PETALING JAYA: Teresa Kok says her criticism of an international school for putting up a play on oil palm plantations was not an attempt to stifle freedom of expression.
Responding to the backlash over her remarks, the Primary Industries Minister said she was expressing disappointment and regret over the lack of understanding of the Malaysian palm oil industry, particularly its on-going conservation and sustainability efforts.
“In the past, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) experienced difficulties with some international schools in the Klang Valley rejecting its offer to conduct palm oil awareness sessions for students in the school.
“Time and again, we receive complaints from some parents that some teachers in some international schools are spreading anti-palm oil messages to students in their classes.
“Even the current episode was brought to our attention by a concerned parent of a child attending said school,” Kok said in a statement Thursday (July 4).
She said that she would like to hold dialogues with the management and teachers of all international schools to openly discuss all the issues of common interest regarding palm oil and the sustainable cultivation of oil palm in the country.
“Only with such open dialogues can we even think of bridging the gap that divides our understanding about this commodity that is the lifeline of many small farmers in our country,” she said.
On Tuesday (July 2), Kok described the performance as “sowing hatred” towards oil palm plantations among the pupils.
A one-minute, 10-second video clip of the performance, uploaded on YouTube, showed children dressed in environment-themed costumes giving a presentation on environmental issues surrounding unsustainable oil palm plantations.
The Education Ministry said it would investigate the school under the Education Act 1966 (Act 550).
“The ministry will not compromise with any propaganda or indoctrination in private institutions that tarnish the image and name of the country,” said Education director-general Datuk Dr Amin Senin.
Meanwhile, Kok said while she respected dissenting views on the palm oil industry by anyone, including teachers and students of international schools, they must also be open minded enough to try to get the full picture of the situation.
“Such openness will allow them to better understand the challenges faced by the small farmers, the efforts made by the government and the oil palm industry players on many matters, including those related to improved sustainable cultivation and conservation,” she said.
She said she acknowledged the criticism thrown at the palm oil industry and would not blindly defend mistakes made by some industry players in the past.
“What’s important is to rectify such mistakes and to create an improved roadmap to achieve greater sustainability goals that include greater care for our environment and wildlife throughout the Malaysian palm oil supply chain,” she said.
Kok added that she had tasked her ministry to work even harder to push for the mandatory implementation of the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification for the entire value chain of the palm oil industry.
She said that the MPOC has been supporting wildlife conservation for nearly 10 years now and that in Sabah, for example, it shouldered the operation of the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit.
She added that in April, MPOC had pledged RM1.5mil to the Sabah Wildlife Department to survey the elephant and orangutan populations in the state.
Kok said palm oil was the major agri-commodity export of Malaysia and was also the nation’s third largest export, earning RM68.5bil in revenue in 2018.
She also noted that MPI was currently conducting the Love My Palm Oil campaign and that it was actively engaging schools and universities.