New unit ready to fight polluters

PETALING JAYA: Environment and Water Minister Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man is confident that there will be a downtrend in water pollution cases with the launch of the country’s first environmental crime prevention unit (UCJAS). The unit, parked under the ministry, had given the government more bite to fight polluters as the police had also been roped in to be part of UCJAS, said Tuan Ibrahim. UCJAS was launched on Thursday and started operating administratively with several staff members placed at the ministry’s office, he added. “The ministry has given police the power to act against offenders using the Environmental Quality Act. “Integrated operations will be carried out on complaints about environmental pollution. “It is my biggest hope that with the setting up of this unit, incidents of water pollution from various sources will be lessened. “I urge the people to immediately report any pollution that is happening and hope that all parties will abide by the laws and guidelines,” he said when contacted yesterday. UCJAS is made up of the Environment Department, National Water Services Commission (SPAN), Biosafety Department and police. Last month, as the country was dealing with the Sungai Gong pollution issue, Tuan Ibrahim announced that UCJAS would be set up as one of many ways to deal with such incidents. The Sungai Gong case saw over 1.2 million consumers in the Klang Valley suffering from unscheduled water cuts for many days early last month due to the river being polluted by an illegal factory. Sahabat Alam Malaysia president Meenakshi Raman said that while she looked forward to strengthened enforcement against environmental crimes via UCJAS, there was a need for the unit to be equipped with proper training. “The fact that the police has been roped in for the unit is really good. “However, we need to invest in training so that the unit will have the skills and expertise necessary in the field of environmental crimes, which are different from everyday police work. “Interpol provides training for environmental crimes and I think it’s time we seek its help,” she said. Meenakshi added that as environmental crimes involved big players with deep pockets, there was a need to ensure that enforcement officers upheld the highest standards of integrity. She suggested that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) also play a part in ensuring that enforcement officers were not subject to corruption.“I’d also suggest that the unit to set up open lines of communication with civil society and environmental NGOs as we can be important channels of information,” she said. Besides dealing with pollution control, UCJAS must also look into wildlife and deforestation as these were big sources of environmental crimes, she added. Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia (Ecomy) president and chief executive officer Andrew Sebastian hoped that the unit would rise above corruption and political interference and act without fear or favour. “I hope they also look into activities that cause siltation and pollution to rivers. “They have to protect and enforce river reserves and zones, as well as empower local citizens and NGOs to be involved in their work,” he said. Rewards for whistleblowers and voluntary emission improvement schemes could also be offered, he added.

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