Commentary Politics

Where rare-earth is concerned, is Malaysia a basket case?

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

November 10, 2019

A commentary by Zaidi Azmi

OF the two individuals who promoted Malaysia as a viable country to invest in rare earth-related industries to bigwigs at a premier conference of the said industry, only one was Malaysian.

The foreigner who did so was Amanda Lacaze, the CEO of Lynas corporation — the rare earth manufacturer that had braved through one heck of a rough-ride after Pakatan Harapan won Malaysia’s national poll last year.

Lynas’ fate had fallen into limbo since then because Pakatan housed a lot of politicians who were against its operations due to claims of its so-called hazardous residues but were consistently debunked by Malaysian scientists.

“Malaysia is actually a great place to do business. It is the reason we came here,” Lacaze told the foreign delegates in her keynote address, pointing out how the bulk of Lynas’ highly-skilled staff were locals.

She also drew attention to industry players at the conference of Malaysia’s easy and excellent access to airport, deep sea ports, suppliers, utilities infrastructures and purpose-built chemical industrial estates.

Lynas was officially given a conditional greenlight in August which was, mind you, 10 months after it received a favourable verdict from a government review committee and an okay by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself.

What’s with the delay? Well, the minister in charge of overseeing it, Yeo Bee Yin, had in December last year, issued a directive that had contradicted the recommendations of the very committee that she commissioned.

And so in a bid to reposition Malaysia in a favourable light in the much coveted billion dollar industry that is currently under China’s monopoly, the more sane-minded politicians in Pakatan opted a friendlier approach.

In fact, one of them had even delivered a speech at the conference, assuring key players of the rare-earth industry of Malaysia’s commitment to being part of the industry’s development.

“We would like to have the magnet makers, the metal makers and other downstream businesses to be here and we also welcome other rare-earth processors,” said Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah Sanusi at the conference.

His guarantee seemed to hold water as three days before the Thursday conference, Akhramsyah who chairs an investment arm of a government agency in charge of overseeing human capital, had brokered a partnership with Lynas.

The deal centered mainly on attracting foreign investments, developing Malaysia’s human capital and the rare-earth-related downstream industries in the country.

All seemed well until the upper echelons of the said agency cried foul and claimed that they had never agreed to it as they were allegedly kept in the dark about the partnership with Lynas.

And almost immediately, Akhramsyah refuted the claim, explaining that all relevant stakeholders and that the MoU of the partnership was approved at a meeting in September in which the representative of agency had also attended.

As it is, the noises on the company, particularly from its detractors in Pakatan, continue to reverberate.

Three weeks ago, the deputy minister in charge of overseeing Lynas had, for the umpteenth time, explained the safeness of Lynas’ operation in Parliament.

Frankly, these persistent clamor on Lynas and rare-earth are, plainly put, baffling given how lofty the government’s aspirations are in embracing green and sustainable technology of which rare-earth is a key ingredient.

Those of the ruling coalition need to make up their minds because to go gaga over something while at the same time loathe the materials that made it…is just insane.

They are making Malaysia looks like a basket case.



About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at