Heavier penalties for polluters on the cards

Revision and amendment on EQA 1974 timely as current penalties are not proportionate with the environmental and financial damages


HEAVIER penalties will be imposed on polluters in the future as the government seeks to review and enhance law provisions under the Environmental Quality Act (EQA) 1974.

Environment and Water Minister Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man (picture) said the revision and amendment on EQA 1974 is timely as the current penalties are not proportionate with the environmental and financial damages that are inflicted by the polluters.

“We are definitely looking into increasing the fines or penalty against those who committed the offences under the Act.

“We may not be able to table it in this current (parliamentary) sitting. It will be tabled in the next session,” he told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview recently.

Citing the Sungai Kim Kim incident in Johor last year as an example, the first-time federal minister said the fine under EQA 1974 is not proportionate with the amount of environmental damage caused by perpetrators.

Four men were put on trial last December for allegedly disposing of oil waste and sludge that were listed in the First Schedule of the Environmental Quality (Scheduled Waste) Regulations 2005 into Sungai Kim Kim, without approval from the Department of Environment.

The case is still ongoing and the accused face a maximum jail term of five years and fine of RM500,000 as stipulated under Section 34B (1)(a) of the EQA 1974.

The illegal dumping that took place in March, 2019, released toxic fumes which affected 6,000 people, of whom 2,775 persons had to be hospitalised.

Most of the victims were school students, and the incident subsequently forced 110 schools located near the river to be temporarily shut.

“If you look at the amount of penalty and the extent of damage caused by the incident…it is too lenient. Our environment is badly affected and people’s wellbeing are compromised too,” said Tuan Ibrahim.

The Kubang Kerian MP said some of the legal provisions under the Act are outdated and should be tailored into current global development.

“That is why we are looking into strengthening the Act and it does require amendments that need to be approved by the House,” he added.

Tuan Ibrahim, however, said it is not necessary to introduce a new Act for the environment as proposed by his predecessor Yeo Bee Yin.

“I agree that our EQA needs an improvement as I have mentioned earlier. I believe it should be strengthened instead of replaced because it will take too much time to go back to the drawing board. We need a stronger law to protect our environment in no time,” he explained.

Still, the 59-year-old politician maintained that some of the policies and frameworks introduced by the previous administration would be maintained for the nation’s betterment.

“I think we need to understand and acknowledge that environmental issues transcend religious, race and political beliefs. If the policy is good and it ensures our sustainability, why not?

“Politics would only take us so far. What we want is a better environment for all,” Tuan Ibrahim said.

He said the ministry is looking into introducing a nationwide ban of plastic bags at shopping malls and supermarkets in the effort to promote recycling among Malaysians, based on how it has been implemented in several states, such as Selangor and Penang.

“We are looking into introducing the campaign nationwide just like in Selangor. We are studying how to impose the 20 sen charge and get the funds to be channelled to the Department of Environment.

“We are still working out the fund collection mechanism,” Tuan Ibrahim said.

The PAS deputy president conceded that he assumed the Environment and Water Ministry portfolio in what he described as one of the most challenging times due to Covid-19 pandemic.

He assured that there will be no water tariff hike due to current economic situations and that the government will bear the costs of water treatment to operators.

“That is my assurance and commitment to all Malaysians. I will continue to engage with water operators to discuss costs and arising issues.”

He does not foresee any increase soon as the effect of Covid-19 will take months to recover.

“If and when the economy is stable, this issue will be discussed in the Cabinet again. Until now, my focus is to help alleviate people’s burdens,” Tuan Ibrahim added.