Saturday, September 5, 2009

Another assault on our fragile ecosystem!


Shot by Mary Maguire
Edited by Antares
Soundtrack: "Overflowing" by Sheldon Blackman & The Love Circle

Early on the morning of 4 September, the residents of Kampong Pertak, Ulu Selangor, were treated to the ominous sound of heavy equipment arriving in the village. A tractor-dozer and excavator had been sent up to begin widening the old logging trail that leads to Bukit Kutu and beyond.

What was this all about? I questioned the excavator operator and he asked me to have a word with Mr Tan, the contractor, who responded vaguely that they had been instructed to "upgrade" the logging trail by the member of parliament for Kuala Kubu Bharu, YB Wong Koon Mun from the MCA.

That was a bit of a surprise. In all the years I've been residing in these parts I've never known the MCA to take any interest in the Orang Asli. I felt sure there was more to this project than merely "improving" the logging trail for the benefit of the villagers.

About six months ago I recall bumping into an overweight Orang Asli named Rapi from Kg Tun Abdul Razak who seemed to be waiting for someone to show up. We chatted a bit and he mentioned something about a plan to tar the logging trail for easier access to the deep jungle. I told him it was the worst idea I had heard in a long time.

He asked me what prompted me to say that and I explained that a tarred road running through the jungle would lead to increased vehicular traffic... and inevitably the destruction of the natural beauty and tranquility of this popular recreational spot. Busloads of daytrippers will start coming up and leaving behind tons of garbage. Soon there will be greedy developers eyeing the prospects of creating luxury resorts and perhaps even a theme park like Mimaland! No way, I said emphatically. Rapi just shrugged.

I subsequently discovered that Rapi was an Umno member and had set himself up as some sort of spokesman for the Temuan community in Selangor. I shuddered at the thought. Yup, that's all the Orang Asli need: some sleazy Umno opportunist representing their interests!

Putting two and two together, it appeared that this encroachment could be yet another attempted rape on the ecosystem by the Barisan Nasional, just about the least environmentally friendly political party you will find anywhere.

I contacted Elizabeth Wong, Selangor state government exco member in charge of the tourism, consumer affairs and the environment, and she called me back shortly to say she had spoken with the District Officer and the Forestry Department and nobody knew anything about a "road upgrading" project in Pertak. She suggested I lodge a police report at once.

Now you'd probably understand my aversion to lodging police reports. Every time I've had to do something like that it takes up to two hours just to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole. Invariably, little action, if any, is taken - unless, of course, it involves honest citizens lighting candles in public places or parading in black clothes, in which event the police are likely to spring into swift response mode with teargas, water cannons and mass arrests.

As luck would have it, the very next morning some well-connected CEO-type nature-loving friends showed up who were incensed when informed of the presence of earthmoving machinery in the jungle. They reported this encroachment to the Splash office at the Selangor Dam and got to speak with the manager by phone. The man assured my friends he would despatch his men to investigate.

As it so happens, my ecowarrior friends are particularly fond of rivers and the great outdoors. They wasted no time walking up the trail to confront the workers, who had managed to make a hideous mess within the space of a few hours, scraping raw the already unstable embankment and leaving piles of loose earth on the steep slope facing the river.

This is the rainy season. In a matter of days the earth will pollute the normally crystalline waters - and within months, if not weeks, landslides may occur as the heavy machinery will put tremendous pressure on the highly erosive soil.

As my friends rightly pointed out, the contractor hadn't even bothered putting up a sign identifying the project. However, Mr Tan had done the necessary and given the headman a handsome bribe to secure his assent. To his credit, he amicably agreed to stop work and ordered the the withdrawal of the earthmoving equipment. I'm certain he has reported our objection to his employer, YB Wong (I mean Koon Mun, not Eli) - who will, in turn, complain to his Umno bosses that those goddam "militant tree-huggers" are interfering with "progress and development" and need to be investigated.

I'm half expecting a visit from the Special Twig any moment now. Indeed, they might even assign an entire Branch to this case.