JOHOR: Federal and state authorities in Malaysia have told Channel NewsAsia they would like to fast track legislation to de-conflict jurisdiction when it comes to tackling water pollution.
This comes after a chicken farm and its fertiliser factory disrupted water supply to an estimated 1.8 million people in Johor for the second time in less than a year.
Three water treatment plants near the Johor River, including PUB's Johor River Waterworks, were forced to shut down last weekend due to high ammonia levels caused by improperly stored chicken manure fertiliser which was being produced at a rate of 40 tonnes a day, according to officials.
Authorities at both the state and federal levels said they had issued several warnings before the state government announced the closure of both the chicken farm and fertiliser factory on Wednesday.
According to Dr Zaki Zainuddin, a quality and modelling specialist, the delay in firm action by authorities reflects a problem of overlapping jurisdiction and a "disconnect" in pollution management that applies across Malaysia.
The problem of issuing permits for manure processing facilities is one example.
Johor's Veterinary Services Department director Dr Aida Muhid told Channel NewsAsia on Thursday (Nov 2) that while the chicken farm that was forced to shut had a permit to operate, the fertiliser factory had not been issued one.
Dr Aida said that it was not clear whether the authority to issue the permit to the factory belonged to the Veterinary Department or the Agriculture Department.
"It's quite difficult to differentiate that because it's considered quite a grey area ... That has not been resolved yet," she told Channel NewsAsia.
Dr Aida intends to resolve this by fast tracking planned legislation so that the licensing of manure processing plants will fall under her department within six months.
MINISTRY "THREE-QUARTERS" DONE WITH LEGISLATION CHANGES
Meanwhile, at the federal level, the Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday he was "three-quarters" done with legislation that would authorise his ministry to shut down polluters without going through multiple state departments.
"Most things like rivers, water, land resources all belong to the state under the constitution," he said.
"We are not taking over their authority but it's just having a law so we don't have to tell them, 'please go and take action against this'. The idea is that we don't have to ask permission from people - we'll do it ourselves," he said.
"We should have the laws, we should have a way to impose penalties, we should have the authority to close all the factories in the illegal areas, in the places where they have no permission (to operate) from the state authorities," he added.
Mr Wan Junaidi had said in a statement earlier this week that the Department of Environment, which falls under his ministry, had directed the illegal chicken farm to relocate its operation away from the river in July last year due to water pollution - but this was ignored. Under current laws, the department said it did not have the power to take further action.
Dr Zaki, who is a consultant for the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, said the federal ministry does not have the scope at the moment to deal with pollution from fertiliser factories.
"The overarching legislation when it comes to pollution control is the Environmental Quality Act which the Department of Environment enforces," he told Channel NewsAsia.
"But pollution sources governed by the act is in the range of 25 to 30 per cent only. So you have these other sources which are not regulated under that act, sources like poultry farms, chicken farms. .. It's a tricky issue."
Dr Zaki added that one way to deal with this is for states to adapt their own legislation to expand the scope of environmental officials - something that has already been done in states like Selangor.
In the case of Johor, Dr Aida says her department will be playing closer attention to chicken farms during the annual inspections later this year and new standard operating procedures are being rolled out.
Her officials will also aim to map out the locations of the 778 poultry farms across the state by next year to identify which ones are close to water sources and need to be monitored more closely.