By Jason Thomas | Free Malaysia Today

More than one million Klang Valley residents have been affected by water cuts caused by pollution. – BERNAMA

The law should be amended to allow the public to take cases of water pollution to court themselves, says human rights lawyer Edmund Bon.

Bon said existing provisions relied on the authorities to investigate and prosecute those suspected of water pollution.

“They do not provide any direct remedy to the people, affected residents or communities to take up the cases (in court),” he told FMT.

“The laws have outsourced all the powers and remedies to the public authorities to act as our interlocutors. If they do not act or are corrupt, there is nothing the people can do.”

Edmund Bon

Bon said the most any member of the public could do was to file complaints with the relevant agencies if they were affected by water pollution.

Last September, nearly 1.2 million consumers in the Klang Valley were affected by water cuts due to pollution from a factory. A month later, around 1.19 million users suffered the same fate after another incident of river pollution.

Earlier this month, environment and water minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man proposed amending the Environmental Quality Act 1974 to include a fine of up to RM15 million and mandatory imprisonment for those found guilty of causing pollution involving scheduled waste.

Currently, the penalty is a fine not exceeding RM500,000 or imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both.

Bon said allowing the public to take cases directly to court, where they would have the ability to sue the government and businesses, would mean they no longer had to rely on public authorities to exercise their legal right.

He called on the courts to allow greater legal standing room to non-governmental organisations and individuals for their cases to be heard in court.

“This is the true meaning of returning the power back to the people,” he said. “At the moment, we assume that public authorities will act in good faith. We can see how far this is from the reality on the ground.”