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Environmental Crime Legal Framework In Malaysia

The legal and regulatory framework for the protection of the environment in Malaysia draws upon various pieces of legislation. The main framework is based on the provisions of the Environmental Quality Act of 1974 ("EQA") and orders, rules and regulations issued by the Minister of Environment and Water. The administration of the EQA is carried out by the Department of Environment ("DOE") under the supervision and instruction of the Director General of Environmental Quality ("Director General"), who is empowered to carry out and delegate enforcement actions under the EQA.

The DOE also oversees the Contaminated Land Management and Control Guidelines ("Guidelines"), providing guidance on the management and handling of waste and pollution to land and water.

Featured Legislation

1954 :The Aboriginal Peoples Act was instituted. This Act makes provision with a view to protecting the aboriginal peoples who inhabit West Malaysia. Such protection comprises different elements, and deals in particular with land occupancy and land tenure. Section 5 establishes the Commissioner for Aboriginal Affairs, who shall be in charge of the enforcement and compliance with these provisions.

1974: The Environmental Quality Act (EQA) was passed. The EQA prohibits any person from emitting or discharging, or causing the admission or discharge of any environmentally hazardous substances, pollutants or wastes into the atmosphere unless a licence  is obtained from DOE. Section 24 (Restrictions on Pollution of the Soil) and Section 25 (Restrictions on Pollution of Inland Waters) of the EQA set out the restrictions and actions that would cause a person to be deemed to have polluted the land or inland waters. Also,  the handling of scheduled wastes, provides that no person shall place, deposit or dispose of scheduled wastes on land or into Malaysian waters (amongst others) without the prior written approval of the Director General. These provisions are typically referred to when addressing the pollution activities frequently reported and occurring in Malaysia.

1985: The Fisheries Act was invoked to oversee the conservation and development of maritime and estuarine fishing and fisheries in Malaysia waters, protecting aquatic mammals and turtles and riverine fish.

1994: The Marine Parks Malaysia Order was introduced. According to this legislation, select islands are declared to be marine parks in the sense of the Fisheries Act 1985. The limit of any area or part of an area established as a marine park shall be a distance of two nautical miles seaward from the outermost points of the islands specified.

1998: The National Biodiversity Policy was unveiled. The National Biodiversity Policy Statement aims to conserve Malaysia's biological diversity and to ensure that its components are utilized in a sustainable manner for the continued progress and socio-economic development of the nation. The Policy aims to maintain and improve environmental stability for proper functioning of ecological systems as well as emphasize biosafety considerations in the development and application of biotechnology. There are tables stating examples of conservation in Malaysia (Box 1). Box 3 refers to legislation relevant to biological diversity. Having ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity on 24th June 1994, Malaysia must incorporate into its national policy the set of commitments of the Convention. The Statement includes strategies for the effective management of biological diversity including the development of a center of excellence for research in tropical biological diversity and the strengthening and integration of conservation programmes. Strategy 11 refers to the adoption of an environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure for biotechnology research and activities, including assessment on safety and social impacts.

2001:The Malaysia Energy Commission Act was created to oversee the establishment of the Energy Commission which is empowered to regulate the energy supply activities in Malaysia and to enforce the energy supply laws. The Act is composed of six Parts, as follows: (I) Preliminary; (II) Energy Commission; (III) Functions and Powers of Commission; (IV) Officers of the Commission; (V) Finance; (VI) General.

2004: The Malaysia National Standard for Drinking-water Quality was implemented. This National Standard for Drinking-water Quality establishes the recommended criteria for microbiological, physical, chemical and radioactive constituents of raw water which will be suitable as a potable source after undergoing conventional treatment, the requirements for drinking water quality and the procedures recommended to achieve the drinking water quality standards.

2009: The Environmental Quality (Industrial Effluent) Regulation was signed, regulating the discharge and release of industrial effluent or mixed effluent onto or into any soil, inland waters or Malaysian waters.

2009: The Environmental Quality (Sewage) Regulation was adopted. The policy regulates premises which discharge sewage onto or into soil, inland waters or Malaysian waters.

2010: The Wildlife Conservation Act was promulgated, providing for the regulation, protection, conservation and management of wildlife in Malaysia. The Act applies to Peninsular Malaysia and the Federal Territory of Labuan.

2016: The Forest Research Institute Malaysia Act was enacted, providing for the continued existence of the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia and the dissolution of the Malaysian Forestry Research and Development Board. The Act sets out the administration, functions and powers of the Forest Research Institute Malaysia. The functions of the Institute shall include implementing policies on research and development programmes to ensure the growth and sustainability of the forest and forest-based industries.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • In 2020, Approximately one million households in Klang Valley, Malaysia experienced extended water cuts after illegal chemical dumping impacted the aging water purification systems. Citizens are now calling for stronger enforcement against industrial polluters, and for legal reforms to the Environmental Quality Act (EQA) – legislation aimed at preventing and controlling pollution. The Act was passed in 1974 and officials are now seeking the creation of a new and broader-ranging piece of legislation to prevent further pollution issues. While the EQA remains the backbone of Malaysia’s environmental law at the federal level, it is applied most against violators at the state level. In 1996, the EQA was adjusted through a  five-year development plan. Malaysia hopes to achieve “developed nation” status soon and as part of that program, the protection and preservation of natural resources will be at the forefront of the EQA and other legislation. Despite all of this,  Meenakshi Raman, president of environmental and social justice group Sahabat Alam Malaysia, notes that the country’s recurring pollution incidents and water cuts reveal that the fines are insufficient to deter criminals  from polluting land and waterways, even after the 1996 amendments. One area of contention is the approval of environmental impact assessments (EIA) for private and public projects. The government simply approves most companies’ EIA reports without thinking about a project’s longer-term development and the impacts it will have on an area. Politically, there is mounting pressure on the Department of Environment not to hold up development, exacerbating these policy gaps. While international law and conventions surrounding environmental policy have progressed, the EQA has remained stagnant, inviting a complete overhaul of Malaysia’s environmental protection legislation.

References and Further Reading

Contacts

Department of Environment Ministry of Environment And Water: Telephone, 03-8871 2000/2200

Email: aduan_k@doe.gov.my