Time to implement ‘polluter pays’ principle

This Sept 15 pic shows the four company directors and a workshop manager charged at the Selanyang Sessions Court. -NSTP/NURUL AMELIA ISHAKThis Sept 15 pic shows the four company directors and a workshop manager charged at the Selanyang Sessions Court. -NSTP/NURUL AMELIA ISHAK

Four company directors and a factory manager suspected of being responsible for dumping effluents into Sungai Gong, near Rawang, Selangor, appeared in court last Tuesday to answer charges under Section 430, read together with Section 34, of the Penal Code and Section 25(1) of the Environmental Quality Act 1974 (EQA).

They pleaded not guilty and the case was fixed for further mention on Oct 27. They were denied bail. The pollution incident caused the suspension of operations at four Sungai Selangor water treatment plants, disrupting water supply to 1,292 areas in the Klang Valley.

Expressing sadness for his subjects in the state, the sultan of Selangor asked for stricter enforcement measures to be put in place. He wanted “more stringent legislation” to be passed, containing heavier penalties for polluters of rivers and the environment, including mandatory jail terms and maximum fines. He also instructed that there should not be any “political interference” in enforcement matters pertaining to the pollution of the environment.

This is not the first time river pollution had caused a major disruption to water supply in Selangor. Unless immediate measures are put in place, it will not be the last. In 2016, river pollution had caused the Semenyih water treatment plant to be shut down four times, leading to a chaotic water disruption in Hulu Langat, Kuala Langat, Sepang and Petaling.

What distressed many in Selangor is that the illegal factory causing the pollution of Sungai Gong last week is actually a “repeat offender”, having been compounded RM60,000 in the past. According to recent news reports, the state government had given the landowner and factory operator until the end of this year “to put things right”.

This had led some quarters to question the reason for such “kid-glove treatment”. They asked: “Sudah 12 tahun pemilik kilang haram diberi masa, kenapa beri muka lagi kepada mereka?

It is still not too late for Malaysia to implement the “polluters pay” principle (PPP), under which a convicted polluter of the environment (including rivers) is required to pay a certain amount to the state to cover the cost of restoring the damaged environment to its former condition.

New South Wales in Australia had done so by establishing its Environment Protection Authority under its Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991. The European Union did the same under a directive in 2004. France implemented it under Article 4 of its Charter for the Environment, while Ghana implemented it in 2011. England and Wales passed their respective Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations in 2009.

Under the Zimbabwe Environmental Management Act 2002, any person convicted of environmental offences is required to bear the cost of decontaminating the polluted environment. The polluters pay principle is actually grounded in Principle 16 of the Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development 1992 (the Rio Declaration), to which Malaysia is a party.

But nothing concrete in implementing it has been done over the past three decades. In 2017, the then natural resources and environment minister, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, stated that the federal government intended to enact a new law, known as the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), to empower a federal department to act against polluters, including the power to demolish or relocate illegal factories.

He then explained that the pollution of Sungai Semenyih was caused by illegal factories, but federal agencies under his ministry were unable to do anything because the matter was under the jurisdiction of the local authorities. He told reporters the new law will solve cross-jurisdictional issues.

In May 2019, when the pollution of Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang caused water disruption that affected some 6,000 residents living in the area, the then minister in charge of the environment, Yeo Bee Yin, also said the federal government was considering a new law to replace the existing EQA, with a heavier penalty for polluters. Sadly, nothing has come from both promises.

To sum up — we have an old EQA waiting for reform. We have earlier announcements about a new EPA. We have local authorities who seem unable to cope with the magnitude and frequency of our river pollution problem.

We have a federal department, which (according to federal ministers) does not have jurisdiction to do anything about it. We made a solemn promise in Brazil in 1992 to implement PPP, but we have not done so.

By Salleh Buang.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/09/626244/time-implement-polluter-pays-principle

Comments are closed.