Undaunted by stiff battle, Wong Tack pushes on

By Chung Hosanna

It’s 11.30 and the sun is merciless in Bentong’s one street morning market. A man walks up to Wong Tack, clad in the same signature green shirt as him, a familiar colour that has come to symbolise the Himpunan Hijau cause.

“You are my idol. I will surely continue to support you,” the well-wisher shakes Wong’s hand vigorously.

Barely a week ago, Wong announced his intention to contest in the 13th general election under a DAP ticket.  The environmental activist’s move into the political arena was widely publicised and set tongues wagging.

Since then, Wong has attracted much praise, criticism, curiosity and some scepticism. If his market walkabout – which we witnessed-  is anything to gauge sentiment by, the local boy is warmly received and well liked in the sleepy rural town.

Uphill battle awaits the “green giant”

Still, observers say Bentong will be an uphill battle for the newbie politician.

Currently held by MCA minister Liow Tiong Lai, Bentong has been a historical MCA stronghold, and it shows.

Driving around the town square, Liow’s face adorns billboards, banners, and buntings, there’s no escaping the prominent display of dark blue scales – Barisan Nasional’s logo.

Flags line the town’s main road, a sign that the coalition is not taking its chances with the impending showdown with the “green giant”, as Wong is nicknamed.

At 54, Wong cuts a trim figure topped with dashing salt and pepper hair and an earnest gaze. His boyish looks have attracted media and crowd attention.

Wong’s activist credentials are impressive and as the Himpunan Hijau green movement grew, so did his following. The question on everyone’s lips now is, will he be able to transition into a political role?

Green politics gaining ground

Wong is certainly not the first activist-turned-politician. Koh Tsu Koon, Kua Kia Soong, Jeff Ooi, Elizabeth Wong and the late Edward Lee had exchanged their activism for active politics.

Some may argue that activists are by nature ill equipped to navigate the structure or mechanism of governance with its red tape considerations and political correctness.

However, green politics as a political ideology is gaining increasing acceptance internationally with emphasis on environmentalism, social liberalism and grassroots democracy.

Wong may just turn out to be the first “green politician” to lead the way locally, a role he acknowledges readily.

“We cannot be a bystander”

Wong Tack stressed that the time is now ripe for the Himpunan Hijau movement to engage political means to further their struggle.

“If not, we will forever remain on the outside. No matter how loud we should, nobody can hear our voices.

35 activists and academicians including Ambiga Sreenevasan, Hishamuddin Rais, and Wong Chin Huat have signed a statement of support for Wong Tack’s candidacy, calling it a “milestone in green politics in Malaysia”.

“The angry roaring of communities and citizens has fallen on deaf ears of politicians and bureaucrats… It is time to have more green-minded lawmakers to scrutinise our laws and policies to keep environmental disasters at bay,” the statement read.

Wong says he believes that a political mechanism will give the green movement a power base from which to effect change.

However, he respects the choice of other NGOs to remain apolitical and remain at the periphery of electoral politics.

“For example, Datuk Ambiga has a different role. I respect her non-partisan role, she inspires me with her example in leading the people’s movement,”

As for Wong, this activist has shed his skin and is now on his way in a much more political pursuit.

“We cannot be a bystander in this election process. It is a crucial time in history and we don’t want to miss the chance (to make a difference),”

“We need to give the environment a chance, and put a green voice in parliament.”

Let’s make Bentong beautiful again

Wong Tack is passionate about the potential of his hometown, the environmental consultant is full of ideas to grow the cottage industry, turn Bentong’s natural beauty into an economic asset, building the community, and making Bentong beautiful again.

Given its location and nature, Wong says Bentong has big potential and a ready market to become a viable tourism hub.

“We have highlands, waterfalls, hot springs, rivers, fresh air, the charm of a small town… For those who have lost touch with nature, Bentong offers a paradise for recreation and rest.

“It is something that money cannot buy. We must maintain (this natural beauty) that we have,” he said.

Having environmentally suspect projects like Lynas will damage the ecosystem cause a frightening precedent, Wong says.

“If we cannot stop Lynas, it will open the floodgates… any (projects) can go in. We wont be able to stop Bukit Koman and other hazards. We’ll become the toxic dumpsite.”

Who is Douglas Uggah?

The current government is not doing enough to preserve the environment, Wong calls it a total “administrative collapse”.

As an example, he says that during a forum he asked the audience members who Douglas Uggah is, and nobody knew who he was.

(Dougles Uggah Embas is the Minister for Natural Resources and Environment).

“This shows that the ministry is completely not functioning. The decision makers are only there as seat warmers and commission earners. Something is very wrong,” he says.

Wong emphasises on prudent resource management to develop the town, while improving the quality of life to make it an attractive destination for tourists and returnees alike.

“My view on development is to create a ‘three-win’ policy with three ‘P’s – Profit (economic value), People (benefit the people), and Planet (environmental sustainability). We want to create a green corridor from Bentong to Kuala Lumpur and restore the natural state of the land.”

His ultimate goal? To administer Bentong with enough economic viability and opportunities that people will want to move back home and say, “Mom, I’m home… I don’t ever want to leave again”.

Putting resolve into action

Wong was invited join Himpunan Hijau by local residents fighting against the Lynas rare earth plant, who sought his expertise after his successful campaign in Sabah to oppose a coal-fired power plant which would cause environmental destruction and.

The plant was to be built in Lahad Datu in the gateway to the Danum Valley Conservation Area, home to a coral triangle protection area in Darvel Bay. The area was recognised to have high biodiversity in its marine and forest environment.

After a hard fought five-year battle, the Department of Environment rejected the detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) and the project was discontinued in February 2011.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Wong then took on the challenge of helming the Himpunan Hijau movement, for which he had to relocate to peninsular Malaysia, leaving behind his wife and three children.

He talks about missing his close-knit family, but their support for his deep passion drives him forward.

He tells me about the epic record-breaking tree-planting project in Sabah, which disproved naysayers.

“People told me I was crazy, that it couldn’t be done. They asked me to just plant 100 trees as a symbolic act. I said, what’s the point in that?

We went ahead with the campaign and the public support was overwhelming. 12,600 trees were planted in one minute in Lahad Datu.”

“The walk changed me”

I asked Wong Tack what would make a man walk 300km from Kuantan to Kuala Lumpur to raise awareness about the Green Coalition’s efforts.

“When I began the walk, I thought it would be a lonely and torturous road. Never did I think tens of thousands would come forward.”

The 13-day arduous trek that Wong said was inspired by Gandhi successfully attracted more than 10,000 participants in its final leg at Dataran Merdeka.

“Without knowing it, the walk changed me. I used to be screaming and yelling on the streets… after the walk I just cannot find that kind of emotion anymore. The fire inside me is burning differently.”

Wong says that after the walk, he has become more patient and more determined.

“Physically, every step has to be slow to complete the journey. Subconsciously, it applies back to your life.”

Comparing the unexpected impact of the walk to his current campaign, Wong expresses hope despite the anticipated tough fight with MCA strongman Liow.

“We have to start from somewhere. It may be slow, but it’s more important to start. Give it a chance, you never know what it could grow into.

“You just have to keep moving. Hopefully more people will come forward to help us break through.”

One thing is certain, Wong’s commitment to the green cause is unwavering, and he will stay true to his life mission.-The Rocket

2 comments on “Undaunted by stiff battle, Wong Tack pushes on

  1. Mr. Wong, I am surprised to hear you are a Bentong local. I was also born in Bentong, now living in Kuantan and am a strong supporter of Himpunan Hijau and Stop Lynas groups.
    I am a retired Quality Manager. I know how dangerous and practically impossible it is for us to control radioactive wastes and toxic wastes.
    I have worked in various industries viz. aircraft repair/overhaul, electronic assemblies manufacturing and vehicle assembly plants. In the course of my work, I have also visited and audited many factories and suppliers. I have seen indiscriminate disposal and dumping of toxic wastes, including concentrated cyanide/chromium/cadmium wastes into drains and rivers because the companies were not willing to spend money to treat or dispose the wastes in a safe manner. The responsible government authorities were fully aware of such practices but just pretended not to know about them partly due to too much workload (too many such offenders) and partly due to pressure from high-level government leaders and politicians who would protect their cronies. Even though we have all the fantastic laws and regulations to control these operations, you can see they don’t work.
    So you can expect the same thing to happen to the radioactive wastes from Lynas. As a reminder to all, the radioactive Thorium wastes will last for billions of years. Anyway, from the economic point of view, there is no logic in approving this project, giving a 12-year tax holiday to Lynas. Even now, we are experiencing the hardship of water shortage almost everyday in Kuantan due to the huge consumption of Lynas.
    So Mr. Wong, you have an excellent cause to fight for the rakyat. I hope the majority of the Bentong voters are conscious and concerned about the safety and health of themselves and their future generations.
    I pray and hope they will vote for you in this coming General Election.

  2. Our hero, Wong Tack. My family and I will definitely support you in this coming 13th GE. Many christians and churches locally are praying for your victory in this coming GE. I strongly believe that you will win this GE with the most votes in the history of Bentong GE. I am convinced that you will bring great changes to the Bentong folks. May God bless you with victory this GE.

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