Restoring Highlands’ Glory

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 – DEPUTY Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin yesterday announced a seven-point plan covering tangible measures to save Cameron Highlands from further devastation. This plan, encompassing short-, medium- and long-term measures, will be implemented immediately.

FOR starters, the local plan for the highlands will be reviewed to ensure it is in tandem with the aspirations of the Special Committee on Flash Floods in Cameron Highlands here, namely, restoring the glory of one of the country’s top tourist destinations; THE committee will also start collating data on illegal foreign workers in the highlands;

TO ensure the issue of illegal immigrants was addressed, Muhyiddin, who chaired the three-hour meeting here yesterday, said there would be continuous enforcement by the agencies in the highlands. The plan includes a comprehensive measure to preserve the highlands’ acreage;  THE committee is considering the need to permanently freeze the issuance of Temporary Occupational Licences (TOL), which had been temporarily frozen since 2008;

DEVELOPMENTS on slopes with a gradient of 20° would be monitored closely. THE committee will look into the viability of opening up new areas for farming; and, THE committee will also look at how the Federal Government can assist the state government in providing manpower and funding in carrying out enforcement.

The government, he added, would ensure enforcement was carried out until it was confident that issues plaguing the highlands were resolved and would not recur. Muhyiddin, who was on a day-long visit here to assess the situation following the Nov 5 mudslides, was joined by several ministers, including Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, who is also Cameron Highlands member of parliament; Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili; Human Resources Minister

Datuk Seri Richard Riot; Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim; as well as Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob and Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir. He announced the setting up of a centre to house agencies to ensure enforcement and activities were carried out as per the special committee’s decisions.

“This is a serious situation. There are other measures that will be carried out, which I will not announce now.  “Our aim is to return Cameron Highlands to its glorious past. We will not spend just a month or two here.  “We are not moving out until the situation is under control.” Muhyiddin said under Cameron Highlands’ local plan, only between 2,300ha and 2,500ha were meant for farming.

However, from data and remote sensing images gathered, almost 8,600ha had been cleared for farming.  This, he said, was almost four times of that allowed.  “We need stricter enforcement to deal with illegal farming. I have told the enforcement authorities to act without fear or favour.” He announced that SJKC Bertam Valley’s board of directors had agreed for the school to be relocated to a new site. The cost will be borne by Tenaga Nasional Berhad.

He rebuked excuses given by farmers that legal workers were hard to secure, saying that a lengthy approval process for the workers did not give them the right to engage foreigners illegally. “We don’t want our country to be flooded by foreign workers, legal or illegal. “This is one thing we cannot compromise on,” he said, adding that action could also be taken against them for doing so.

Muhyiddin said farmers who had applied under the government’s 6P programme but did not get approval for their foreign workers could re-apply to legalise them. However, he said, their employers must prove that they had applied to be legalised under the Comprehensive Legalisation Programme for Illegal Immigrants, which was initiated in 2012.

Muhyiddin said there could be at least 2,000 Rohingya refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) working in the highlands. “They are not supposed to be here at all. But, it looks like they have been coming bit by bit.”

He said the issue of refugees’ employment needed to be tackled by UNHCR, the body that supervised and managed them, and that UNHCR and the government could discuss if there was reasonable cause to allow the refugees to work here. Present were Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar and Armed Forces chief General Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin.

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