Malaysia proposes to amend environment act to curb haze from forest fires

Reuters 27 Apr 16;

Malaysia is proposing to amend an act to allow the government to seize control of land where big fires are discovered, as part of its long-term efforts to curb haze from slash-and-burn forest clearing techniques usually linked to palm oil plantations.

The palm oil sector in top producers Indonesia and Malaysia has been facing criticism for deforestation and its land-clearing methods that send vast plumes of smoke across Southeast Asia every year. Indonesia has already taken measures to reduce the industry's environmental impact, with the latest being a moratorium on new palm oil concessions.

Malaysia is also set to get tough on forest fires with its proposal to amend the country's Environmental Protection Act, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the country's natural resources and environment minister, said on Wednesday.

Under the amendment, "it will not matter if the land is owned by smallholders or plantation giants, as long as there is a substantial fire the government will take control of the land," Wan Junaidi said at a press conference.

The amendment, however, is not likely to be made in time to curb fires this year, Wan Junaidi added, without providing any further details on it.

"The haze situation this year is potentially worse as Malaysia is already facing moderate haze due to local fires, and the coming monsoon winds will only bring in more haze from Indonesia," he said.

Malaysia and Indonesia produce about 90 percent of global palm oil, used in everything from cooking oil and soaps to chocolate and cosmetics.

(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan, writing by Emily Chow; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Hurt nature and risk losing land
MAZWIN NIK ANIS The Star 28 Apr 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (pic) is looking at the possibility of introducing new laws that give the authorities the power to confiscate land whose owners carry out open burning or other activities detrimental to the environment on the land.

Dr Wan Junaidi has yet to discuss the matter with his ministry’s officers, but said he believed that there must be laws that were deterrent enough to stop people from endangering lives and the environment.

“This is an idea that I have. I need to discuss this with the ministry’s officers and the legal department. I also need to get input from the Attorney-General to see if this is something that can be done in Malaysia,” he told reporters after attending the Cabinet meeting.

Dr Wan Junaidi said he would gather officials around the discussion table to look into this idea and would submit a proposal paper to the Cabinet if this could be done.

He said there must a way to stop people from carrying out open burning on their land or get them to better care for their property so that it would not contribute to pollution and haze.

“We face the same problem every year and this has to stop,” he added.

He said a hefty fine was not deterrent enough for some as companies making millions would not think twice about paying a RM500,000 fine for causing fire to the land, pollution and indiscriminate waste dumping.

This year, three fire incidents – in Kuala Baram mangrove area in Miri, peat swamp forest reserves in Klias and Keningau, Sabah, and Kuala Langat forest reserve in Selangor – caused haze.

Between January and April 25, 1,460 cases of open burning were detected at forest reserves, mangrove areas, construction sites, landfills as well as agriculture and industrial plots.

From 2014 till April, authorities collected compounds amounting to RM1.213mil just from those who committed open burning.