Saturday, October 25, 2003

Tawau Otentik Quarry - Only Tragedy Will It Stop

Kampung folks in Tanjung Batu, Tawau have been living in fear for years. Their pleas have never been taken into consideration. Numerous accidents at the quarry which resulted in death of innocent lives from the Otentik Quarry, but no order has ever been issued to stop the quarry from operating.

Otentik Quarry, which operates on a piece of forest reserve of the Kukusan Forest Reserve, is located at the centre of a very populated area of Tanjung Batu in Tawau. There are more than 200 families living at the foot of the mountain or nearby. The distance between the residential area and the quarry is less than 500 metres. The quarry is only a few kilometers away from Tawau town.

Besides having to tolerate with the danger of flying rocks from blasting, the people of Tanjung Batu also have to bear with the high density of dust and noise pollution. The operator went against all laws, disregards the impacts it brought to environment and worst, the danger they created to human lives living nearby.

Fearing for their safety, health and security, the residents have made many complaints to many authorities, local, state and even to the federal levels. A committee was also form to fight for their rights. Sadly, no one listens and no one takes any actions. Politicians approached only gave empty promises, which they are expert in.

To add salt to injury, in May 2003, the status of the 66-hectare Kukusan Forest Reserve has been re-classified from a Class I Protection Forest to a Class II Commercial Forest to enable revenue diversification through non-forest and multi-use forest development.

Deputy Chief Minister cum Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department Datuk Lajim Ukin who tabled the Forests (Constitution of Forest Reserves and Amendment) (Amendment) Enactment 2003 said the State Government had to re-evaluate the reserve’s status from the geological, flora, fauna and bio-diversity aspects.

“Furthermore, the reserve has become a secondary forest reserve with low density of timber and in some places has been encroached upon by illegal squatter structures and planted with cash crops,” he said.

The changes will also enable the State Government to streamline the regulation of quarry activities for which a licence was issued in 1967.

“The licence and permission to quarry in the area was renewed every five years until 1997,” he said, adding that complications arose when the area was classified as Class I Protected Forest Reserve in 1984.

Therefore, the reclassification into a Commercial Forest and continuation of the quarry activities would benefit the Government as the licence fee gives the State Government RM84,000 as well as job opportunities to the locals.
Apart from that, it would provide for better control and update of the forest administration in terms of legislation and management.

However the minister failed to review the why the timber in a forest reserve would disappear? It is not difficult for him to inform the house of representatives that the quarry operator has illegally chopped and sold the logs to make way for their quarry activities. How could it be called a forest reserve when people could fell timber in broad day light?

The minister also did no review that tons of money have been sent to the Forestry Department and certain ministers in order for the quarry license to be renewed every year. Why not name these people who have benefited more than RM84,000, and not the state government?

He did not mention at all the hardship of the local people, not illegal squatters (since the Ops Nyiah has sent all the foreigners home), who have suffered for so many years because of the existent of the quarry. For RM84,000, the state government chose to sacrifice the welfare of the poor kampong folks.

You might ask why the state government is so insensitive? No, the Government, or rather the interested lots in the government, are actually sensitive, but they are sensitive towards their own interests and benefits.

By amending the law the interested lot ensure their ‘income’ is intact. The quarry is owned by a very wealthy businessman who had helped many politicians during their election campaigns. The quarry also gives free or at a discounted price for supply of stones to the ‘wakil rakyat’ for their rural road projects. These YBs then claimed from the government for full cost.

So it is not difficult to reason out why the so call ‘wakil rakyat’ never took care of the people’s welfare. They themselves are too busy taking care of their own pockets by denying the rights of the people whom they have deceived into voting for them during the general election. Not only that, to further safeguard their interests, they even pressured the various government agencies like the Department of Environment (DOE) and Environment Conservation Department (ECD) from taking any serious action. As such these government agencies are only capable of going after the small fish and letting the big fish at loose.

Such is the situation of how rotten and how corrupted those authorities who were supposed to safeguard the people’s interests and rights but instead help to making illegal fortune for those unscrupulous politicians. These are the people who have actually robbed the people of Sabah their rights, pride and dignity.

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