Malaysia proposes to amend environment act to curb haze from forest fires

The Malaysian Prime Minister's office building is covered by haze in Putrajaya on April 22, 2016.
The Malaysian Prime Minister's office building is covered by haze in Putrajaya on April 22, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia is proposing to amend an act to allow the government to seize control of land where big fires are discovered, as part of its long-term efforts to curb haze from slash-and-burn forest clearing techniques usually linked to palm oil plantations.

The palm oil sector in top producers Indonesia and Malaysia has been facing criticism for deforestation and its land-clearing methods that send vast plumes of smoke across South-east Asia every year. Indonesia has already taken measures to reduce the industry's environmental impact, with the latest being a moratorium on new palm oil concessions.

Malaysia is also set to get tough on forest fires with its proposal to amend the country's Environmental Protection Act, Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the country's natural resources and environment minister, said on Wednesday (April 27).

Under the amendment, "it will not matter if the land is owned by smallholders or plantation giants, as long as there is a substantial fire the government will take control of the land", Mr Wan Junaidi said at a press conference.

The amendment, however, is not likely to be made in time to curb fires this year, Mr Wan Junaidi added, without providing any further details on it.

"The haze situation this year is potentially worse as Malaysia is already facing moderate haze due to local fires, and the coming monsoon winds will only bring in more haze from Indonesia," he said.

Malaysia and Indonesia produce about 90 per cent of global palm oil, used in everything from cooking oil and soaps to chocolate and cosmetics.