PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Stiffer penalties of up to a RM5 million (S$1.6 million) fine will be imposed for environmental offences under a new Act that is currently being drafted. A trust fund is also being set up to reward whistleblowers and for effective enforcement.
These come in the wake of the recent toxic waste dumping into Sungai Kim Kim, which at its peak sent more than 4,000 people to hospitals in Pasir Gudang. Besides this, the recent controversy over illegal imported plastic waste has also prompted work on the new Act.
Among others, it will see hefty fines for offences across the board, much heavier than those imposed under the current Environmental Quality Act 1974.
For instance, failure to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment Report will result in a whopping fine of up to RM1 million or a maximum five years in prison - or both.
In addition, culprits will be slapped with a daily fine of RM5,000 for as long as the offence he or she has committed continues after the issuance of a notice.
Previously, offenders were only liable to a fine of not more than RM500,000 or a prison term of up to five years under Section 34A of the Environmental Quality Act.
Provisions, which deal with restrictions against air, noise, land, inland waters and marine pollution, as well as open burning, will also see heavier fines.
These range from a maximum RM5 million fine for discharging oil into Malaysian waters to a RM100,000 fine for open burning offences. Most of the pollution offences also come with up to five years in jail and additional fines on a daily basis.
There is also a suggestion to restrict placement, disposal, delivery or transit of scheduled waste without government approval. Should this happen, jail time of a maximum five years and a fine of up to RM1 million will be slapped on the culprit.
On May 2, Minister Yeo Bee Yin said the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry was in the process of drafting the new legislation to replace the Environmental Quality Act 1974.
Ms Yeo said, among others, that the drafting of the new legislation would look into the existing provisions for penalties and who could be brought to court for pollution offences.
Under Section 64 of the proposed Act, the Department of Environment director-general could require an environmental audit to be carried out by the premises owners or occupiers of prescribed activities, failing which they could be fined up to RM100,000 or jailed for two years - or both.
As under the current Act, the proposed law would require those involved in factories such as palm oil or in the storage and recycling of scheduled waste to apply for licences under Section 17. This would involve their vehicles and ships too.
The same requirement applies to those seeking to release effluents, sewage and air pollution above the permitted limits. The licence is not transferable.
Failure to apply for a licence or adhere to its conditions can see the culprits being fined up to RM250,000, five years' jail term or both - in addition to a RM1,000 fine for each day that the offence continues.
The proposed law will also allow for a stop work order to be be issued to any premises owner for, among others, conducting in activity that threatens the environment or public health and security, frequently flouting the law and the illegal dumping of scheduled waste.
Failure to abide by the order will result in a fine of up to RM500,000, five years in jail or both.
Other proposed provisions in the Act include authorising the director-general or the department's officer to use firearms and arrest without a warrant.
Like the current Environmental Quality Act, the director-general will be empowered to claim for the clean-up costs from those responsible for the pollution.
Public feedback on what would constitute the new laws is being sought and the consultation period will end on June 4.