ALL Malaysian patriots would surely welcome the Government’s proposed new Environmental Protection Act (EPA), which would replace the Environmental Quality Act 1974.
Indeed, it would give new hope for our environment, which has been showing dangerous and even deadly evidence of rapid deterioration.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar and his environment-friendly team must be commended for their strenuous efforts in pushing for this new legislation against destructive pollution which has been going on for so long, so widely and so carelessly all over our country, leaving us despondent. The new law therefore gives us all fresh hope in the future of our environment and country.
But why did it take so long to materialise? Were vested interests or politics or sheer indifference responsible for this delay in introducing a more effective law to combat pollution much earlier?
We have to give credit to civil society for urging the Government to act more forcefully against environmental criminals. And to be fair, the Government also deserves appreciation for finally wanting to adopt tougher laws against polluters.
Will the new law come through and actually work? The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Public expectations have now been considerably raised and the Government must thus deliver.
Firstly, we earnestly hope the Attorney-General’s Chambers will approve and improve the 91 sections of the EPA, which includes 41 more provisions. Let’s hope there will be no watering down of the effectiveness of the proposed law.
Secondly, we hope the new law will be updated to meet the new norms of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the global best practices. This will ensure that our laws are up to date.
State governments have to give their full support to this new law. If they are reluctant to do so, then the whole legislative process can be badly delayed.
If this happens, the rakyat will hope that the highly influential Council of Rulers will step in to advise the state legislatures to be more progressive to save the day and Mother Earth as well.
Under the proposed law, the National Physical Development Council together with the National Land Council will be empowered to approve or reject high-impact projects.
This move will certainly make the difference as, at present, the Department of Environment can only give advice, and these tend to be ignored. This has led to natural disasters such as floods, landslides, river silting and coastal erosion.
The new law will remove the approving authority, power and influence of the state and local councils.
The proposed Environmental Management Tools would make it compulsory for industries and developers to self-regulate. This is a clever move as we cannot expect environment officials to be everywhere to catch prospective polluters red-handed.
Armed with just their smartphones, members of the public and environmental organisations can provide vital assistance to the authorities to arrest polluters fast and at little or no cost. This would be the opportunity for civil society to give concrete support to combat pollution.
Will civil society take the challenge? I am confident it will.
We have all suffered from rising pollution and the deteriorating environment in our beloved country. Posterity will suffer even more if we don’t tackle pollution more firmly and aggressively now.
Thus, the Federal Government’s proposed new anti-pollution law is therefore most welcome. We hope that with even more improvements from the AG and NGOs, this new law will be passed and implemented with a strong political will.
We also sincerely hope that our society will be fully consulted and their views diligently taken into account when finalising the new environmental law.
The rakyat must be assured that there is new hope finally for our environment with the early passing in Parliament of this law and they would have more confidence and faith in the future.
TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM
Asli Center for Public Policy Studies