Pengerang rally a sign of trouble for Umno in Johor

PENGERANG, Sept 30 — A sea of green and noise will break the characteristic silence of Kampung Sungai Rengit here this morning as thousands converge to this sleepy corner of Johor to rally against the development of Petronas’ RM60 billion petrochemical complex — a major event that could see Umno’s Johor bastion crumble. 

The Himpunan Hijau Lestari mass rally is expected to blow the lid off months of simmering frustrations felt by Pengerang’s 28,000-odd villagers who believe the mega project would come at too great a cost to their livelihoods. 

According to media reports, the state government has already invoked compulsory land acquisition under Section 8 of the Land Acquisition Act 1960 to resettle the seven villages occupying the 6,424-acre space earmarked for Petronas’ Refinery and Petrochemicals Development (RAPID) project. 

The total value of the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC) in Johor, which includes Petronas’ RM60 billion RAPID, is believed to involve a whopping RM170 billion worth of investments in total, once it starts operations in 2016. 

The mega project is expected to turn Pengerang into a boom town for global petroleum investors, rivalling neighbouring Singapore as Asia’s most vibrant petrochemical hub, and creating over 40,000 job opportunities for locals from construction to downstream activities. 

But the government’s plans have still run afoul the local communities living in the many fishing villages girdling the southern shore of Pengerang. 

Apart from fear over reports that one of the investors in RAPID-KuoKuang Petrochemical had to abandon its plan to house a petrochemical project in Taiwan following concerns that those living in close proximity to such developments would see their lifespans reduced, a number of the affected 3,129 villagers in Pengerang are also unhappy with the government’s compensation payment. 

According to previous reports, licensed fishermen have been offered RM30,000 in compensation payments for their loss of livelihoods while unlicensed fishermen are offered RM15,000. Smallholders of between one and two acres of land have been offered between RM65,000 to RM105,000. 

The government has also offered villagers the option of subsidised alternative housing on a 6,000 square foot piece of land with a built-up area of between 750 and 1,600 square feet, some 15 to 20km from their villages. 

But local villager Kasran Dollah said the government was out to “kill the Malays” with their offers. 

“It is not like we are fighting the government. We are just asking them to help,” he told The Malaysian Insider yesterday. 

“At first, us Malays agreed with the compensation… but when the rates dropped to just RM2.80 per square feet… we were dissatisfied… it’s like they are out to kill the Malays,” he said. 

The retired school teacher will be among the many keynote speakers headlining this morning’s Himpunan Hijau Lestari protest at Dataran Sungai Rengit, joining a host of others from Johor-based and national NGOs, including organisers of the anti-Lynas rally in Kuantan. 

According to local coalition NGO Pengerang chief Anis Afida Mohd Azli, the mass rally is expected to draw in some 10,000 people, turning it into yet another massive show of public anger that could potentially turn into major concern for the Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government ahead of the coming polls. 

“We hope that the local villagers will come out. They are indeed angry with the situation, they are very angry,” she said. 

Since yesterday, protestors from across 25 locations nationwide had begun streaming into Kampung Sungai Rengit, located at the southernmost tip of Johor here, turning the quiet coastal township into a hive of activity ahead of this morning’s protest. 

When met, organisers told The Malaysian Insider that they have already run afoul the authorities as both the local council and the police have refused to give their go-ahead for the mass rally. 

Three roadblocks are expected to be erected to block the single carriageway into Kampung Sungai Rengit, but event coordinator Zaaba Abdul Samad said the authorities “may be able to stop the vehicles but not the people”. 

The outspoken activist added that the Pengerang issue would likely be Umno’s sore point, even affecting its chances of recapturing the parliamentary seat in the coming polls. 

He pointed out that during the previous two elections in 2004 and 2008, Umno’s Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said had cruised to easy walkover victories as the opposition had trouble with its candidates. 

“But this time, we will ‘lawan tetap lawan’ (fight to the end),” he said. 

When met in Kampung Sungai Rengit earlier, Himpunan Hijau chairman Wong Tack told The Malaysian Insider that the Pengerang issue should not be regarded as a matter of concern only for the local villagers. 

He pointed out that much like the anti-Lynas movement in Kuantan, where the government’s approval of Australia-based Lynas Corporation’s rare earth refinery had caused public uproar due to safety concerns, the Pengerang project was no different. 

“This is not about Sungai Rengit or Pengerang. It is a national issue.  That is why we can see thousands of people coming in from across the country… they know they have to come forward, they know they need to stick together to ensure the country has its future, that our children have their futures,” he said.

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