves in Pitas. The price of shrimp does not include the cost incurred by the loss of virgin mangrove and its biodiversity; it does not include cost to rehabilitate (replanting?) the mangrove forest.
It is indeed a dark moment for the conservation inclined Sabahan. Let us hope and pray that there will less destruction of mangroves in the years to come especially in rich biodiversity hotspots in Pitas, Kota Marudu, Kudat-Banggi-Balambangan – areas soon to be gazetted as Tun Mustapha Marine Park.
James M. Alin,
This is my personal opinion and it does not reflect the official position of my generous employer- School of Business and Economics, Universiti Malaysia Sabah. I welcome all comments, email@example.com, or twitter @literati43
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