By Shannon Teoh
KUALA LUMPUR, July 21 – Kuantan residents opposed to a RM700 million rare earth plant being built there have challenged Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob to a debate after the Pahang mentri besar dismissed them as “irrational”.
Adnan told reporters last weekend that the state government will not engage with the local residents groups over the project as they were “ignorant.”
“We challenge him to a debate so that the public can see whose views are more rational,” said Tan Bun Teet, chairman of the Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas (SMSL) group of residents from the Pahang capital.
Residents from Beserah, who live as close as two km from the plant, also questioned the MB’s stance as the federal government was still willing to engage the residents.
“If the secretary-general of the ministry of international trade and industry can meet us and even agree to the points we made, why not the Pahang MB? Now who is irrational?” said Andansura Rabu, who leads the Badan Bertindak Anti-Rare Earth Refinery (Badar) movement.
Adnan had told reporters that experts have already studied the project but “even after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) panel report was announced, those anti-Lynas groups still would not budge.”
“They are not rational. So, there is no use engaging them in a dialogue. They are ignorant,” he added.
Opposition leaders, especially PKR vice president Fuziah Salleh, have attacked the Barisan Nasional (BN) state and federal governments over the plant being built by Australian miner Lynas Corp, turning it into a major election issue in Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s home state.
Kuantan MP Fuziah has led local residents and environmentalists in loud protests against the plant that they say will be a source of radiation pollution.
The federal government bowed to public pressure in April and ordered a month-long review by a team of international experts led by the IAEA, which was concluded on June 28.
Putrajaya has adopted 11 safety recommendations from the review panel, which Lynas has said it is confident of meeting by the end of the year.
The mining giant has gone ahead with a deal with Thai engineering firm to complete a second phase of the plant by the last quarter of 2012 subject to approval from local authorities.
Lynas says that its plant – which will extract rare earth metals crucial for high-technology products like smartphones, hybrid cars and wind turbines – will create a RM4 billion multiplier effect annually and 350 jobs for skilled workers.
Although reports say the plant may earn RM8 billion for Lynas, critics have questioned the real economic benefit of the project, pointing to the 12-year tax break Lynas will enjoy due to its pioneer status.