MENTION Kampung Sungai Lembu to some Malaysians or even Penangites a few months back, nobody would have known of its whereabouts.
After all it is not a popular “makan” place that has any interesting landmarks that is worth a 40-minute drive from George Town.
Nothing much was known about this quiet village in Penanti except that it is part of the hinterlands of Permatang Pauh with scattered settlements in between farmhouses and villages, with the majority of the residents being Chinese.
A quick search on the Internet shows that about the only thing this place is well known for is its Nirwana Blissful Memorial Park which is an eternal resting place for the rich to rest in style. It is learnt that a plot of burial land can cost up to one million ringgit!
The quiet village has however not been so unpopular lately with the sudden attention it has been getting from various parties. It has certainly found its way onto the Penang map, albeit for the wrong reasons!
Almost on a daily basis someone has something to say about Kampung Sungai Lembu through press conferences, press statements, speeches and the sudden visits there.
The village has suddenly become famous following a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) raid on state exco Phee Boon Poh’s office which subsequently saw his three-day remand by the commission over alleged power abuse.
The DAP man was said to have used his powers as State Environment, Welfare Caring Society committee chairman to sign letters to the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) seeking postponement of action against the factory following complaints of emission of smoke from the carbon filter factory.
“Why only now after so long? Why is everyone using us to make themselves look like they’re doing something for us?
“Suddenly names unheard of in the past have come up to us to show sympathy and solidarity. Is it because the elections are coming?
“We’ve been complaining about the illegal factory issue for years and suddenly only now they’re taking action,” exclaimed an annoyed-looking villager who did want to disclose his name.
According to him, if not for the death of a lorry driver in one of the factories (in 2015 where he fell into one of the 31 sawdust burning pits) there and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigation against Phee, the voices of Kampung Sungai Lembu residents would never have been heard.
He added that the place is not even an industrial area as it is an agricultural based settlement for plantations such as the one he runs.
He said their complaints were not baseless as the fumes from the factory was believed to have caused cancer resulting in eleven deaths out of the 500 residents there since 2014.
However, Penanti assemblyman Dr Norlela Ariffin was quick to object about nothing being done regarding the illegal factory issue. She pointed out she has been bringing up their complaints to the DAP-led state government and also during the state assembly sitting in 2015.
She, however, said she had to agree with the villager that every party is now using the issue she raised two years ago to make themselves look like they are championing the course.
According to her it is not a political issue – it is about the wellbeing and safety of the residents who she said had been complaining to her of their suffering as a result of the sawdust processing factory there.
“As the assemblyman of Penanti which Kampung Sungai Lembu is in, I represent the people and their problems and they have been coming to me with so many complaints with eighteen petitions.
“It’s the only right thing to do even if it makes me unpopular with certain parties so long as the residents know I’m not just sitting on the job and pushing everything under the carpet.
“I don’t work to gain popularity and publicity. I work so I can have a clear conscience,” she told Malaysia Outlook.
She admitted that she was being sidelined and has been subjected to ridicule by certain quarters including her own comrades but has ironically received support from the state opposition party.
She revealed how she was approached by leaders who expressed their disappointment in her for going public with the issue during a state assembly sitting two years ago and taking to Facebook to share her feelings on the issue.
She said the villagers first went to see her in 2015 and she had immediately gone to investigate as she did not believe there could be an illegal factory well hidden in an oil palm estate meant for agricultural activities. However, it turned out to be true.
While glad that the issue she has been aggressively fighting for is now receiving attention and concern, Norlela said she could not help but wonder if it is genuine concern or for the mere objective of politicising the whole issue besides using it as a form of pre-election campaign.
“Suddenly NGOs unheard of in the past have been giving statements to the press on the issue, slamming the state government and other parties have been showing sympathy and concern towards me.
I don’t need all those as I’ve been working on my own with my own team without their support all this while until I was told I have succeeded in getting the factory shut down.
“It’s funny how these people suddenly know more than I do.
“If they know so much they should have raised it then and not use an issue someone else has raised and continue using it as a political tool,” she continued.
“All of them should go down to the ground and get to know the voices and issues faced by the rakyat, not just parrot issues being raised by others.
“That’s like copying someone else’s homework,” she said.
While she can now heave a sigh of relief that the factory is no longer in operation, she expressed worry that there could be more and hoped the authorities would go all out on their crackdown against illegal factories even if it meant her state assemblyman post is at stake.
She said she was not surprised that Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had gone to visit a school there to give a RM10,000 contribution together with Permatang Pauh member of parliament Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Azizah on Saturday.
The PKR president also treated villagers to durians which Norlela claimed she had sponsored.
She shared she had turned down the invitation to join the event on Saturday as a form of protest against the ill treatment she has been receiving.
Ultimately, issues like Kampung Sungai Lembu should not be used as fodder in the political game.
Representatives were elected because people believed that they would help them in their time of need.
And that should always be the focus rather than the ballot box.