Sarawak assembly approves stricter penalties for environmental offences

Sulok Tawie
An aerial view of Sri Aman Fire and Rescue Station personnel putting out a forest fire in Kampung STC, Sri Aman September 19, 2019. — Bernama pic

KUCHING, Nov 5 — The Sarawak State Legislative Assembly today unanimously passed the Natural Resources and Environment (Amendment) Bill 2019 that seeks to enhance provisions on penalties and deterrents to violations of environmental laws.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan said the Bill also aims to expand the law on open burning, particularly in commercial farming, to ensure better compliance with current environmental needs and practices.

“Lack of accountability and poor compliance from various parties in particular the developers are the main causes of local haze pollution, water contamination and land degradation,” he said when tabling the Bill that sought to amend the Natural Resources and Environment Ordinance (NREO).

“As such a deterrent penalty should be enforced on habitual offenders who intentionally cause environmental pollution, by imposing higher penalty for offences on illegal open burning, land and inland water pollution,” he said.

He said the maximum penalties will be increased for some offences as a deterrent measure, citing the penalties under Section 30 of the NREO for open burning that will from RM20,000 and three years in jail to RM100,000 or five years’ imprisonment or both upon conviction, with a penalty of RM1,000 each day for continuous offence.

Awang Tengah, who is also the second minister of urban development and resources, said that the amendment also seeks to provide for protection of informers as well as provisions for rewards.

“Therefore, this proposed amendment aims to provide adequate protection and incentives for public and individuals who come forward in reporting and providing information on any irresponsible acts that caused land degradation, water and air pollution.

“This would encourage more people to come forward to provide crucial information to the authorities which are essential for a more successful enforcement of the state environmental laws,” he said.

Awang Tengah said the amendment is also aimed at reducing haze pollution from local sources and is consistent with the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil Certification requirement for small holders to comply with local environmental regulation.

“Rest assured that this amendment will not affect the traditional farming practices of slash and burn by rural communities in Sarawak as the Controller of the Natural Resources and Environmental Board has powers under Section 10 of the Principal Ordinance to make the necessary Orders to that effect,” he added.

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