Malaysia said it will impose a three-month ban on bauxite mining activities in Pahang from Jan 15, after an uproar over environmental degradation and contamination of rivers and the sea around state capital Kuantan.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said his ministry had stopped approving export permits for bauxite since last week and will not be issuing one again until the moratorium is lifted.
"Beginning Jan 15, everything will stand still in Kuantan," Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi told reporters at a news conference with Pahang Menteri Besar Adnan Yaakob.
During the three-month period, the industry will need to clear the stockpiles of bauxite in the state along with the upgrading and installation of filtration systems and cleaning facilities.
BAN MAY BE EXTENDED
If the industry cannot comply (with the guidelines), we will extend the moratorium until they comply.
MR WAN JUNAIDI TUANKU JAAFAR, Natural Resources and Environment Minister, on the bauxite mining sector
"If the industry cannot comply (with the guidelines), we will extend the moratorium until they comply," Mr Wan Junaidi said.
The move to impose the temporary ban came about following months of loud complaints from residents around Kuantan as lorries carrying tonnes of the red bauxite contaminated roads, vehicles and homes in the area.
The lorries were transporting the product from mines in the interior to Kuantan port to be exported.
The complaints grew louder last week after heavy rain turned parts of the Kuantan seafront into a "red sea", while fish died in the rivers that had also turned red.
Demand for bauxite, which is used in aluminium production, is fuelled by heavy demand from top aluminium producer China.
The Pahang state government collected RM46.7 million (S$15 million) in bauxite royalties last year, a huge jump from RM2.4 million in 2014.
Malaysia exported more than 20 million tonnes of bauxite to China in the first 11 months of last year, Reuters reported, from just 162,000 tonnes in 2013. Indonesia banned bauxite mining in early 2014.
Pinpointing to the run-off from bauxite stockpiles at the Kuantan port that turned the seafront red in May and December last year, Mr Wan Junaidi said the focus in the first month of the ban is to clear the bauxite stockpiles at the port itself.
In the second month, the ministry expects bauxite firms to clear another 11 bauxite stockpiles identified outside the port area, while in the third month, firms will be required to fix their facilities by installing proper drainage and filtration systems.
He said the stricter conditions will be set as basic criteria for future issuance of export permits.
Datuk Seri Adnan said there are 22 legal bauxite mining operators in the state.
There are public complaints about the existence of many illegal bauxite operators who have worsened the environmental degradation.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission said yesterday that it has detected elements of corruption in the bauxite mining work, but did not reveal any details.
Reacting to the government's move, Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh said: "The three-month freeze is very short. I noticed he just mentioned the stockpile. To me, it is more of a reactionary measure to the 'red sea' phenomenon."