Environment law deterrents not strong enough: activists

By Ei Ei Toe Lwin
Volume 32, No. 624
April 30 - May 6, 2012

FINES and jail terms specified in a new law designed to safeguard the country’s natural environment may not be strong enough to deter foreign and local businesses, environmentalists have warned.

They have also reiterated that the Environmental Law, promulgated on April 1, must be properly implemented in order to be effective.

While individuals who violate the law face a jail term of up to five years, fines range from just K100,000 to K2 million (about US$2500).

“I think the fine does not match the offence. The Environmental Law was designed to deal with large projects implemented by local and foreign investors. However, this fine amount is nothing compared to the size of the investment,” said Daw Davi Thant Sin, an environmental activist and chief editor and publisher of monthly magazine Aungpinlae.

“All [environmental activists] agree that this law needs to enforced practically. This law is meaningless without enforcement,” she said.

U Soe Nyunt, chairman of Myanmar Birds and Nature Society (MBNS), also expressed concern over how the law would be enforced.

He said the law was not perfect and activists planned to lobby parliament and the government for amendments.

“We welcome the environmental law; it is certainly better than nothing. But there are also weak points … we need to add additional points gradually,” U Soe Nyunt said.

“The most important is that government staff and public obey the law. Law enforcement is weak in Myanmar so civil society organisations should monitor government staff and the public to ensure they are complying. [Myanmar Bird and Nature Society] will participate in [an informal] monitoring system and we will speak out truthfully about what we find,” he added.

Also important are the by-laws and other rules and regulations that determine how the law operates, said U Ohn of the Forest Resource and Environmental Development Association.

“I am optimistic about the law although there are some weak points. I agree that punishment is weak. We need to change some points in the law later,” he said.

The Environmental Law contains 14 chapters that define the rights and responsibilities of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, environmental standards, environmental conservation, management in urban areas, conservation of natural and cultural resources, process for businesses to apply for permission to engage in an enterprise that has the potential to damage the environment, prohibitions, offences and punishments.

The new law is a revised version of an earlier draft that was written by the the Ministry of Forestry, the precursor to the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, from 1998 to 2000 in cooperation with other government departments. The draft was never promulgated by the State Peace and Development Council.

An official from the Natural Resource and Environmental Conservation Committee, a parliamentary committee established in September 2011, said the law had some weaknesses because it was rushed through parliament and was mostly based on the earlier draft. He said amendments would be made based on the suggestions of environmental specialists and other experts.

“We are not 100 percent satisfied with the promulgated law. Representatives from the two hluttaws discussed [the law] and tried to promulgate it as soon as possible because of the situation in Myanmar,” said committee secretary U Thein Lwin. “We will identify where the weaknesses are and then we will amend the law so that it reaches international standards.”