A year ago when we were facing water disruptions due to pollutions, I wrote that we need to treat water pollution as a terrorist attack. Think about it – there is no difference between water polluter pollutes the river that disrupts water supply to millions of household and terrorists who poison the rivers to endanger innocent lives. Photo by Lum3n from Pexels
And now, a similar proposal is being urged by the IGP:-
The Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) have proposed to the Attorney General’s Chambers to categorise environmental pollution offences as organised crimes and should be investigated under the Security Offences (Special Measures) 2012 (Sosma).
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador said the proposal would not only involve the Sungai Gong pollution in Rawang but also all cases involving environmental pollution in future.
Abdul Hamid said the offence is a serious repeated crime and police are studying the best legislation to deal with those found guilty.
“As such, I am calling on the people to be calm and patient as police are still investigating the case. Investigation would be transparent and police have no interest to close the case or reduce the degree of the offence,” he said.
In Malaysia, there are laws governing water-related pollutions already covered under Section 430 of the Penal Code which states:-
Whoever commits mischief by doing any act which causes, or which he knows to be likely to cause, a diminution of the supply of water for agricultural purposes, or for food or drink for human beings or for animals which are property, or for cleanliness, or for carrying on any manufacture, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than thirty years or with fine or with both.
This was 6 years ago on water security index when Malaysia was in par with South Korea, Japan and Singapore on water security (capacities to secure enough water for their people). Image source: Recap Asia
Malaysia probably has one of the harshest punishment when it comes to water pollution but then why there was been frequent water disruptions due to pollutions? Understandably the area to be monitor is not small which makes it difficult to catch the offenders red-handed. However, it should not stop prosecuting offenders to the fullest penalty of the law.
The key ingredient of the offence has always been “knowledge”.
Section 430 of the Penal Code mentions “he knows”
It is the same for similar legislation in the UK:-
Causing or knowingly permitting
The courts take a broad approach when deciding whether a person (or a company) caused a water discharge or groundwater activity. There is no need to show that a person knew about the activity or intended it. If pollution is due to a chain of events, a person may be regarded as having caused it even if someone else’s actions immediately triggered the pollution.
Take the example of a river that is polluted because an unknown person turns on the tap of a diesel tank stored by the river bank. Depending on the exact circumstances, the company that owns the tank as part of their operations might be charged with causing the pollution. This strict approach is why this is known as a strict liability offence.
Knowingly permitting includes cases where a person (or company) is aware of a polluting incident but refuses to take steps to stop the pollution.
And in the US:-
Negligently or Knowingly
Discharges a pollutant from a point source into a water of the United States without a NPDES or 404 Permit or in violation of a permit
Negligent Violations: 1 year and/or $2,500 – 25,000 per day; Statute: 33 U.S.C. 1319(c)(1) & (2)
Subsequent convictions 2 years and/or $50,000 per day.
Knowing Violations: 3 years and/or $5,000 – 50,000 per day;
Subsequent convictions 6 years and/or $100,000 per day.
Humans cannot drink saltwater but whilst we have large oceans, there is only a limited supply of freshwater which can be processed for human consumption. Just imagine if this limited resource is often being polluted by greedy people who take the shortcut to save some money. Image source: Facebook
There is a big difference between finding the offenders in the act and actually punishing them as this post by the New York Times clearly states:-
Records analyzed by The Times indicate that the Clean Water Act has been violated more than 506,000 times since 2004, by more than 23,000 companies and other facilities, according to reports submitted by polluters themselves.
Companies sometimes test what they are dumping only once a quarter, so the actual number of days when they broke the law is often far higher. And some companies illegally avoid reporting their emissions, say officials, so infractions go unrecorded.
Finally, the Times’s research shows that fewer than 3 percent of Clean Water Act violations resulted in fines or other significant punishments by state officials. And the E.P.A. has often declined to prosecute polluters or force states to strengthen their enforcement by threatening to withhold federal money or take away powers the agency has delegated to state officials.
It is the same case in Malaysia since it is difficult to identify the offenders as the act of polluting is not done in the open and even so, it takes time for investigations to be done and results to be conclusive.
Firstly the IGP’s proposal of classifying environmental pollution offences as organised crimes and to be investigated under the Security Offences (Special Measures) 2012 (Sosma) will definitely speed up the investigations and curbing the reoccurrence of the water pollution.
Secondly, water pollutions offences should be given wider attention from the detection made and till the offender is charged in the courts and sentencing given. It should not be the case where the noise only made when the water is polluted and causes water disruption to millions of consumers. The offenders need to be in the centre stage of the guilt and anger of the consumers from the start to end.
Thirdly for the repeated offenders, the punishment should be increased substantially and should be combined with substantial fines and long term jail terms. After all, the acid test of finding water pollution offenders has always been “knowledge”. If they know that whatever solution that is being released into the rivers is pollution and is harmful to others, they should know that they cannot expect a slap on the wrist.
The incidents of pollution of our precious natural resources must end and water resources need to be well managed.