“Gagasan Tiga (G3) has been in talks with locals regarding problems afflicting the highland district. During a recent trip to Brinchang, several village heads urged us to consider setting up a base in CH to look into problems afflicting its people. Later that night, we told a Malay-Muslim settlement in Tanah Rata that G3 may consider making an entry into the highland district by fielding a candidate during the upcoming by-election.”
Raggie Jessy Rithaudeen
Cameron Highlands (CH) isn’t exactly your everyday run-of-the-mill constituency. A district in Pahang with a population density of about 33,300 people, what concerns the average breadwinner most is if a person seeking to contest the seat is able to sustain the unique socioeconomic balance long enjoyed by its diverse population base. Basically, the people of CH want you to keep business going while keeping in check the wanton destruction of rainforests. But here’s the kicker – not only do the people want farmers who destroy these rainforests to stay, they want them to continue expanding to deliver more opportunity to the people.
It’s quite like the case of the guy who wants to have the cake and eat it. In CH, it is the illegal exploration of rainforests that presents opportunity to the Indians, the Chinese, the Malay-Muslims and the Orang Asli folk (Aslis). These groups derive benefits both from the vegetable farms and businesses farmers and transportation tycoons establish within townships in and around CH. The more the rainforests are cleared, the more it leaves behind large patches of barren soil which gets washed into rivers during downpours. It is the erosion of this soil that leads to sludge being deposited into rivers which Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) ends up cleaning.
It’s a billion dollar industry.
The more the farms opened, the more the millions TNB forks out to do the cleaning. The power company cannot afford to have clogged rivers as it prevents the smooth running of its turbines. The contracting firms it hires to deepen the rivers depend heavily upon foreign workers and the Aslis to man their machines. While these firms are primarily Bumiputra owned, the mobilisation of machinery and heavy vehicles is part-controlled by a group of enterprising Indian millionaires who own a diverse set of businesses around CH. These businesses present job opportunities both for the Indian and the Malay-Muslim communities.
I just happen to know some of these millionaires. I even know the owner of a contracting firm that offers services to TNB. I can tell you with an absolute degree of certainty that CH is the only place in Malaysia that has an intricate socioeconomic fabric of interconnected businesses every member of its society thrives on. In a sense, it is the millions TNB forks out yearly to clean up rivers that prompts farmers to open more farms. In another, it is the exploration by these farmers that prompts TNB to fork out millions just to keep rivers flowing and most of its turbines running.
And while it does concern the Aslis that the destruction of rainforests eats into their ancestral homes, many have no qualms moving southward into government preserved settlements. What’s so weird about the whole affair is that the destruction of rainforests is actually doing CH some good. The more the farmer expands his territory, the more work there is for TNB to offer the contractor. The more jobs the contractor derives, the bigger is the opportunity for transportation tycoons. The more contracts these tycoons get, the bigger is their business empire. At the end of the day, it is the destruction of rainforests that is presenting job opportunities for just about everyone.
Like I said, it’s weird.
And it is this weirdness that’s bringing in federal funds without the need for elected representatives to do a damn thing. All that concerns the Chinamen, Indians, Malay-Muslims and Aslis is if a Member of Parliament is able to keep the flow of funds coming. Right after the 14th general election, that flow was disrupted when TNB began delaying payments to contractors on the pretext of there being lack of money. What the power company failed to tell the contractors was that the delay had to do with backdoor renegotiations of Independent Power Producer (IPP) contracts that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently got the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry to cancel.
I am told, some Indian millionaires controlling transportation in the district are finding it difficult to sustain and have been downsizing. A couple of influential Chinamen also resorted to closing off sections of their farms owing to difficulties in recruiting part-time labourers. This has led to a marginal yet significant increase in the cost of living due to the rise in prices of vegetable produce. Even the Aslis are finding it difficult to get as many jobs as they used to and have resorted to selling durians and mangosteens on a full-time basis.
That’s a 39 percent of the highland’s Chinese and 21 per cent of Indians who depend a lot on businesses owned by transportation and farming tycoons. By cancelling the Selangor (Kapar) and Terengganu (Paka) IPP projects, Mahathir is hoping to rope YTL Power Generation Sdn Bhd into the picture to allow his crony, Tan Sri Francis Yeoh, to bite a chunk out of TNB’s profit margin. Basically, he will get YTL to produce power at a much higher price before forcing TNB to pay YTL the difference. And I don’t need to tell you in whose hands part of that difference will end up now, do I?
Gagasan Tiga (G3) has been in talks with locals regarding problems afflicting the highland district. During a recent trip to Brinchang, several village heads urged us to consider setting up a base in CH to look into problems afflicting its people. Later that night, we told a Malay-Muslim settlement in Tanah Rata that G3 may consider making an entry into the highland district by fielding a candidate during the upcoming by-election. Assuming we do, we will help create new business opportunities for the Chinese, Indian and Malay-Muslim communities and help the Aslis expand their village industries.
Given time, G3 will go a long way towards breaking the chain of dependence that has long kept CH communities hooked to funds derived from TNB.