Malaysia could replicate laws in Singapore to punish haze offenders

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN & SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH/ pic by BLOOMBERG

THE government could replicate laws in Singapore to punish local firms found guilty of causing massive environmental damage abroad.

Lawyer Lim Wei Jiet said many people supported the government’s plans to enact laws to hold local companies accountable for their activities abroad.

“We can certainly take a leaf from Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014. The law also outlines civil liabilities or situations where a company can be sued for contributing to haze that causes losses, disease or death of a Singaporean,” Lim told The Malaysian Reserve.

The Act makes it a criminal offence to cause and contribute to haze in Singapore, and allows hefty fines of up to S$100,000 (RM304,099) for every day of the haze pollution against companies found guilty. The amount can go up to a total maximum aggregate of S$2 million.

The Singapore law also establishes a presumption that a parent company, which participates in the management of the subsidiary company causing pollution, is also engaging in such unlawful conduct.

“This prevents companies from distancing themselves from liability by virtue of the doctrine of separate corporate personality,” Lim said.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday announced that the Cabinet had discussed the possibility of passing a law that would force companies to tackle fires on their estates abroad.

This came after Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar last week claimed that some of the fires had been spotted on palm oil plantations operated by four Malaysian companies’ subsidiaries — Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK), Sime Darby Plantation Bhd, IOI Corp Bhd and TDM Bhd.

Industry consultant MR Chandran said such laws could be redundant to existing certification such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Chandran, who is also advisor to the RSPO, said there are sufficient rules at the national level and under international certification standards that could punish culprits behind the fires in Indonesia.

He said the RSPO, along with the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) and Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil schemes, have clear environmental standards that members have to conform to.

“I don’t see why the Malaysian government should take further legal action overseas because these companies are already operating under Indonesian laws. It would be a triple whammy,” Chandran said.

The RSPO imposes a strict criterion on fire prevention and management, while Malaysia has a zero burning policy under the Environment Quality Act 1974 punishable by a fine of not exceeding RM500,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

Chandran said the RSPO has been actively monitoring all fire hotspots using satellite technology and processes to take action against dissident members, including termination of membership.

Data on the RSPO website showed that as of Sept 10, a total of 244 hotspots from 48,422 hotspots across Malaysia and Indonesia took place within RSPO member concessions.

“I believe the RSPO has sought explanation from their members. If there are complaints filed against them, the RSPO will investigate and ask for a show-cause letter. If they are proven guilty due to negligence, the RSPO can take action by suspending their certification.

“Until the auditor verifies, their certification will be suspended, and that means they cannot trade any palm products, whether crude palm oil or palm olein under RSPO, so they don’t get the extra premium. They have to trade it like normal oil,” Chandran said.

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