Friday, 21 August 2009

Lip service by palm oil mills

Lip service by palm oil mills

Published on: Friday, August 21, 2009 Daily Express, East Malaysia

Kota Kinabalu: The State Government expressed disappointment, Thursday, that many palm oil mills in the Kinabatangan floodplain continue to discharge effluents into the Kinabatangan River.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Datuk Masidi Manjun, said these owners were not honouring their promise to comply with existing regulations and rules to treat the waste from their mills.

He said this after attending a presentation by an environmental consultant appointed by the Department of Environment (DOE) to do a comprehensive study on the causes of pollution and its impact on the Kinabatangan River as well as proposing strategies and action plans to improve the water quality of the floodplain.

The findings showed that 29 palm oil mills discharged their wastes into the Kinabatangan basin, mostly in the middle and lower basin area. It also revealed that poor maintenance of effluent ponds is one of the reasons for the pollution problem affecting the Kinabatangan River and compliance rate on effluent discharge is only between 40 and 73 per cent.

Other major contributors are loading of sediments from logging and agriculture activities. The Kinabatangan river plain hosts a variety of wildlife, including the highly-sensitive proboscis monkeys, orang utans, elephants, crocodiles and birds.

"I am sad and disappointed that many palm oil mill owners in Kinabatangan failed to abide by the regulations and rules.

"In fact I have met all the owners twice, if I am not mistaken, and they promised to address the effluent problem immediately. I have given them good time to do the necessary.

"But after I heard about the result of the consultancy findings, I see that many (mill owners) are not serious. Even the East Malaysian Planters Association (EMPA) gave assurance that all its members will take immediate action to treat the effluents," he said.

Masidi was launching the 2nd Stakeholder Consultative Seminar for the Study on Prevention of Pollution and Improvement of Water Quality of Kinabatangan River, Thursday. Also present was Department of Environment (DOE) Sabah Director, Abdul Razak bin Abdul Manap.

A total of RM2 million is allocated to DOE to carry out the comprehensive study on pollution problems in the Kinabatangan and to propose strategies and action plans to improve the water quality. The study which started nine months ago will end in November.

Masidi hoped all the mill owners in Kinabatangan would honour their promise as he would prefer not to take grave action against them.

He said there is a need for the owners to have a high sense of self-awareness and responsibility towards the environment, people and nation.

"This is not only to show their responsibility É we are talking about the interest of the entire country. If we are true and very responsible Malaysians, then we should not quarrel or question about the costs to spend in making the improvement as we are doing it for the country."

Furthermore, Masidi said addressing the effluent problem would benefit the mill owners in the light of the imminent full implementation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

The owners would not be able to sell their products to the European Union (EU) if there was no RSPO certification.

"A lot of planters and palm oil mill owners may face problems if they do not have the RSPO certification on good practices on environment sustainability in producing their products.

"Hence, I believe it would be best for those involved in palm oil production to immediately make sure they fulfil the required EU standard so that their products can still penetrate the EU market. Failing to do so, they would not be able to export the palm oil," he said.

The implementation of the RSPO is being carried out in stages and so far only four palm oil mills in Sabah have complied with the RSPO certification, including one in the Kinabatangan area.

Masidi also concurred with one of the findings that penalties under the Environmental Quality Act are not a deterrent to errant players in the industry.

Also, it highlighted the shortage of enforcement personnel to oversee activities in the Kinabatangan floodplain.

"Since I took over the Ministry two years ago, 14 new posts were created and it is still insufficient. We could keep adding more enforcement officers but until then and unless the owners start to comply, I believe things will not go anywhere.

"When looking at the national scenario, for instance, bear in mind that Sabah is a quarter of Malaysia and the sheer size of Kinabatangan, which is equivalent to four states, is already a logistical problem.

The presenter of the findings was right when he mentioned that it is easier said than done," he said.

On a proposal to increase the penalties under the Act, Masidi assured that he will liaise with the DOE to seriously look into the matter. He would also be looking into creating a reward system to recognise the efforts of planters and mill owners who regulate themselves without being told to comply.

For instance, he said, at the recent Sabah Environmental Awards one plantation company was given the "Special Minister Award" for practising good environmental practices.

On serious encroachment on riparian reserves, Masidi said he has directed the Land and Survey Department to take action against those planting oil palm close to the banks of the Kinabatangan River and jeopardising the free-movement of wildlife from one area to another.