Malaysia — Fifteen major companies will be prosecuted for allegedly causing the recent choking haze through open burning in northern Sarawak.
The Department of Environment (DOE) is seeking the approval of the Attorney-Generals Chamber to nail the culprits with fines of up to RM500,000.
Miri division DOE chief S. Siva Nathiran told The Star yesterday that the 15 were very big companies, with at least three of them considered giants in the oil palm industry.
He said that the companies had sparked off the recent two-month-long wildfire frenzy through their open burning, which in turn had caused the haze that had threatened the health of 300,000 people in the city.
We are not going to show them any more mercy. We will no longer issue compounds. We are going to bring them to court.
These offenders are not small-scale farmers. We issue compounds of RM2,000 to small-scale offenders, but these companies are huge ones that had caused so much harm to the people and the environment because of their irresponsible attitudes, he said, adding that the DOE was already preparing the investigation papers and would forward them to the Attorney-Generals chambers.
We are going to charge the culprits under Section 29a of the Environment Quality Act 1974 that carries a maximum fine of RM500,000 or five years jail or both upon conviction. We hope for the heaviest possible penalty because these are very big companies, he said.
Siva said the penalty sought by the DOE against the culprits would be a lesson to all because the recent wildfires caused by these companies had resulted in at least 24 huge fires that had raged on for up to three days, four fires that lasted 12 days and three more fires that lasted more than 13 days.
He stressed that the wildfires had not only caused the choking haze that threatened the health of thousands of people, but also caused losses worth millions of ringgit because a lot had to be spent to tackle the fires.
The various government departments are spending a fortune to stop these fires. We spent almost RM100,000 just to carry out daily aerial surveillance to detect the fires.
The Drainage and Irrigation Department also had to build check dams at fire sites and dig very deep tube wells to get underground water to douse the fires. The check dams cost up to RM100,000 each and the tube wells RM300,000 each, he said.
He said the Fire and Rescue Department also had to acquire big high-pressure water pumps at a cost of RM1mil.
We (DOE, JKR, Drainage and Irrigation Department) are also going to construct water retention ponds and canals at the fire sites at a cost of RM1.3mil. This is taxpayers money, he added.
Meanwhile, the Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) is also cracking down on burning on vacant state land.
State controller Peter Sawal said the NREB had identified seven landowners who had burned waste on their land.
The NREB will charge them under the state environment laws that carries a RM30,000 maximum fine or three years jail or both upon conviction.