State govts’ power over land and forests ‘leads to abuses’

Logging is seen as a way for states to ‘make money and churn the economy’, says PEKA president


The overwhelming jurisdiction and control over land and forest matters given to the states have led to widespread abuses and environmental damages, claimed environmental activist Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil.

The president of the Association for the Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia (PEKA) said the current laws and legislatures related to such resources contain loopholes, particularly in relation to provisions and power bestowed to the respective states.

Shariffa claims greed has caused detrimental impact to the environment and people generally

She said some states have been driving the economy through the exploitation of natural resources, such as unchecked logging activities, largely due to power abuse among the leaders and personal gains.

She said logging is seen as a way for states to “make money and churn the economy”.

“The states, or rather the heads of states, have too much power related to forests and land. But most of them are cronies. The money that the states made is not worth it compared to the damages done,” Shariffa told The Malaysian Reserve recently.

The 57-year-old environmentalist is unapologetic, claiming that some states could make hundreds of millions a year in tax revenue from logging activities.

“It is not worth it with all the damages to the ecosystem,” she said. “The federal government could compensate the state governments with the same amount of money, so that they do not need to do any more logging.”

Shariffa claimed that greed has caused detrimental impact to the environment and people generally.

In 2016, Shariffa and PEKA administrative head Nor Hayati Shahrom were remanded over postings related to logging activities in Johor.

Shariffa said the recent Kim Kim River toxic dumping disaster in Pasir Gudang, Johor, was not surprising.

She said more similar incidents could occur in the future if the authorities and leaders continue the malfeasance in office and fail to address issues related to the environment.

The toxic waste dumping in the Kim Kim River saw more than 3,000 people seeking treatment and 111 schools closed.

The government has to spend more than RM10 million to clean up the 1.5km stretch of the river, including RM6.4 million to remove the chemicals alone, according to Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin.

Pasir Gudang MP Hassan Abdul Karim has also called for Putrajaya to intervene and halt more golf course developments in Johor. Meanwhile in Pahang, the lifting of the moratorium on bauxite mining has raised a few eyebrows.

Shariffa said the country should increase the severity of penalties linked to environmental wrongdoings by four to five times from the current level.

“The penalties are only like RM20,000 to RM30,000. Peanuts! They made millions. These people can ‘buy’ other people on the ground to commit illegal activities,” Shariffa added.

She said the government should also increase the jail term, revoke the company’s operating licence or reject its renewal to commensurate the environmental destruction caused by the parties involved.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has not discounted the possibility for a review of the Environmental Quality Act 1974 in light of the Kim Kim River disaster.