Penang landowner fined RM2,000 over waste from China but group questions ‘light sentence’

Piles of bags containing ‘okra powder’ from China sit on one corner of the illegal dumping ground in Bukit Teh, Bukit Mertajam. A notice placed by MPSP on the foreground orders the landowners to clear the site in 20 days.

GEORGE TOWN: The Magistrate’s Court today slapped a maximum fine of RM2,000 on a landowner, three months after hundreds of bags of waste from China was discovered in a 6ha site on an oil palm estate in Machang Bubok.

The landowner pleaded guilty to the charge under the Collection, Dumping and Disposal of Waste Bylaw (MPSP) 1994.

The Seberang Perai Municipal Council said it would prosecute the same landowner next week for allowing the land to be turned into a dumping ground.

The council said it would push for a maximum RM1,000 fine on the owner in court and the magistrate could also issue a Nuisance Order under the same bylaw.

A sawmill factory next to the dumping ground, which was found to be operating without a valid license, was also charged with violating the Licencing Fees Bylaw (MPSP) 1980. The owner pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined RM2,000.

But environmental group Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) questioned the move to charge the culprits using municipal bylaws, saying the fines were not enough of a deterrent.

“A RM2,000 fine for illegal dumping of waste is way too low and not commensurate with the dangers to the environment and the communities nearby,” said SAM president Meenakshi Raman.

“It is time that these types of environmental crimes be taken more seriously. Otherwise, offenders get away with light sentences,” she told FMT.

When contacted, MPSP president Rozali Mohamud said the council was in the midst of preparing to charge the landowners under federal town planning laws, which could mete out heavier penalties if found guilty.

Last March, Machang Bubok assemblyman Lee Khai Loon said the site had been used as a dumping ground for nearly three years with reports to the Department of Environment going unheeded.

The DoE had then said it was not under their jurisdiction as it involves municipal waste and that there was no harm to the environment.

Checks by FMT on the dumpsite found the waste from China appeared to be hundreds of bags of okra powder, typically used for animal feed or water filtration.

Okra powder is used in water filtration to absorb heavy metals in water such as cadmium, iron and zinc.