Stiffer penalties needed, activists say on environmental law

Environmentalists say the Environmental Quality Act 1974 is not enough to tackle current issues. (Reuters pic)

PETALING JAYA: Environmentalists have called for amendments to the Environmental Quality Act 1974, saying it is inadequate to deal with offenders and that better enforcement is needed against those who cause damage to the environment.

Global Environment Centre (GEC) director Faizal Parish said the current penalties under the act – a maximum fine of RM500,000 and maximum jail term of five years – are not enough.

“RM500,000 may sound like a lot, but environmental damage or pollution can cause millions of ringgit in damage.

“It also leaves an impact on the lives and livelihoods of many people,” he told FMT.

The energy, science, technology, environment and climate change ministry recently said it had no plans to amend the act to provide for stiffer punishments.

Its deputy minister Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis said the existing act was adequate to penalise offenders, but did not deny the need for better enforcement of the law.

Faizal suggested that other penalties be imposed as well, including the cost of cleaning up the damage and compensation for affected parties.

He said the courts were a problem too, as they tend to impose only minimal fines for environmental offences. He compared this to the severe penalties handed down in countries such as Indonesia and China.

He added that another problem was inadequate resources for monitoring and detection of breaches in laws by enforcement agencies.

GEC’s forest and coastal programme manager Nagarajan Rengasamy agreed that the present act was not sufficient to tackle current issues.

“Problems relating to the environment are becoming more complex. Malaysia has environmental regulations and enforcement laws but without being strengthened and empowered, it will worsen our environmental crisis.”

Meanwhile, former president of the Malaysian Nature Society Maketab Mohamed said the government needed to amend the Sewage and Industrial Regulations under the act.

He said prosecution of factories for non-compliance should be based on the load of the pollutant. “Presently we are just second guessing the total loads being discharged into our rivers, especially urban rivers,” he said.