By Shannon Teoh
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 – The government was forced to deny today it was defending the interests of Australian miner Lynas Corp which expects its controversial RM1.5 billion rare earth plant in Kuantan to begin operations early next year.
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said the accusation by Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh that he was a “spokesperson for the Australian government and for Lynas is akin to calling me a traitor.”
Mustapa said his ministry will continue to engage all interested parties in the Lynas project.
“I am not a spokesman for Lynas. The ministry has prioritised the Malaysian public and will continue to engage all interested parties,” he told Parliament.
PKR vice-president Fuziah, who has led protests against the refinery due to fears of radiation pollution, said “ministry officials have told me in meetings that they inherited this problem from the previous minister (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin).”
Putrajaya has defended the project as a strategic industry for Malaysia in spite of the fears of radiation pollution that has arisen among local residents and environmentalists.
Leaders from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) have previously talked up the potential economic benefits of a rare earth industry, citing up to RM2.3 billion in investment spinoffs and “thousands of jobs” as a result.
But critics have questioned the real economic benefits of the project, pointing to the 12-year tax break Lynas will enjoy due to its pioneer status.
Lynas, which had earlier planned to ship in rare earth ore by the end of this year, was reported today to have delayed its rare earth production at the Pahang plant to the first half of 2012.
It has yet to receive approval for the plant after Putrajaya adopted 11 conditions recommended by an International Atomic Energy Agency-led (IAEA) review in June.
Some 1,000 people, led by Fuziah and Bersih chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, gathered in Kuantan earlier this month in protest against Lynas.
Lynas has refuted claims of radiation pollution, assuring Kuantan residents they would face “zero exposure.”