GEORGE TOWN, Aug 22 – In an effort to clear the air over an illegal activated carbon factory in Bukit Mertajam, the Penang state executive council revealed the full minutes of a 2015 meeting over a Sungai Lembu illegal factory controversy to show it had indeed taken action against the factory two years ago.
State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh revealed the declassified minutes from the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP), dated May 6, 2015, at a press conference at Komtar today. The meeting in 2015 was attended by the then MPSP secretary Razali Mohamud, Phee, Penanti assemblyman Norlela Ariffin, officers from MPSP and also representatives from Department of Environment (DoE).
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the purpose of declassifying the minutes is to prove that Phee had dealt with the issue in his capacity as the environment exco. In the minutes, the federal regulator, the Department of Environment (DoE), had also said that there was no pollution at the factory during the visit as it had barriers that prevented smoke and dust from escaping.
“The DoE can support the running of this factory if the sawdust burning can be done in an enclosed building with the right safety measures employed. The factory owner must also get a licence from the MPSP and DoE and ensure the right processes are followed and the suitability of the factory site meets conditions,” a representative from DoE said at the meeting.
Lim said there were several other meetings held after that, but the state executive council will only reveal the minutes of this particular one as Phee was being investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) over a letter he wrote in 2015.
“They are investigating him for a letter he signed in 2015, so we are revealing the meeting minutes in 2015 to show that he did deal with the issue appropriately,” Lim added. “In the meeting, the DoE representative clearly stated that they visited the factory and found no pollution as it has a roof to prevent smoke from escaping,” Phee said, reading aloud the minutes at the news conference in Komtar here.
He read out another point in the minutes where the DoE stated that it can support the factory operations if the burning is done in an enclosed building with proper safety measures in place. DoE also states that the factory operator must obtain licenses from MPSP and the DoE will look into other conditions regarding the suitability of the site for the factory.
In the minutes, Phee was recorded as saying the factory operator was licensed to operate in Alma, but was later ordered to relocate and the licence was subsequently cancelled. The factory is located on a hill land in an oil palm estate, and is 1km away from the nearest residential area. The factory has since been seized by the DoE and has ceased operating.
News reports had claimed residents in the area had been complaining about the persistent filthy air, which made them fall sick, over the past 10 years. Phee was also recorded saying there needs to be a detailed investigation into the factory’s process to ascertain if it is polluting the environment and whether it had caused health problems among the residents there.
He suggested that the factory be legalised to ensure that it adheres to environmental-friendly processes. Phee, 66, was arrested to assist in investigations into an illegal carbon filter factory on August 11. He was remanded by the MACC for three days before the High Court declared his five-day remand invalid on Aug 14. He subsequently took medical leave in which he was hospitalised and came back to work on Monday. — PN