The reaction of Malaysians to the construction of the rare earth plant near Kuantan is something that should be expected. Sure, the authorities are saying that the proper steps will be taken to ensure safety for the surrounding environment and communities. Yet people are still fearful, why?
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assures that the plant will be safe, and has added further 10 issues to improve the safety of the plant. But is it convincing?
The problem with this and many other projects and initiatives in Malaysia is this... consistency. Sure we take all the precautions now, but will it be sustained? Will the initial commitment due to public pressure ensure the follow through on procedures and safety methods for the next 10 years?
Remember this? Stadium Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin at Terengganu. Guess what? this stadium collapsed right after Sukma 2008. The report which was supposed to detail how and why such an incident happened is yet to be done. Yes, it is taking over 2 years to get the report. That's a WTF moment right there! Since the report has yet to be completed, the repair works has yet to begin. So here we have a state stadium in disuse for over 2 years because at the end of the day, people we too busy twiddling their thumbs. Check the Bernama news here.
This is the commitment shown across the board. Policies are upheld for a couple of years, forgotten, changed, and then repackaged and sold back to the people. Don't get me started on the issue of teaching Science and Maths in English Language.
Economically I can see tremendous benefits of having a rare earth plant in Malaysia. The global monopoly by China on rare earth elements is creating a forced investment scenario where heavy users of rare earth are bringing their operations into China for the sole reason of bypassing whatever export restrictions China has. With having a rare earth plant here, Malaysia can look forward to enjoy a small piece of this pie. All around good, but it is the repeated lack of commitment and persistency that makes people rise an eye brow and say 'Yeah right!'.
So the final question comes to this, let's not dwell on our poor track record. Maybe we could change, or maybe we are already changing right now. Perhaps with greater awareness and transparency, the people can really act as a check and balance force on the plant's development and continued operation. But does the positive effects really outweigh the potential risk?