'Buck up and find ways to stop open burning,' Malaysian minister tells Dept of Environment

Ms Yeo Bee Yin, Malaysia’s Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Minister, giving an interview to the media, on July 23, 2018.
Ms Yeo Bee Yin, Malaysia’s Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Minister, giving an interview to the media, on July 23, 2018.ST PHOTO: TRINNA LEONG

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Bucking up on enforcement, shifting resources and even borrowing cars and equipment - these are some of the measures that minister Yeo Bee Yin is taking to put an end to open burning as Malaysia simmers under a dry and hot season.

Ms Yeo, who holds the Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment portfolio, said she has held meetings with the Department of Environment (DoE) and told them to buck up.

"Only two or three weeks ago, I realised that the DoE doesn't even have cars to conduct enforcement. That's ridiculous! And, they don't even have enough equipment.

"I am shifting resources from the ministry to DoE to perform their jobs. I told them 'no excuse'. If you don't have cars, I will borrow these for us," she said in an interview on Wednesday (Aug 15).

Ms Yeo said she has also asked for help from local councils as well as other agencies, such as the Fire and Rescue Department and the Health Ministry, to investigate cases of open burning - a method traditionally carried out by farmers to clear land.

Malaysia is currently facing sweltering temperatures, rising to as high as 37 deg C in Kapit, Sarawak, on Sunday.

The ministry, said Ms Yeo, was serious about eradicating open burning, which also contributed to haze and pollution in the country.

"I want them (DoE) to give me a plan - there is no 'cannot do'. Open burning is a tricky issue, but as a government, we cannot say we cannot solve the problem. But I hope the public will give me some time," she said

This includes setting the standard operation procedure with the lead agency as well as for DoE to get its act together.

"Now, it's completely direction-less," Ms Yeo said.

Asked if the ministry would seek to increase the penalties on those found guilty of open burning, the minister said the current fine of up to RM500,000 (S$167,800), imprisonment for up to five years, or both, were "high enough".

"The problem right now is that you cannot catch the culprits. So, we need to find a solution to bring them to court and make sure they are penalised. I've told DoE that I want enforcement to be strict and there will be no compromise," she said.

On the probability of haze recurring this year, usually during the months of July and September, Ms Yeo said this would "not be very high" due to lower number of hotspots detected in Indonesia this time around.

"But we have put together an emergency plan. For example, once haze reaches a certain level, we may carry out cloud seeding," she said.

To a question if she would seek a meeting with Indonesian authorities, Ms Yeo said: "I am trying to pay them a visit. If possible, I would like to discuss, but time is short."