‘Higher penalties for polluters not enough’


Chow says the public is still poorly informed about environmental issues.- Filepic

INCREASING penalties for those convicted of environmental crimes is not enough to address the issue, say non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Johor.

While welcoming the recent amendments to the Environmental Quality Act 1974 (Act 127), these NGOs said there was still a significant lack of awareness among the public and industry players.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Vincent Chow said such a move needed to go hand-in-hand with efforts to conduct more outreach programmes to inculcate environmental awareness among the public.

“It is good that the government is taking steps to increase penalties, as people are usually affected by the idea of needing to fork out a lot of money.

“However, that alone is not enough. The public is still poorly informed about environmental issues and this should also be addressed,” he told StarMetro.

He said he had yet to see a significant change in attitude among the public, industries and the government, even after the Sungai Kim Kim pollution in 2019.

“I see amending the Act as a ‘feel good’ move by the government when in actual fact, there is still more that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Safe Johor River founder Poh Paik Yik said the government should also look into increasing the maximum mandatory prison sentence.

“Those involved in such irresponsible acts, especially companies, need to know that they can no longer use money to clean their hands.

Hazardous Materials Unit personnel collecting water samples from Sungai Kim Kim following the toxic pollution incident in March 2019. Hazardous Materials Unit personnel collecting water samples from Sungai Kim Kim following the toxic pollution incident in March 2019.

“Companies who opt to dump toxic waste into rivers do so as they think it is a good way to save money.

“They need to be reminded that the penalties for such irresponsible acts are way higher than any potential savings.

“I think that the mandatory prison sentence should have a period of 10 years at least,” he said.

His views were echoed by Norlela Abu Hashim, 50, whose son was among dozens of people rushed to hospital during the Sungai Kim Kim incident.

“It is not fair for us to have to suffer the consequences of a polluter’s irresponsible act when they get to walk away freely with only paying a small price.

“There are many victims, including my son, whose health has been affected because of the incident.

“I hope anyone who dares to pollute the environment again will be slapped with higher penalties,” said Norlela.

The trader said her son, Irfan Wafiq Adham Wazir, was only 12 years old when the incident happened.

“My son was hospitalised for 10 days and is still facing some health challenges.

“Schools were closed and the whole of Pasir Gudang was in chaos when the tragedy happened.

“In the end, those responsible only received fines of less than half a million ringgit. I see that as an injustice,” she said.

In March 2019, toxic pollution of Sungai Kim Kim resulted in more than 4,000 people falling ill.

There was also a temporary closure of 111 schools in Pasir Gudang.

In December last year, a lorry driver was fined RM100,000 for causing pollution through the illegal disposal of scheduled waste in Sungai Kim Kim at Pasir Gudang in 2019.

A company, which faced eight charges under the Environ-mental Quality (Clean Air) Regulations 2014, was also fined RM40,000 for each charge in relation to the incident.

On March 25, Dewan Rakyat passed the environmental Quality (Amendment) Bill 2023, which is to amend the environmental Quality Act 1974 (Act 127) to further strengthen enforcement and increase penalties for environmental offenders.

This bill involves amendments to 28 sections of Act 127 which include, among others, the enhancement of penalties with a minimum fine range of not less than RM5,000, a maximum fine not exceeding RM10mil, and mandatory imprisonment not exceeding five years.

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Sungai Kim Kim , pollution , environment , NGOs

   

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