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Saturday, December 31, 2022

Nik Nazmi wants EIA transparency, more officers for enforcement


INTERVIEW | Newly appointed minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad has promised to look into reports that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies were no longer being uploaded on the Department of Environment (DOE) website to allow for public scrutiny.

The Natural Resources, Environment, and Climate Change minister said he will definitely meet with the DOE to get a proper briefing on the matter.

“Aside from that, I think we have to bring up the EIA studies up to 2022 expectations and standards. Maybe it was sufficient or groundbreaking when it was first introduced, but as time changes, the law can be changed.

“We will definitely look into that. Greater transparency is something we will promote,” Nik Nazmi told Malaysiakini.

He said more information shared will result in better public involvement and a better feedback loop.

“Previously, there was always a concern from the government side in which information is always deemed as secret unless declared otherwise.

“Obviously, there is a bigger whole issue of the Official Secrets Act and Freedom Of Information, but in terms of environment, we have to switch the discourse towards one that is more upfront, we have to trust people with information.

“I can’t commit to anything specific right now, but I am looking at environmental reporting as a whole, to see what can be done to improve in terms of transparency,” he said.

EIAs are mandatory for projects of certain sizes and sectors. Data on EIAs are essential for civil society organisations to monitor projects such as logging and plantations, land reclamation, mining and quarrying, infrastructure, and others.

These projects are of public interest as they may potentially involve environmental destruction, impact communities, exacerbate climate change, and have exposure to corruption.

Previously, the DOE had an EIA portal available on its website. While this portal had many limitations in terms of the availability of data, in February 2022, the DOE redesigned its website and this portal, the only government database on new EIA submissions and approvals has now disappeared and been replaced by a “Senarai EIA” page.

Bring more enforcement on board

“Obviously, there are things that we don’t agree with NGOs and civil society, but we just have to be open. And if we disagree, then we have to justify our viewpoint. But I will talk to the DOE to have a holistic perspective on this.”

Nik Nazmi said even with brilliant reports being written, it was not always easy to monitor or enforce environmental safeguards due to a lack of manpower.

“Enforcement is a major challenge. In fact, a lot of our laws are world-class, but enforcement-wise, we are lacking.

“Another part of the conversation is about forest rangers and recruiting military veterans to become rangers on a contract basis. We need to be creative, obviously, as when you talk about giving permanent positions with the government’s current fiscal constraints, that becomes a challenge.

“But if we look at what other countries have done, there’s a lot of youth unemployment, a lot of military veterans, who have to leave the service at 40 but are still able-bodied.

“I think we have to look at those things to add up the numbers of enforcement. I’m practical enough to know that I go to the Treasury and ask for permanent positions with pensions, I know that that will be a long time but if we can come up with creative solutions like that, for enforcement, it’s more doable. It cuts both ways as we have unemployment and we need better enforcement,” he said.

Nik Nazmi said this did not have to be restricted to just rangers, but could include technical officers.

“We can complement a permanent staffing with a contract staffing so that later on, when the government has funding, maybe it can be permanent,” he added. - Mkini

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