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Finally, there's new hope for our environment

  • The civil society must be fully consulted and their views be diligently taken into account in finalizing the new laws.

By Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam

All Malaysian patriots, except unscrupulously environmental exploiters, will surely welcome the government's proposed new Environmental Protection Act (EPA).

Indeed, it will give new hope for our environment that has been showing detrimental, dangerous and even deadly evidences of rapid deterioration!

Natural resources and environment minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar and his environment-friendly team, must therefore be commended for their strenuous efforts in pushing for this new legislation against the destructive pollution.

This punishing pollution has been taking place for so long, so widely and so carelessly all over the country that we have been despondent.

The new laws therefore give us all new hope in the future of our environment and country.

But, why did it take so long to come? We're vested interests or politics or sheer indifference responsible for this delay in introducing more effective laws to combat pollution much earlier.

But now we are happier. We have a new and more comprehensive push to fight pollution. Here 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.

But will the proposed new laws 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. But, how do we know that these new environment laws will come through and actually work for our good?

1. Firstly, we earnestly hope that the AG's Chambers will approve and improve the 91 sections of EPA which includes 41 more provisions than before. Let's wish there is no watering down of the effectiveness of the proposed law.

2. Secondly, we hope the new laws will be updated to meet the new norms of the UN's 17 sustainable development goals and global best practices. This will ensure that our laws are up to date and not outdated as they are now.

3. State governments have to give their full support to these new laws. If they are reluctant to do so, the entire 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 Mother Earth.

4. The National Physical Development Council together with the National Land Council, will now be empowered to approve or reject high impact projects. This move will certainly make the difference, as at present the Department of Environment could only give advice. This good advice was often ignored.

This has led to unnecessary natural disasters such as floods, landslides, river silting and inter alia coastal erosion and poor animal husbandry and wastage released from farms.

The new laws will remove the approving authority, power and influence of the state and local councils. This can cause serious state government resistance as often corruption has also been involved.

5. The proposed environmental management tools would make it compulsory for industries and development sectors to self regulate.

This is a clever move as we cannot expect environment officials to be everywhere trying to catch prospective polluters red-handed.

Hence, members of the civil society and environmental groups can provide vital assistance to the authorities to stop polluters fast. This will be an opportunity for the civil society to give concrete support to combat pollution. Will the civil society take this challenge? I am confident they will!

Conclusion

We have all suffered from rising pollution and deteriorating environment in the country. Our posterity will suffer even more if we don't tackle pollution more firmly and aggressively.

The federal government's proposed anti-pollution laws are therefore most welcome . We hope that the new laws, with even more improvements from the AG and NGOs, will be passed and implemented with a strong political will.

We also hope that the civil society will be fully consulted and that their views will be diligently taken into account in finalizing these new environmental laws, rules and regulations.

The people must be assured that finally there is hope for our environment with the early parliamentary passing of these laws so that they may have more confidence and faith in our future.

(Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam is the Chairman of ASLI Center for Public Policy Studies.)

 

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