Kota Kinabalu: The Sabah Environment Protection Association (Sepa) warned Thursday that persistent non-performance and insensitivity from environmental regulators may force it to work with what he called “totally frustrated” villagers of Keningau until “influential” mill owners are stopped from polluting the Ongom, Ambual and Punti rivers.
Its President, Wong Tack, alleged the villagers are complaining about the same old issue that they have been howling about since 2011.
The rivers are the only sources of portable water supplies for remote villagers who have no access to tap water.
Wong said this in response to a report entitled “K’gau folks claim river contaminated by dirt from plant” published in the Daily Express on Jan 22 which quoted former Kg Tiong Tulid Chairman, Ayoh bin Surun, who charged that the people can no longer use the river water for their various needs because the water has been contaminated and crippled by pollutants from an industrial plant operating in the upper village area.
“As far as I know, this is the fourth time over 13 months a Murut village leader had gone to the press to tell the world that oil and dirt pollution from a relatively new four-year-old plant had ‘crippled a water source for residents’ in the plains of Pegalan River. And we are equally outraged by an utter ‘do-nothing’ from the authorities all that time,” Wong said.
“Where is the Department of Environment (DOE) which has the legal clout to stop industrial plants from discharging effluents into the river?
Where is the MPOB which is in control of licensing oil palm mills?
Where is the State Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) which has the punitive legal power to pull up developers who degrade the water quality of Sabah’s rivers under the Sabah Water Resources Enactment 1998, Sections 41 & 42? Where are all these officers who are supposed to do their job to protect the basic rights of the people to clean water?” Wong asked.
“How many years do these villagers have to come out again and again to the press, after going to all the right channels had failed to move anything, just to ask for their basic rights to clean water be honoured?” he queried.
“Two or three months after the helpless villagers had gone to the press to highlight their plight in the Daily Express in January 2011, we went up to Keningau and Sook to identify the source of the pollution.
We walked through the rivers, we talked to the people, we drove to two mills and basically only two mills, and one manager even boasted to us they are very influential but how influential are they that the people must sacrifice for them their basic right,” Wong asked.
“We found that the trouble spots involve just one or two mills, which means that the sources of black oily effluent pollutants are very clear and so how could they be so difficult for the DOE or the DID to identify?” Wong asked.
“How many times do the regulators mandated with all the legal powers in the world want these desperate people to complain and beg them to do something right before their utter insensitivity be stopped on its track?” Wong asked.
“Where is this slogan called People First?” he said.
“How much more do the authorities expect totally unpaid NGOs like Sepa to run around to try whip them into lifting a finger to help out with such obvious suffering and legitimate complaints only in the end be accused of ‘sampai bila boleh habis objection ini?”
Wong Tack said Sepa had tried its best to move matters with the State Environment Ministry and the Minister (Datuk Masidi) had promised to set up an Inter-Governmental Committee to tackle the problem of river pollution.
“We want the committee to immediately look at this current and active hotspot of complaint in Keningau and Sook where villages still depend on clean flowing rivers for their daily drinking, cooking, bathing, washing, irrigation, livestock needs. But how come there is so much talk and no action on such an active problem?”
“We raised the Keningau issue at a meeting between the DOE and the Environment Action Committee (EAC) a few months back, but the DOE officer present amazed us that their tests on water sample collected from the troubled rivers in Keningau rated the rivers clean with out-of-this-world talks like ‘sungei ini besih, mana ada masalah (this river is clean, where got problem),” Wong claimed.
“Given such extraordinary claims, Sepa asked the DOE officer concerned to furnish a copy of their water sample tests to us but until today, we have not received anything,” Wong claimed.
“Now that Ayoh had come out to the press with a picture of him holding two bottles of typically brownish palm oil mill effluent colour to highlight the desperate villagers’ plight about these crippling pollutants that even cows had refused to drink, the villagers in Kg Tiong Tulid, Punti and Kg Ambual have a right to ask the DOE officer concerned to go there and drink the water in front of everybody,” Wong Tack said.