Students’ palm oil performance: School apologised to me, minister says

Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok speaks during a press conference at Parliament in Kuala Lumpur July 2, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok speaks during a press conference at Parliament in Kuala Lumpur July 2, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 — An international school has apologised over its students’ performance that Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok had criticised as allegedly being “anti-palm oil”, she said today.

In a post on her official Facebook account, Kok said The International School @Parkcity’s senior administrators — education director Andrew Dalton and principal Jonathan Turner — as well as Parkcity director Sukhdev Singh had yesterday paid her a visit to explain the incident involving an alleged “anti-palm oil message”.

Kok said the international school’s administrators had shared with her the video clip which was shown at the school’s assembly for its students, with the video clip featuring an excerpt of environmental watchdog Greenpeace’s alleged “anti-palm oil video” titled “Rang-Tan” and with the students merely enacting the roles in the latter video.

“They apologised to me for the unfortunate incident and said that on hindsight, they could have handled the situation better,” she said in a statement today.

Tagging the meeting with the school as the “beginning of a new partnership”, Kok applauded the international school for showing sincerity with their visit.

“I must say that I truly appreciate their visit and sincerity in resolving this unfortunate misunderstanding. The humility and sincerity shown by them is undeniable proof that they are indeed a good group of professional people who run and administer the school.

“I hope this incident will open the doors wider to spur further engagement with other international schools,” she said.

Kok said she had explained numerous points regarding palm oil to the international school administrators, noting that she had reiterated her stand “that the issue is not about stifling freedom of expression in schools”.

“Rather, it is about them having a fuller understanding of both sides of the coin about the palm oil controversy, particularly the numerous efforts taken by the government and the palm oil industry players towards sustainability of the entire value chain of the oil palm industry,” she said.

Kok noted that the palm oil industry is governed by about 60 legislations and regulations, adding that the government is strongly advocating for the entire palm oil industry to fully adopt the mandatory certification of Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MPSO) and that RM100 million had recently been allocated to help smallholders pay for such certification costs.

“In our discussion, I explained to the administrators of The International School @Parkcity the health benefits of palm oil, including red palm oil and vitamin E tocotrienols. They were very surprised to learn of this,” she said.

Kok said she had also explained that oil palm had become controversial as its high productivity gave stiff competition to other edible oils and posed a “threat to vested interests”.

“If there is no oil palm in the world, with the growth of the world population, nations would have cleared more rainforest in order to grow other forms of lower productivity oil crops to satisfy the global consumption needs,” she said, adding that she had highlighted to the international school of palm oil’s role in lifting millions of rural Malaysians from poverty and its importance in the local economy.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Kok had criticised an unnamed international school for organising the play and accused it of propagating falsehoods about the palm oil industry.

On July 4, Kok’s DAP colleague and women, family and community development deputy minister Hannah Yeoh defended the international school which was within her constituency, saying the video clip was only a small excerpt of a 24-minute performance on multiple environmental issues by students at their weekly assembly.

Yeoh said she had personally watched the full video and was convinced that there was no agenda to undermine the government’s effort to promote palm oil.

Palm oil is a critical commodity for Malaysia as the country is the world’s second-largest producer after Indonesia, and Kok’s ministry is currently pushing a campaign to promote palm oil amid the European Union’s proposal to cut down on consumption of palm oil due to concerns over the sustainable cultivation of oil palms.

The EU is proposing to prohibit palm oil in biofuels by 2021 and a complete phasing-out of the commodity ten years after that.

In January, Putrajaya launched a year-long “Love MY Palm Oil” campaign to fight anti-palm oil campaigns that it said are threatening the livelihood of Malaysians involved in the industry.