An astonishing announcement was made yesterday by the board of the major mining company, Southern Alliance Mining Ltd, based in Singapore.
In summary, it has entered into a ‘Joint Venture’ business arrangement with the reigning Sultan of Johor to mine for gold in a substantial 26,000 acre tranche of the environmentally sensitive area of Tenggaroh in the state.
Look what the Sultan gets from the deal. According to the official announcement issued by the company he has been offered an up-front RM3 million “commitment fee”, plus 15% of the shares in the venture and then a whopping 30% ‘tribute’ payable on all the profits annually (made before tax naturally).
In return it is made clear that the Sultan will neither invest in the venture nor take any risks. He has to perform one job only, which is to secure the licences from the State of Johor to permit the operations to take place. After that he hands everything over to the company:
The fact that Southern Alliance Mining are willing to pay him RM3 million to get his signature on the proposal shows they are confident in his ability to do so – or possibly that he has even already got such permission despite the lack of any discernible public enquiries or public announcements on the subject so far.
The question therefore has to be whether all, some or any of this land actually belongs to the Sultan and if so when it came into his possession and whether it was previously state land or commercially acquired?
Crucially, the announcement also refers to further plans to enlarge the mining project into adjacent lands within a radius of 20 kilometres from the site (an area encompassing 125,000 hectares) also using the good offices of the Sultan. So, likewise, does he presently own all, some or any of that prospective vast area of land or does it belong to the state?
The impression given by the wording of the document strongly implies that the Sultan at the very least does not in fact own all the land the JV is eyeing, in that the target area is described as “lands owed by DYMM [the Sultan] or in respect of which DYMM will be able to apply for exploration and/or mining approvals”:
Whether or not the Sultan holds title to the lands it is a legal fact that several public interest processes are rightly required to take place before any such mining permits can be approved by the State Government. This is acknowledged in the JV announcement.
According to these rules the impact on the environment and surrounding communities are paramount in such decisions and should be thoroughly and publicly examined and consulted over before the already fabulously wealthy Sultan engages in the destruction of lands to make even more cash together with a foreign company.
However, so far there is no evidence of any public notifications to this effect. The Joint Venture appears to have merely wagered its RM3 million commitment fee on a hunch the royal personage will swing the agreement from the state (or has already done so behind the scenes).
Worse, the company is openly speculating the Sultan will be able to obtain lands they are interested which he does not presently own and then get the licences to exploit them, rather than the state.
Yet, given the Sultan is already handsomely rewarded for his duties out of the public purse as a constitutional monarch the paramount deciding factor, whether or not the he owns the land, has to be the public interest rather than his private profit.
Indeed, if ‘royalties’ are to be earned these should be paid into the public purse and not as a kingly tribute in the ancient meaning of the word. There is simply no excuse to allow land to be alienated to him for the purpose of future mining for a third of the pre-tax profit.
Of paramount concern therefore must be whether any of the above lands earmarked for this project were released by the state to be sold to the Sultan and if so there must be disclosure of terms and conditions. If there had already been exploration on the land prior to its being sold was this valuable potential taken into consideration in the asking price?
In the modern world the value of a clean and safe environment with a living variety of species cover is immeasurably greater to the wider public and world at large than the price that can be obtained by destroying it for a commodity like gold – particularly in terms of what ordinary inhabitants are likely to obtain in reward as opposed to the negative impacts on their lives.
After all, the public of Johor already finance their Royal Family sufficiently for them to continue to live in the luxurious dignity into which they were born in return for serving the public interest as the heads of state. For the royal family to engage in business on top of that, obtaining state licences for destructive land use purely for their own profit rather than profit to the state is therefore plainly unacceptable under the terms of a constitutional monarchy.
Full details should therefore be immediately published showing the level of engagement of the State Government of Johor so far in this process in terms of any granting of lands or licences for this Joint Venture project. The Singapore mining company has staked much confidence in the ability of the Sultan to deliver agreement from the state and have offered to pay him a handsome cut for doing so. Why?
Either Southern Alliance Mining has been deceived in this, in which case we are looking at what would appear to be highly undignified business practices by the representative of the Sultan, or it has emerged that this cheating of the Rakyat is the price that PN/Bersatu and their local officers are prepared to keep on paying in terms of issuing lands and licences to keep vital royal support for their man Mahiaddin.
After all, Mahiaddin has depended entirely on the Johor Sultan’s brother in law, the Agong, for his appointment as prime minister and for his continuation in office by virtue of suspending parliament through a declared ’emergency’.