KUALA LUMPUR (SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The government has earlier approved the extension of Australian rare earths producer Lynas' operating license for six months, much to the frustration of many.
The protest rally organised by Save Malaysia Stop Lynas on August 18 saw some 500 participants shouting slogans against the rare earth factory.
Lynas mines rare earth ore from a deposit in Mount Weld, Australia, and processes them at its plant in Pahang.
In view of strong resistance from the public, the government subsequently attempted to explain in defence of its decision of extending Lynas' license.
Other than quoting scientific reports by experts, arguing that the risk for radioactive waste is "very very low", Prime Minister Tun Mahathir also mentioned that Malaysia might not be able to woo more potential foreign investors if it stopped Lynas from operating in the country.
Indeed, it is not the first time the rare earth plant has been permitted to operate in the excuse of "wooing investors".
Several months ago, Entrepreneurial Development Minister Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof said in a statement that the country would not be able to attract foreign investments if the government were to shut down Lynas.
Malaysians are nevertheless unconvinced by the government's explanation.
While Lynas' operating license will be extended for six months, the government has attached three additional requirements, including the construction of a cracking and leaching facility outside Malaysia.
Nevertheless, all Malaysians want is for the rare earth manufacturer to cease its operations in the country.
While the government is concerned about the economic spin-offs, the rakyat (ordinary people) are actually more concerned about their health and safety.
It is imperative that the government listen to the views of the people and adopt the necessary measures to allay their fears.
Undeniably, foreign investments are of utmost importance to the country for continued economic growth. Developing countries, in particular, need to attract more foreign investors which will inject more funds into the country and create employment opportunities.
However, this does not mean the government can therefore downplay the potential risks of certain investments.
Like any other developing country, Malaysia needs to draw more investments to stimulate its sluggish economy, but at the same time the government also has an obligation to ensure the safety and health of the people and not to blindly open the doors wide to welcome any form of investment.
In this globalised world, it is not uncommon for foreign investors to come into a country or withdraw from it. Even if Lynas eventually leaves Malaysia, the impact this is going to create will not be too significant so long as we have a stable political situation, well trained human resources, reliable infrastructure, a business-friendly environment and government policies, as we can sill attract foreign investors.
Foreign investors stay away from Malaysia not because of Lynas, but the corrupt bureaucracy, unpredictable government polices and narrow-mindedness of our administrators.
To woo more investors, the government needs to rectify all these irregularities and improve our business environment.
No doubt foreign investments are very important, but the people's health and safety should come before that. This is the message the anti-Lynas groups wanted to deliver.
Hopefully, the government will seriously listen to their voices.
Sin Chew Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organisations.