New hope for our environment

MALAYSIANS will welcome the government's proposed new Environmental Protection Act (EPA). It will give new hope for our environment that has been showing detrimental, dangerous and even deadly evidence of rapid deterioration.

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Ja'afar and his environment-friendly team must be commended for their strenuous efforts in pushing for this new law. Pollution has been taking place for so long, so widely and so carelessly all over our country that we have become despondent.

But why did the law take so long to formulate?

We have to give credit to civil society for urging government to act more forcefully against environmental criminals. And to be fair, the government also deserves appreciation for wanting to adopt tougher laws against polluters.

But will the proposed law work?

» First, we earnestly hope that the AG's Chambers will approve and improve the 91 sections of EPA which includes 41 more provisions than before. Let's wish there is no watering down of the effectiveness of the proposed law.

» Second, we hope the law will be updated to meet the new norms of the UN's 17 sustainable development goals and the global best practices. This will ensure that our laws are up to date.

» The state governments have to give their full support to the new law. If they are reluctant to do so, then the whole legislative process can be badly delayed. If this happens, the rakyat will hope that the highly influential Council of Rulers will step in to advise the state legislatures to be more progressive.

» The National Physical Development Council together with the National Land Council will now be empowered to approve or reject high-impact projects. This move will certainly make the difference, as at present the Department of Environment can only give advice, which is often ignored. This has led to floods, landslides, silting of rivers and coastal erosion and poor animal husbandry and waste released from farms.

The new law will remove the approving authority, power and influence of the state and local councils and this can cause serious state government resistance, as often corruption has also been involved.

» The proposed environmental management tools would make it compulsory for industries and development sectors to self-regulate.

This is a clever move as we cannot expect environment officials to be everywhere trying to catch polluters red-handed.

Hence members of civil society and those aware of environmental issues, just armed with smart phones can help the authorities to arrest polluters.

We have all suffered from rising pollution and the deteriorating environment. Posterity will suffer even more, if we don't tackle pollution firmly.

The federal government's proposed new anti-pollution law is therefore most welcome. We only hope that the new laws, with even more improvements from the AG and NGOs, will be passed and implemented with a strong political will.

We sincerely hope that civil society will be fully consulted and that their views will be diligently taken into account in finalising the new environmental law.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
Asli Centre for Public Policy Studies