Jail company directors for destroying environment, says NGO

Chant legal adviser Yan Lee says the biggest offenders involved in clearing land illegally are wealthy and could easily pay the fines imposed.

GEORGE TOWN: Company directors must be jailed over any illegal land clearing and environmental pollution caused by their firms, a Penang NGO said today.

Lamenting that mere fines was not enough for such offences, Penang’s Citizen Awareness Chant Group (CHANT) said only jail terms would force these companies and their directors to take the environment seriously.

At a press conference today, CHANT legal adviser Yan Lee showed how a 350m hilltop was cleared illegally on the island despite three notices by the city council ordering them to stop.

According to CHANT, the hill was then turned into a durian park.

“The present practice of meting out fines has not achieved the desired effect as the offenders had plenty of money.

“Previous instances show that developers were the biggest offenders in land-related offences, and hid behind subsidiary companies to prevent liability from suits and fines arising from non-compliance,” Lee said, adding that the parent company and its directors are not held accountable.

Google Earth image provided by Penang Hill Watch shows how the extent of clearing at the Teluk Bahang granite quarry over the years.

He said that some of these companies are building projects worth hundreds of millions of ringgit but the fines imposed by the courts for land clearing-related offences are only up to RM50,000.

“When are we going to see Tan Sris and Datuks who are directors of these parent companies being jailed for committing environmental murder?” he said at a press conference today.

Yesterday, the Penang Island City Council said that 40 acres of land on a hilltop on Bukit Relau was illegally cleared earlier this year to make way for a fruit farm.

The farm, however, appeared to look like a park, with concrete-paved roads able to fit two pickup trucks side by side, with saplings of durian trees planted on its contours, a visit to the site showed.

The landowners had previously ignored three orders from the council to stop work, until officers mounted a round-the-clock patrol since late last month.

On Sept 1, the landowners submitted a request for planning permission for “work already done” as part of a durian farm project. The council has yet to consider its application.

Lee said besides the durian park clearing, another hilltop on the other end of the range which was cleared illegally in 2013 has not been rehabilitated.

He said based on a recent visit, the one hectare Bukit Botak site appeared to be abandoned, with bald patches still evident.

Lee also drew parallels between Bukit Botak, the durian park and a quarry in Teluk Bahang which he alleged had encroached into a forest reserve.

He asked the Penang government to explain if these three sites had anything in common, as they are alleged to have carried out illegal earthworks.

“These landowners appear to have a ‘catch me if you can’ attitude, where they cleared their land as they wished, completely ignoring the law.

“These people, including their contractors, consultants and other related parties ought to be banned from carrying out any projects in the future,” Lee said.