By Arveent Kathirtchelvan
Amongst members of the cabinet, YBM Yeo Bee Yin manages to consistently get numerous plaudits on her achievements and qualifications. The Cambridge postgraduate never fails to impress the masses with her strong stances and boldness in handling environmental matters alongside scientific advancement. However, it seems that this universal acclaim is misguided, as I will show that YBM Yeo’s handling of her ministry is, at best, Jekyll and Hyde like or, at worst, visionless populism.
YBM Yeo seems to have the nation’s interest at heart when she tackles climate change with her plan of championing renewable energy. However, multiple reports have shown that her plans are disproportionately focused on solar power and, even then, only focuses on reducing peak demand. Peak demand is the highest electrical power demand when the maximum amount of electricity used within a given time period. There is no rolling reform of the electricity grid to move away from fossil fuels, nor is there any plan to deal with producing continuous streams of electricity instead of intermittent power producers like solar power.
Perhaps her focus is on boosting Malaysia’s production of solar panels for domestic use. If this is so, YBM Yeo has obviously taken the safe route to stick with a technology that already exists no matter how poorly it addressed the central problem of climate change. In this sense, peddling solar power is an exercise in making herself seem like a green minister when, in actual fact, her steps forward are minimal at best. Can YBM Yeo answer the problem of heightened land use for utility scale solar? How about resource depletion, or solar waste management, the latter of which does not exist in any mature measurable capacity at this moment? How about smoothing the grid from solar’s intermittency, for which gas peaking is usually used, a fossil fuel technology that is extremely expensive?
Whilst she has talked about increasing energy efficiency, not enough of a plan is laid out and even this is not enough to address climate change effectively. The issue with YBM Yeo is that her admittedly brilliant scientific mind has been clouded with political bias. For addressing the issue of energy, under her ministry already existed the Malaysian Nuclear Power Corporation (MNPC) which has done a lot of research into the viability of nuclear power for Malaysia. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) even rated the MNPC as having done sufficient work to move on to sourcing for vendors in the pursuit of nuclear power commercialization.
What did YBM Yeo do? Abruptly close the MNPC without ever listening to them present the work that they have done. Is this how a minister acts? Not even giving a chance for basically a department under them to present their case before cancelling them? As I have pointed out before, nuclear power is superior to any other electricity generating technology and even more so for Malaysia. Nuclear power produces electricity which minimally releases pollutants, is stable and continuous, affordable, is least harmful to humans and most beneficial to society. Unfortunately, YBM Yeo seems so caught up with her party’s misguided stance that her professional judgment is so affected, even listening to her employees is an impossibility.
On a personal front, with Liberasi and the Malaysian Nuclear Society, I prepared a memorandum advocating for nuclear power inclusion into the Malaysian Energy Mix. I obtained an appointment and met with Mr. Najeeb and Dr. Gary Theseira from MESTECC to present my case accompanied by 2 nuclear experts. During our discussion, I was assured that nuclear power was still on the table for MESTECC and I even pledged support for helping MESTECC with educating people on it.
However, not long after our discussion, the MNPC was decided to be closed. I sent several follow-up emails to ask for explanations on a few matters, including what will happen to all the research material completed, how our local nuclear engineering graduates will be employed and how we will sustain our expertise in nuclear engineering. There was no reply. Last week I read that Dr. Gary met with activist Wong Chang-Fu on his hunger strike to urge the government to declare a Climate Crisis. I sent an email congratulating him on his proactivity and asked him again to give an appointment to discuss nuclear power. Still nothing.
On another track, with regards to Lynas, YBM Yeo has been proven to be wrong many times. Her party mates and herself have slandered the Australian mining corporation for many years now but have proven very little. Take for instance, the Executive Committee Report on the Operations of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) was commissioned by MESTECC and found Lynas to be compliant whilst giving recommendations for some improvements. Nowhere was there a declaration of crisis to remove all of LAMP waste materials nor was there any indication of inherent dangers or excessive negative impacts. Rather, the report found Lynas to be an excellent investment and that highly technological industries using such metals as Lynas will grow quickly in the future.
What did YBM Yeo do? Deny, deny, deny. She insisted that Lynas wastes were dangerous and need to be removed. She pointed to previous assurances from Lynas that they are committed to removing these wastes yet she fails to state that the assurance was following the licensing agreement which states the wastes would first be attempted to be recycled, failing which they will be disposed in a Permanent Disposal Facility and if both options fails, then only will the Lynas wastes be exported. She pointed to the fact that scheduled waste storage should not exceed 180 days but failed to enlighten the masses that certain provisions, with regard to research and development efforts to recycle wastes, can be used to extend storage.
Until today, her party member YB Wong Tack spews untruths against Lynas, persistently misleading people in the hopes that he is assumed to be truthful in the court of public opinion. How has YBM Yeo responded? She insists on going to Australia to broker a deal where Lynas waste is exported there. If her claims had any basis, YBM Yeo could easily sue Lynas or ask the Attorney General to pursue litigation. If Lynas indeed were polluting Malaysia and are extremely radioactive, why not make them pay for it? Because she can’t prove a single claim.
MESTECC As A Political Vehicle
Unfortunately, for all the brains YBM Yeo seems to have, she has seemed to equally let her political bias affect the sanctity of scientific endeavour. Her war on plastics is brilliant, her stance on energy efficiency less so but still positive, yet she refuses to act decisively on energy and other matters. Further, she refuses to listen to experts even if they are her own experts from her own ministry. Even an audit report she herself commissioned has not gotten her to listen. Is it surprising, though? This government has overpromised in their election manifesto and now are slipping behind terribly in keeping their word. Ticking off Lynas and the MNPC are low-hanging fruit YBM Yeo can do to keep her and PH’s KPI up.
Yet, is it enough to retain political clout if what remains at the end is a misled electorate of unempowered individuals? Can we accept a minister that just looks good whilst underperforming and wilfully misleading the masses? MESTECC as a ministry has the responsibility to be a lynchpin in handling climate change, boosting Malaysia’s economic performance with scientific endeavours and preserving the environment. Right now, though, it seems to be but a vehicle for the political advancement of certain individuals. Are we truly holding them accountable for their transgressions?
Featured image from Malaysia SME