Surin Suksuwan, a member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, pointed out that Crown lands in the UK may have started as land belonging to the monarch but was now managed as public land, so it was not for the monarch to do as he or she likes.
Moreover, in the UK, profits from crown estates are surrendered to the British parliament (rather than kept by the Queen).
On Wednesday (Dec 5), Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim said that Pulau Kukup will become Sultanate land after the Johor state government had de-gazetted it from being 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.
Suksuwan explained that crown lands such as Hyde Park in London were not the same as national parks.
"The former is mainly for recreation while national parks are mainly for biodiversity conservation," he said in a statement on Tuesday (Dec 11).
Pulau Kukup is the second largest uninhabited mangrove island in the world and listed as a “wetland of international importance” under the Ramsar Convention 1971.
One local comparison is with Royal Belum State Park, a rainforest in Perak which has royal status.
Suksuwan noted that Pulau Kukup was different from Royal Belum as the state park was still protected under the Perak State Parks Corporation Enactment.
However, Suksuwan said Pulau Kukup has been degazetted and lost its legal protected status as a national park.
Thus, he said the Johor National Parks Corporation Enactment could no longer be enforced within the Pulau Kukup sultanate land.
On Sunday (Dec 9), Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian "vowed" to ensure that Pulau Kukup is preserved and maintained as a national park, even though it was now legally classified as Sultanate land.
Osman added that Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar had "consented" for Pulau Kukup to be maintained as a national park (in practice, if not in legal terms).
However the Mentri Besar's "promise" is not enough, according to Lawyers for Liberty adviser N. Surendran.
Online portal Free Malaysia Today (FMT) reported him saying that Pulau Kukup's legal protection as a national park should be restored.
And he believes this should be done under federal law - the National Parks Act 1980.
It was previously a national park under state law - the Johor National Parks Corporation Enactment - which allowed the Johor Pakatan Harapan state government to remove its legal protection on Sept 24.
Surendran also suggested that it be managed by the federal government's Department of Wildlife and National Parks, rather than Johor National Parks Corporation.
“It’s unsuitable and inappropriate to hold a large nature reserve of international importance as Sultanate land," FMT quoted him as saying.
"The Sultanate Land Enactment 1934 which vests land in the ruler personally was not meant to be used for this purpose.
“It’s baffling that it’s being suggested that the best way to manage nature parks is to make it Sultanate land."
The report added that Surendran had criticised the comparisons made between Sultanate land and the royal parks in London, claiming that it was "baseless".
He said the royal parks in the Greater London area were held as Crown land due to a "historical anomaly peculiar to English history", adding that there were calls even in London itself to transfer those parks to the local councils.
"There are no reasonable grounds to take this as an example to be emulated in Johor,” he said.
Surendran had also called for Pulau Kukup to be legally re-gazetted despite assurances from Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian that Pulau Kukup would remain a national park after becoming a sultanate land.
On Friday (Dec 7), the Cabinet decided that Pulau Kukup’s legal status should remain as a national park.
However, Tunku Ismail then said on Sunday (Dec 9) that “outsiders should not meddle on matters related to Johor”.
The Crown Prince pointed out that only the Johor ruler had the jurisdiction to override the state constitution.
This led to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad rebutting him by saying, “Malaysians are not outsiders. The Federal Government is not an outsider. We are responsible for all things in the country.”
“That is the stance of federal government. I hope Johor will accept. Pulau Kukup should not be developed. It should remain as a forest reserve particularly as it is a special mangrove forest.
Pulau Kukup is located off the coast of Pontian in south Johor, and been a national park since 1997.
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.
Dr Xavier added that the island has over 18 species of mangroves, with a rare ecosystem under threat of extinction.
He said, “It is also a resource for fish and aquaculture.
"It is home to an invaluable biodiversity treasure for the country as well as for the state of Johor and any failure in managing the area can lead us to lose these treasures for good.”
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