[Exclusive] 'RM20mil fine, 20 years in jail for polluters'

Water treatment plants cannot treat rivers that are tainted by odour  or  colour pollution, says the National Water Services Commission. - Bernama file pic

Water treatment plants cannot treat rivers that are tainted by odour or colour pollution, says the National Water Services Commission. - Bernama file pic

KUALA LUMPUR: Those who contaminate waterways connected to water treatment plants nationwide could see themselves hit with a maximum fine of RM20 million and a prison term of up to 20 years.

The heftier fine was among a number of amendments to the Water Industry Act 2006 proposed by the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) in a bid to combat rampant water pollution, and in turn reduce the frequency of water supply disruption.

Currently, under the act those found guilty of polluting such waterways may be fined a maximum of RM100,000.

SPAN chief executive officer Datuk Ahmad Faizal Abdul Rahman told the New Straits Times that the fine did not commensurate with the impact of the pollution.

"A fine of RM100,000 may have been relevant in 2006 when the act was enacted," he said.

"However, taking into account the pace of development, growing number of user accounts as well as the increased operating costs, the maximum fine should be re-evaluated."

He said apart from the heftier punishment, the amendments would also allow water operators to claim the clean-up costs from the perpetrators.

"Other amendments will allow action to be taken against those whose acts pose a risk or cause the closure of the water supply system or disruption to water supply.

"The discharge of sewage, effluents, objects or materials into any drain would also be an offence."

Malaysia, at the federal level, has two key laws against water polluters.

The Water Industry Act 2006 covers pollution that affects waterways connected to water treatment plants.

The Environmental Quality (Amendment) Act 2022 covers offences that affect all other waterways.

The Environmental Quality Act was amended last year to increase the penalty to a maximum of RM10 million for offences such as water pollution and illegal disposal of scheduled waste.

The then environment and water minister Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said a higher penalty was needed because the cost incurred from the act was much higher than the previous penalty.

Faizal said before 2020, SPAN was not directly involved in water pollution issues as they came under the jurisdiction of state governments and agencies, such as the Environment Department.

SPAN, he said, could only act if the pollution affected water treatment plants and water supply.

However, he said, a spike in the number of water treatment plant shutdowns due to pollution had prompted SPAN to closely monitor and identify pollution hotspots with the help of operators, state water agencies and the Environment Department.

Faizal said the commission was awaiting approval for the amendments from the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry, as well as the Attorney-General's Chambers.

"We are tightening the law, including setting a more reasonable fine to show the government's and SPAN's seriousness in curbing water pollution.

"Through these amendments, we hope to deter river pollution."

Faizal said among the challenges SPAN faced in dealing with the issue were people who used rivers as "open waste bins".

"There are two main challenges.

"The first is to educate consumers, especially industries located near waterways, about the effects of releasing prohibited effluents into the river.

"Water treatment plants cannot treat rivers that are tainted by odour or colour pollution. The recovery can take days, affecting our economy and social activities.

"The second challenge is to educate the public on the management of gray water, which includes domestic waste, such as water from washing dishes or washing clothes, which should go into the sewer instead of a river or waterway," he said.

By Aliza Shah - February 13, 2023 @ 7:15am

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