SPECIAL REPORT With more than 3,000 hectares of area undergoing reclamation in southern Johor and thousands more hectares in the pipeline, sand is an increasingly hot commodity.
Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin on July 6 revealed a total of 3,237.48 hectares of area in the state - about half the size of Putrajaya - were undergoing reclamation.
He announced a 30 sen fee would be imposed for every square feet of land reclaimed to assist fishermen impacted by the works, bringing in a sum of RM104 million.
The new lands are raised from the Johor Straits by filling it with sand extracted from existing land or the seabed elsewhere.
The increased demand for sand is expected to benefit companies in the sand extraction business and here the Johor royal family too has a foothold.
The royal family's sand extraction business is done through Mados Sdn Bhd, a name that is rarely mentioned in the press but is familiar among the business community in Johor.
The last time the company's name appeared in the media was in The Star last year where a quarry it reportedly owned rained boulders on the industrial area of Bandar Seri Alam near Johor Bahru, killing one Nepali worker, injuring 11 and crushing some 20 vehicles.
According to a Companies Commission of Malaysia search by Malaysiakini last week, the late Johor sultan, Sultan Iskandar Sultan Ismail, holds 99.95 percent of shares in Mados Sdn Bhd with the remaining shareholders being his second wife and nine out of 10 children from two marriages.
Seven of the late sultan's children are also listed as directors, including reigning Sultan Ibrahim Ismail.
Sultan Iskandar passed away in 2010. The company information was last updated on October 2013.
In a 2002 memo by Mados Sdn Bhd sighted by Malaysiakini , the company confirmed it is the concessionaire for sea sand extraction in two areas - at Ramunia Shoal PTD 2346 and Kukup PTD 2923.
The document was subject of a 2012 court case where 124 fishermen had sued Pengerang Independent Terminal Sdn Bhd, Dialog E&C Sdn Bhd and the Johor state government.
They claimed that the construction of an independent deepwater petroleum terminal off the shore of Pengerang had destroyed their livelihood. The fishermen ultimately lost the case at the Johor Bahru High Court.
Even though Mados was not a party in the suit, the court addressed the company as it was raised as a side issue, where the fishermen claimed they were prevented from entering PTD 2346 and PTD 2923 due to dredging works by the company.
"I find that the evidence adduced shows that marine sand extraction activity was undertaken pursuant to a lawful sand concession granted by the Johor state government to Mados.
"There was no evidence to show that Mados had extracted the sand in breach of the law," judicial commissioner Teo Say Eng said in his written judgment dated Dec 11 last year.
According to the court proceeding transcript, the Kota Tinggi assistant land administrator also confirmed Mados in 2011 received a five-year extension to its temporary operating licence to extract sand there.
Approved without EIA
A clearer picture on the activities in PTD 2346, the location of Mados' concession, can be found in the Auditor-General's Report 2009.
The report did not mention names but noted that the Johor government in 2009 extended the concessionaire's temporary operating licence to extract sand in the area, despite opposition and non-compliance of rules set out by federal agencies.
"The audit found sea sand extraction activities in PTD2346, Mukim Pantai Timur, Kota Tinggi in an area of 22,265 hectares did not get the support of the Johor Fisheries Department.
"The Kota Tinggi land office had also set a condition for the (sand) producer to present an EIA [environmental impact assessment] as required by the Department of Environment.
"The producer's application to renew its temporary operating licence to produce sand was approved in the exco meeting in February 2009 through meeting summary Bil 615/2009. However, to date, no EIA is presented for approval," reads the auditor-general's report.
The report also noted that PTD2346 is a fishing zone and warned sand extraction activities can prove detrimental.
"When sand extraction is conducted at the sea bed, the resulting mud will cause water pollution and impact the marine life eco-system. The mud which accumulates along the shores will also result in sea side pollution," it said.
The report adds that an interview of 20 fishermen in Teluk Ramunia found that their haul had been affected as the fish habitat were disturbed and the fishermen's equipment were often damaged and filled with mud.
The obscure company came into the spotlight last month after Johor PKR vice-chairperson Hassan Karim highlighted Mados' activities in a scathing open letter to Johor MB Khaled.
Can Khaled put his foot down?
In the June 8 letter, Hassan urged Khaled to ensure the principles of a constitutional monarchy was upheld amid the Johor Housing and Property Board bill controversy which would have given the Johor sultan wide executive powers.
"You will be responsible as menteri besar if the people revolt against the raja and sultan in Johor.
"Hundreds of poor fishermen from various races, but majority of whom are Malays, are having sand thrown into their rice bowl when Mados Sdn Bhd, with the approval of the Johor government, suck up sand for reclamation in an area where the fishermen fish...," he said.
Exactly a week after that, Umno-linked New Straits Times group managing editor Abdul Jalil Hamid also questioned whether Khaled ( left ) was capable of keeping the royalty in check in an opinion piece entitled ‘ Can Johor MB say 'no' to royalty ’.
Khaled finally agreed to water down the bill after heavy pressure, replacing references of the state monarch with the state government.
Sultan Ibrahim later broke his silence on the controversial bill by assuring he would not interfere in state affairs. He also announced that the Johor government will conduct roadshows to explain the bill before he assents to it to become law.
Tomorrow, in the final instalment of this four-part series, Malaysiakini will look at a mysterious Umno figure whose name has constantly appeared in businesses where the Johor royal family has a stake.
JOHOR ROYALTY’S BUSINESS EMPIRE