Tighten Sarawak’s EIA process: Scane

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    The Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment (Scane) calls upon the Sarawak state government to amend the existing Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Ordinance 1994 (NREO 1994) relating to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process and allow for public participation prior to the approval of EIAs in the state.

    Scane opines that it is time for the state government to review and amend the NREO 1994 to provide:
    – transparency in the EIA processes, which requires public participation and scrutiny prior to EIA approval, as well as
    – stronger environmental measures by incorporating the Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA), the Equator Principle and The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.

    As it is now, the authority of the EIA approval for certain projects in Sarawak is the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB), which is subject to the Natural Resources and Environment Ordinance 1994.

    Unlike the Federal Environmental Quality Act 1974 (EQA), the NREO 1994 excludes public participation in the EIA process, unless the project proponent so desires. The nature of the EIA process in Sarawak is non-transparent and contrary to good governance, as there is no right given to the public to scrutinise and give feedback prior to EIA approvals. As a result of this exclusion, there were several shortcomings in the EIA approvals in Sarawak.

    Scane has found several shortcomings and flaws in the EIA processes and reports since the NREO 1994 came into force in 1995. There had been numerous development projects related to forestry, plantations and dams where EIAs have being conducted and  approved without the knowledge of the public. The public at large is still in the dark; how the EIA reports of these projects were approved in the first place remains a mystery.  Even the approval of EIAs for highly controversial projects such as hydropower dams were shrouded in secrecy, despite a public outcry.

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    Scane has noticed that certain development projects that involved government-linked corporations, together with certain private companies, have started their activities ahead of the approval of the EIAs. In the case of the Murum hydropower dam project,  work started about 10 months prior to the EIA approval. At the same time, Scane is extremely shocked to learn that the Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (SIEA) studies for the Murum hydropower dam are still ongoing and are yet to be completed and approved by the Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB).

    Further, Scane noted over the past years that the EIA process and practices were clearly a mockery of the NREO: there were flaws in the EIA but the reports were approved. As a result, the public perception of the NREO is that it is no other than an instrument to legalise a ‘stitched up job’ with the project proponent allegedly colluding with the appointed EIA consultants to get the EIA approval of out of the way.

    Scane has also noticed that the EIA process under the Natural Resources and Environment Ordinance 1994 is only procedural to pave the way for the implementation of certain development projects. In most cases, it seems merely to fulfill the projects’ criteria which mainly comply with the requirements of the project proponents as well as the financiers.   

    Concerned about the shortcomings of the NREO 1994 and the EIA process, Scane therefore calls for the Sarawak state government to amend the Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Ordinance 1994 to provide transparency that would allow for free, prior and informed consent in the exercise and enforcement of the law pertaining to the conservation and environmental management in the state.

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    Scane trusts that amending the NREO 1994 is the only way forward if the Sarawak Government is serious about achieving sustainable development with sound environmental management policy in place to deal with our sensitive ecosystems.

    Raymond Abin
    National Coordinator
    Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment (Scane)

    11 July 2010

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