Friday, July 17, 2009

EIA bypassed, claims Sepa

Daily Express Online
Published on: Thursday, July 16, 2009

Alor Setar: The Sabah Environmental Protection Association wants the Sabah Environmental Protection Department (EPD) to play a greater role in ensuring projects are not bulldozed without EIA approval.

"It is sad to see lots of projects are pushed through before EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) approval," Sepa President Wong Tack claimed, citing the 50-acre UiTM (Universiti Teknologi Mara) project in Sepanggar.

"The site plan says green space and mangrove forests will be preserved while the Government constantly declares publicly how important mangrove swamps are to sustain the production of Sabah's famous seafood.

But in reality they are being destroyed at a serious and rapid rate," he told a press conference.

"In UiTM's case, there was no EIA approval yet but just because they think it is a government project and a lot of time government projects are pushed through like that. So 50 acres of mangrove forests which were supposed to be protected have been leveled out and the adjacent hill cut to reclaim the swamp," Wong alleged.

"Of course, blame goes to the EIA consultant who apparently never looked into the issue in his professional capacity but we hope the EPD will take the issue seriously regardless of who the developer is, government or private," Wong urged.

"Proper law and policy have to be followed and enforced," he said and called on the EPD to do its job entrusted them by the millions of people in the State, who are also stakeholders.

Wong said Sepa is "very surprised that the EPD has only a little branch office with merely five staff and one vehicle but have to look after the whole of East Coast from Sugut to Kalabakan!

"Similarly, its West Coast headquarters with less than five dozen staff look after the whole of West Coast and the Interior in terms of EIA, project monitoring, project enforcement and administration enforcement.

"Given so little human and financial resources, EPD is not effective and so the whole environment is attacked from all fronts," Wong asserted.

"I am just surprised that a government agency tasked with such an important job to protect the environment of Sabah and mandated to look after the future of the State has not been given its due importance by the State Government," Wong asserted.

At stake are the all important EIA approval processes since green projects in Sabah are under the EPD jurisdiction, Wong pointed out.

"A lot of times this very important process is subject to abuse by developers or even government agencies who use it as a tool or disguise to bulldoze projects through," Wong claimed.

On the proposed 80-acre Oceanarium project in Pulau Mabul, near Semporna, Wong said Sepa was among those who voiced concern.

He said again the EIA would determine whether this coral reef should be approved for development.

"We have never said you cannot do it but we said you must do it right. But the first thing to us is the approval procedure, stakeholders have to get involved."
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