Thursday, October 29, 2015

'Treaties useless if M’sia doesn’t get tough on haze'

Koh Jun Lin   

While Indonesia is under pressure to do more about the haze issue affecting the Asean region, a lawyer pointed out that Malaysia has come up short as well.
Bar Council environment and climate change committee co-deputy chairperson Kiu Jia Yaw (below) Malaysia was the first country to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002.
Despite this, however, he said Malaysia has yet to enact any domestic law to give the agreement 'more bite'.
“We have yet to have domestic laws translated (from the agreement). What does that mean?
“That means our country has got zero ability to take advantage of the (agreement). It doesn’t have effect.
“Obviously, our government needs to put a bill for the (agreement) forward, start debating this in Parliament, and put this as a priority,” he said.
Kiu was giving a talk during a workshop hosted by the group Undi Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur last night, to some 40 concerned citizens looking to form a new pressure group against the annual smog.
The group is provisionally named the Anti-haze Action Group (AHA).
Angry citizens standing up
The meeting last night saw people ranging from professionals, activists from existing NGOs, to self-described ‘angry housewives’ converge for the first time to discuss their next course of action.
They divided themselves into four smaller groups, each focusing on the areas of law and policy, technical issues, businesses, and consumers and public advocacy.
The Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution stipulates that each member state should, among others, take measures to monitor forest and land fires, and ensure that there are sufficient resources to tackle such fires and the resultant haze.
It also contains arrangements for requesting and providing assistance for tackling forest fires, as well as other technical assistance.
All 10 Asean countries have ratified the agreement, with Indonesia being the last one to do so last year.
However, Kiu warned that it could take 10 to 15 years for Indonesia to translate this into new domestic laws.
Kiu told the group that Malaysia should also follow Singapore’s move to enact the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014 (THPA), which is being used to take companies thought to have caused this year’s haze to task.
Follow S’pore’s tough stand
Using the THPA, the Singapore government has lodged a notice to the Singapore-listed firm Asia Pulp and Paper ordering it to submit information on its subsidiaries in Singapore and Indonesia and report the measures taken by its suppliers to put out fires in their concessions.
It has also told four Indonesian companies to extinguish fires on their land, not to start new fires, and submit plans on how they would prevent future fires.
Those found liable can be fined SG$100,000 (RM307,553) per day and up to SGD2 million (RM6.15 million).
“On our side, we need to follow suit because that is an existing avenue that this government can take,” he said.
As for measures that Malaysian citizens can take, Kiu suggested following the Netherlands and Pakistan citizens, who have sued their respective governments for not doing enough to tackle climate change.
“In our context ... if we take it (legal action) from an environmental angle, maybe we can try.
“We have got some judges who are clearly hinting that they are ready to be more ‘activistic’, judicially. It is something to explore.
“Of course, when exploring these things, it is not just asking about what the likelihood of success is. Very often it is about using the court platform to tell the story,” he said.
Legal hurdles
As for bringing cases through Malaysia’s criminal laws, Kiu said this was unlikely to be useful even if Malaysian-based companies were proven to be involved in the fires that caused the annual scourge.
He said such a move would require cooperation from both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments on extraditions.
Although there is an extradition treaty between the two countries, he said Indonesia was likely to turn down such extradition requests on grounds that the fires took place in Indonesian jurisdiction, and was hence not a matter for Malaysian courts to adjudicate.

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