Spotlight: When east corridor is painted green

The team planning the future of the country’s East Coast Economic Region
— the development corridor that covers Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang
— has drawn in 391,003ha of prime green sites for safekeeping. These
areas will be the ECER’s six new state parks. ELIZABETH JOHN speaks to
Datuk Jebasingam Issace John, general manager of Special Projects at
Petronas’ Corporate Planning and Development division, and finds out
what lies in store for these areas.
IT’S usually a challenge to think of something else besides steely towers and
monster highways every time the word “development” pops up.
But if you’re peeking into the thoughts of the people planning the future of the
country’s east coast, you’ll see that the word triggers a different set of images.
For nearly a year, a team of planners at Petronas cracked their heads over the
vision for the East Coast Economic Region (ECER) – the development corridor
that covers Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang and its 3.9 million people.
With specialist consultants pitching in, the team worked on this multi-billion ringgit
push in the three states.
But amid planning clusters of housing, industry blocks and a glitzy new look for
towns and cities, these planners drew in 391,003ha of prime green sites for
safekeeping.They stretch from the hills of Terengganu to the wetlands on the state’s shores,
include two crucial forest complexes in Kelantan and Pahang’s mystical Tasik
They will be the ECER’s six new state parks.
“There aren’t many other areas that have these features and conservation
values,” said Datuk Jebasingam Issace John, who headed the team.
The proposed Terengganu Hills State Park, for instance, is home to Lata
Cemerong – the country’s highest waterfall – that falls in a thunderous 350m
The Setiu Wetlands State Park has the largest known nesting population of the
critically endangered painted terrapin in the country.
The proposed parks are also home to limestone caves, raging rivers and are the
roaming grounds of many large mammals.
The plan was fitting, said Jebasingam. The region accounts for 60 per cent of
Peninsular Malaysia’s forest cover.
“These areas needed the legal framework for protection to ensure they weren’t
“We were very clear about that,” said the general manager of special projects at
Petronas’ corporate planning and development division.
Some parks, like the Setiu Wetlands, need protection to prevent economic
activities from altering it.
That’s why aquaculture projects in the area are being reviewed and management
projects are being worked out.
Others, like Tasik Chini, need it for improved management and greater funding.
Planners have also proposed the ECER Biodiversity and Biotechnology Trust
Fund for research and conservation plans in these parks.
Beyond the parks, every aspect of development was being viewed through green
lenses, said Jebasingam.
The team will also be working out action plans for other environmentally sensitive
sites like the many overcrowded holiday islands on the east coast.
This means tackling long-standing problems like sewerage and solid waste
disposal that have long plagued these islands.
2Planners are also looking into monitoring sustainability of these islands and
getting them international green accreditation.
And the Lojing-Cameron-Kinta hills – hacked away over the years by poor
practices in agriculture and tourism development – will become a special
management area.
But this won’t be protection for protection’s sake.
Over the next 12 years, the ECER project will have to create over half a million
new jobs and find ways to even out differences between this part of the peninsula
and the wealthier west coast.
So once the parks are gazetted, ecotourism will feature prominently in its future
But there’ll be no paving paradise.
For beach holidays, visitors will be encouraged to stay in integrated mainland
beach resorts and go on day-trips to the islands.
This is why airports on the mainland in Kuala Terengganu, Kota Baru and
Kuantan are being expanded and no new airports have been recommended for
the islands.
The idea is to encourage more mainland and coastal tourism.
It’s also why the team will carry out an integrated water transport study on how
ferry services could be improved.
Tourists will be offered a variety of packages to pick from, so that the large
numbers expected can be more evenly distributed.
Homestay programmes will be better organised. Urban and cultural tourism for
towns like Kota Baru will also be promoted to tourists.
Plans are also in place to train locals and the Orang Asli community as tour
Jebasingam said: “If we can get a farmer, who earns RM500 a month, trained
and working in a tourism project like this, we could increase his income up to
RM2,000 a month.
“But it has a low impact on the environment. So it’s a case of sustaining the
physical environment and benefiting people at the same time.”
After 28 years in the government and working on giant projects like the Putrajaya
master plan, Jebasingam knows that these plans take time to work.
3″I’d be naive to say that we’ll see instant results. Rejuvenating some of these
parks will take time.
“Better management will also take time to become a reality. But you can’t put a
price tag on protecting the environment.
“Protecting these places means enhancing their value as tourism hot spots.
“This will only improve things for the people who live here.”