Pandas! Can the Money Be Spent Elsewhere?

21 June, 2012

by Wong Ho Leng

On 15 June, 2012, the Malaysian government signed an Agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) which will pave the way for the loan of two giant pandas to Malaysia for a period of 10 years.

The panda loan will commemorate the 40th anniversary of Malaysia-China diplomatic relations in 2014.

The affable pandas are the iconic treasures of China. They live in the temperate-zone bamboo forests in central China. They are the best recognised but one of the rarest animals in the world and symbolise endangered species and conservation efforts.

The Malaysian Prime Minister said that the presence of pandas in Malaysia will boost the tourism industry for the country.

The real cost

Some greeted the panda-loan with rousing merriment. Others have reservations. We don’t know as yet the actual costs to Malaysian taxpayers, but there are good references for known costs from similar arrangements with other countries, notably from the USA and Singapore:



Total Costs (10 years)

1. The loan fees: US$1 million (RM3.1million) per year RM31 million
2. Research and Conservation fees: US$1million (RM3.1 million) per year RM31million.
3. Enclosure, air conditioned artificial habitat at Wetland Park at Putrajaya (The temperature has to be kept at between 18 and 22 degrees, and humidity at between 50%-60%) RM20 million
4. Maintenance and upkeep RM1 million per year RM10 million
5. A new place for planting panda’s dietary food – bamboo. A panda consumes about 40 kg of bamboo each day RM10 million
6. In the event cubs are born, an additional loan fee of US$600,000 per year (cubs will be returned to China after the 2nd year) Unknown

The loan scheme gives the impression that the Malaysian Government has a deep pocket. But had Malaysians been appraised with these known costs (in excess of RM100 million), it is possible that those who had greeted the news with enthusiasm initially will change their mind.

Nine pandas are on loan from China in four zoos in the U.S.A. Between 2000 and 2003, the income from admissions were unable to meet expenses. A deficit of US$33 million was suffered.

Our country is heavily in debt. Apart from budget deficits which had embarrassed us for 15 years, our national debt is hovering around the RM470 billion mark. Each Malaysian, young or old, carries a debt of RM16,000 on his/her shoulders.

We are not against animal research and conservation efforts. However, what use is it to conduct panda conservation research, including in the areas of artificial insemination and behaviour studies, when Malaysia does not offer the natural habitat?

The money for the pandas should be utilised for the conservation of local endangered wildlife species.

Wrong Priorities, Wrong habitat?

In its obsession and adulation toward the non-native but iconic treasure of China, the Malaysian Government conveniently ignores our own animal treasure troves such as the Malayan Sun bear, Malayan tiger, marine turtles, orang-utans and Sumatran rhinoceros.

About 1,600 pandas are estimated to live in the wild. But Asia’s only great ape the orang-utans, are facing extinction too. There are a mere 1,300 orang-utans in Sarawak, all in the Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary and Batang Ai National Park.

They are the largest tree dwelling mammal in the world. Scientists have predicted that by 2020, less than 10-15 percent of Borneo’s total orang-utan population will survive.

The reasons for the decline include poaching, habitat loss which had given way to plantations, and lack of political will to enforce legislation that protects the species.

Malaysia does not have an impeccable record of animal conservation. The humongous sums to be spent on the two pandas can be spent on saving our own endangered species.

Education, law enforcement against poaching, restoring the animal habitat and reforestation are priorities. Trafficking of protected wildlife is rampant in Malaysia, and Sarawak is no exception, no thanks to lack of enforcement, and the national poison called corruption.

We have the empuraus of Sarawak, the most expensive fresh water fish in the world. They can grow over 10 kg in weight and fetch up to RM1,000 per kg. They used to be aplenty in the pure fresh waters of the upper reaches of the Rejang River in the central region of Sarawak.

Do we have sizeable 1000 empuraus in our rivers now? Their habitat has been destroyed by uncontrolled logging which causes soil erosion to contaminate the fresh water.

The logging was so excessive that on 7 and 8 October, 2010 about 300,000 metric tonnes of timber logs, stumps and debris flowed down from the upper stream of Rejang River to Sibu, causing logjam, ecological disaster and massive environmental damages along the way.

The debris clogged the river so much that lots of fish were suffocated and were seen floating on the rivers. These include empuraus from the upper reaches.

The environmental catastrophe “benefited” the native fishermen for two days when they picked up the fish from the river. But they too, are the poorest people in Sarawak. As of 11 June, 2011, there are 27,902 hard core poor families in Sarawak.

The breakdown is as follows: Iban, 13,349 (47.8 percent), Malays, 5,601 (20 percent), Orang Ulu, 2,925 (10.5 percent), Bidayuh, 2,757 (9.8 percent), Melanau, 1,974. That is to say, among the bumiputera communities, 95.2 percent of the poor families are categorized as hard core poor. For the Chinese, it is 674 (2.4 percent) and for others 622 (2.2 percent).

Sarawak native deserves better

In 1963, Sarawak joined to form Malaysia, not as an individual state but as an equal partner, but the equal partnership sounded hollow since day one. The federal government has been marginalising Sarawak. Today, Sarawak is at least 20 years behind West Malaysia.

After 49 years in the bosom of the federation, Sarawak does not even have a highway. Our pride is the Pan-Borneo Trunk Road which has become so notorious for accidents that Sarawakians call it the Trunk Road to Hell.

There are more than 5,000 longhouses in Sarawak. The majority of them are in dilapidated condition. They do not have water and electricity supply. There are little infrastructure and roads serving them.

Some native children have to wake at four am and walk for three hours through jungle tracks to school. Education is an investment into the future, but has the Government been so proactive to cater the education needs of these natives? Shouldn’t the people be first priorities instead of pandas? -The Rocket

This article was written by on Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 4:31 pm. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

1 Comment

  • BN Najib can be less bunga or not? Others do what, they also follow. LIke kanak kanak

Leave a Reply

Other News

Burying our dead – working with or against Putin?

21 July, 2014 0 Comments

By Mohamad Ariff Sabri, Raub MP Maybe it is too much of watching Cao Cao and Zhuge Liang. I am constantly looking for some alternative explanations to what seems so obvious. In the downing and brutal shooting down of MH17, the world is quick to point its finger to Putin, ... Full Article →

Artist Zunar, relentless fighter against tyranny (Part 2)

23 July, 2014 0 Comments

(…continuation from part 1) Since 2009, we still haven’t seen other cartoonists who shine other than yourself. Why is that so? Ok. With regard to this, I can only provide the space and guidance for cartoonists, I wont be able to turn them into successful cartoonists. That is for themselves ... Full Article →

Thank you, veterans! Because of you, DAP prevails

2 April, 2014 0 Comments

On 2 March, Penang Chief Minister and DAP MP for Bagan Lim Guan Eng hosted a private dinner in honor of the Penang state DAP veterans. There are over 120 veterans in the state who have been party members for over 30 years. Of the number, about 70 turned up ... Full Article →

What’s wrong with the Terengganu crisis?

5 June, 2014 0 Comments

by Political Studies for Change (KPRU) Election fever has become a phenomenon in this equatorial country ever since the March 8 political tsunami, which has changed the political landscape, though the political transformation has not completed yet. To a certain extent, each legislature at federal and state level has put a different complexion on politics. The recent Terengganu political crisis and the storming of the Penang state assembly by UMNO members have to do with legislative politics. Legislative politics is different from election politics. From the parliament to legislature assembly in each state, the most frequent question that has been asked by people is about the attendance of members of elected representative, and as for some other incidents that have happened in legislature they have merely formed a part of their memory as people might find them obscure. Obscurity has become a byword for these pieces of memory due to the fact that people might not have the foggiest about these floating debris of memory. The most unforgettable legislative incident to the people goes to the seizure of power in the Perak state, and despite that, people did not necessarily follow on all the details and issues arising from the incident of seizing power in Perak state. This time - the Terengganu crisis is not only a political crisis, but also a ‘legislative crisis’. The lack of pressure from people in Terengganu lies in the insufficient knowledge about legislative which has saved Najib Razak’s shaky hold on power, as well as the dying Terengganu political and legislative crises from the jaws of death. The incident got serious. Media started to report extensively and non-UMNO members in BN also thought that it was a red flag. However, from the Prime Minister Najib’s statement announcing that the Sultan of Terengganu, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin had consented to the resignation of Ahmad Said as well as the appointment of Ahmad Razif Abd Rahman as the new Terengganu Menteri Besar; to the dramatic twist of events where Ahmad Said and and two other UMNO state assemblymen quited the party and then later returned to the party, there appeared an unification in media reporting of the incident from the preparedness to deal with the incidents from different angles. As stability wins over anything else, water leaves behind no trails in its path. From Najib’s statement on 12th May 2014 to the new Menteri Besar Ahman Razif’s taking of oath of office before Sultan Mizan; and to the former Menteri Besar Ahmad Said’s announcement made at his official residence in Kemaman as to his decision to withdraw his resignation from UMNO, the whole process took shorter than two days. Nonetheless, all of the incidents that have occurred in the midst of the Terengganu crisis must not be dismissed out of hand, particularly when comes to the interpretation of matters involving legislative, which calls for some clarification and so that when similar event takes place in future, people in the particular state would no longer stay static in the face of the crisis. This Terengganu crisis, after Ahmad Said and two other UMNO state assemblymen quited the party, left Barisan Nasional with 14 state seats, against Pakatan Rakyat’s 15 in the assembly, giving an equation of 15:14:3, with 3 being the “independent reps”. On the same day, that is, 13th May, the Terengganu state legal advisor Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid, when contacted by Bernama, has claimed that despite the fact that the number of BN assemblymen had dropped from 17 to 14, the state assembly Speaker was counted as a representative of the ruling state government, thereby giving an equation of 15:15:3. It was Wesak day, which is also a public holiday. After founding director of think tank Political Studies for Change (KPRU), Ooi Heng and his family offered prayers in a Buddhist temple and after he came across Azhar’s misleading statement, Ooi Heng shared his personal view on Facebook, taking the view that the Speaker shall have the casting vote only when the voting comes down to a tie. After talking to a journalist, Ooi Heng is even convinced that the real reason behind Terengganu state legal advisor making misleading statement was to buy some time for UMNO’s political power, so as to resolve the political and legislative crisis. The Federal Constitution has given exposition on legislative power, which includes both parliament and state assembly, and under which the Speaker’s voting right is also covered. The Federal Constitution is basically modeled on the Westminster parliamentary system. Schedule 8, Paragraph 10 (1B) of the Federal Constitution makes it clear that the Speaker of legislative assembly who is not an elected representative has no voting power. Whereas according to the Article 27 (1B) of the Constitution of Terengganu, non-member of the Assembly elected as Speaker has no voting right. Terengganu assembly speaker, Mohd Zubir Embong, is not an elected representative, as he was appointed as assembly speaker on 16th June 2013 after being defeated in the election for Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat. Hence, the controversy over the question of whether the speaker’s vote can be counted shall not even arise. In fact, not only does the state assembly follow the Westminster legislative custom, but the parliament of Malaysia is also following the system. The Article 57 (1A) of the Federal Constitution clearly provides that any person elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives who is not a member of the House of Representatives has no voting right. Furthermore, according to the Standing Order 45(1), the speaker shall be entitled to give his deciding ballot only when the voting comes down to a tie where ayes are equal to noes. This deciding ballot can be known as the casting vote, or ‘undi pemutus’ in Malay. The aim of this article is to clear doubts on this legislative incident, and as far as the Speaker’s voting right is concerned, no critical comment is intended to be directed at the roles that both government and the opposition have played in this political power crisis. However, I am of the opinion that despite the misleading statement by the state legal advisor, government and opposition elites should still be held responsible politically for this legislative incident. It is indeed bizarre that both government and opposition have no idea about the legislative procedures in the Terengganu state assembly when most of the assembly members are from UMNO and PAS. In the two days within which the 3 UMNO state assemblymen became ‘independent reps’ (Less than 48 hours), Terengganu state assembly has actually been beset with crisis. While there was likely UMNO fall down in Terengganu, UMNO has nonetheless got themselves some time to stabilise their shaky hold on power. Apart from UMNO taking the lead in this incident, the fact that PAS was being indifferent to the misleading statement will go down in the history of legislative politics. History is bound to repeat when political elite’s political action has not been properly examined. -The Rocket * The views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the columnist ... Full Article →