PETALING JAYA: The Johor state government must stop evading responsibility for the degazetting of Pulau Kukup as a national park and immediately restore its status, says the group Lawyers for Liberty.
Its advisor N. Surendran said that a bid to shift the blame to Barisan Nasional was unacceptable, as the actual degazetting order was made by the Pakatan state authorities on Sept 24, four months after it took over the state.
He said while it was true that the Barisan state government made the decision to degazette Pulau Kukup in March 2018, they were not responsible for the actual degazetting.
“Why did the Pakatan state government proceed to give effect to BN's decision for degazetting the internationally recognised Pulau Kukup wetland? Why did they go through with it?
"The Pakatan state exco had every opportunity to reverse the decision of the previous BN government. They did not do so,” Surendran said in a statement on Thursday (Dec 6).
His statement was in response to Johor state exco member Aminolhuda Hassan, who blamed the previous Barisan-led state government for the degazetting of Pulau Kukup as a national park.
Concerns about Pulau Kukup were sparked by a gazette dated Oct 25 that had gone viral, notifying that the state authorities will cancel the whole area as a national park under subsection 3(3) of the National Park Environment Enactment (Johor) 1989.
Surendran said that the state government could reverse the degazetting, and restore the status of Pulau Kukup as a national park with the stroke of a pen.
Surendran also said that the Federal Government must move to preserve Pulau Kukup by invoking the National Heritage Act 2005.
“Under the Act, any site which has 'natural heritage' may be declared a 'heritage site' by the Commissioner of Heritage.
"Natural heritage under the Act includes any 'natural sites of outstanding value'; Pulau Kukup clearly qualifies to be a heritage site.
"The Act can be invoked, irrespective of who owns the land now.
"We urge the federal government to waste no more time in doing the necessary to preserve and protect Pulau Kukup, in light of the continuing failure of the state government to do so,” he said.
Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim had on Wednesday (Dec 5) said that Pulau Kukup will become Sultanate land after the Johor state government has de-gazetted it from a national park.
He claimed that the island, one of the few pristine wetlands in South-East Asia, will be "better protected" after its status is changed from national park to Sultanate land.
On Wednesday, Surendran had asked why the stripping of the national park status was done "silently", without any public announcement, until the gazette was leaked online.
He noted that the island was originally gazetted as a national park in 1997 by the then Barisan state government.
There are six national parks in Johor including Endau-Rompin Peta, Endau-Rompin Selai, Tanjung Piai, Pulau Kukup, Gunung Ledang, and Sultan Iskandar Marine Park.
Pulau Kukup is renowned as the world's second largest uninhabited mangrove island.
It is one of Malaysia's five Ramsar sites - wetlands of international importance under the United Nations’ Convention on Wetlands.
According to the Johor National Parks Corporation website, Pulau Kukup has several endangered animals such as the flying fox, bearded pig and smooth-coated otter.