Amendment bill gives enforcers bigger bite to regulate open burning activities

Awang Tengah tabling the proposed amendment bill.

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By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING Nov 5: The Natural Resources Environment (Amendment) Bill 2019 aims to regulate open burning activities particularly by commercial farming on native customary rights (NCR) land, says Second Minister of Urban Development and Natural Resources, Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan.

He said that for traditional slash-and-burn farming practised by rural communities in Sarawak involving less than 40 hectares, such activities can be permitted and controlled by the Controller of the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) via an Order issued under Section 10(2) of the Principal Ordinance.

“Hence, smallholders involved in this activity will not be required to apply for permits every time they wish to carry out slash-and-burn activities as they are given a blanket approval under this Order,” he said in response to issues raise by Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) members during the debate on the Bill, today.

He also said that alternatively, the power of the Controller to permit open burning could be delegated under Section 29 of the Principal Ordinance to NREB regional officers or the Residents and District Officers as a method to facilitate the granting of such permission.

“However, we will not allow any open burning including backyard burning when the Air Pollutant Index exceeds 100 and the Fire Weather Index exceeds 7 as well as during the haze period. If they do, we will go after them,” he said during the final tabling of the Bill at the Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN), today.

Awang Tengah earlier read the Bill for the second time at DUN. The Bill is needed to amend the Natural Resources and Environment Ordinance [Cap. 84] (1958 Ed.) (NREO) to strengthen regulatory mechanism for the sustainable management of natural resources and the protection of environmental quality in Sarawak.

“The Bill is timely in ensuring that the implementation of planned socioeconomic transformation projects and so that development programmes will be carried out sustainably, in line with United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals,” he added

Awang Tengah said that with this amendment, environmental agencies like the NREB will have the necessary regulatory power and adequate resources and capacity, leveraging on green technologies to mitigate environmental risks and to ensure ecological sustainability.

The two main objectives of this amendment are to enhance provisions relating to penalties and NREB’s powers for better law enforcement and to pose more effective deterrents to combat non-compliance of environmental laws in the state.

It is also aimed at expanding the law relating to open burning particularly those related to commercial farming to facilitate better compliance with current environmental needs and practices. — DayakDaily