KOTA KINABALU: The Environment Protection Department (EPD) director’s decision to approve the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report for the Shrimp Aquaculture Development project in Pitas has been made in accordance with the Environment Protection Enactment 2002.
EPD director, Datuk Yabi Yangkat, in his statement yesterday, said that Section 12D(1) of the enactment provides power to the director to approve an EIA report submitted to the EPD by any project proponent, even if no EIA Review Panel meeting is convened.
“However, it is always the EPD’s practice to refer all EIA Reports to technical departments or agencies for their technical comments,” he said.
He stated that in a case where a Review Panel convenes, the department is not obliged to refer any other matters back to the Review Panel members before making any final decision.
“It is the discretion of the director to make a final decision; hence, SEPA (Sabah Environment Protection Association) should not feel overly disappointed for not being referred again,” he said.
As for the belief of SEPA that the EIA remained rejected, Yabi said that SEPA could in good faith write to EPD or consult the department to seek clarification on the status of the project before making blunt accusation about the department and the project in the media.
He added that there are several environmental Non Government Organisations (NGOs) in Sabah which have expressed interests to participate in the EPD’s Review Panel meeting, but they had no opportunities yet because the department has to keep the number manageable and choose proper stakeholders that are seen inclusive and representative.
“We may need to be very careful to choose the right stakeholder who is willing to cooperate and work effectively with the department to protect the environment in Sabah in future,” he said.
He added that the EIA Report has been approved with strict provisions for wildlife corridor, riparian reserve, mangrove buffer zone and rehabilitation of certain disturbed mangrove areas.
“EPD or any other relevant departments may vary or add the terms and conditions for better environmental protection within or surrounding the project area,” he said.
“Hence, in fact, SEPA or any interested parties may at any time submit to EPD any technical inputs to further strengthen the environmental conditions for the EIA approval. However, any suggestion or inputs must be supported with technical facts and figures, not merely a personal concern or hearsay,” he said.
Yabi emphasized that he is guided by the Environment Protection Enactment 2002 in his decision-making process.
“Although technical inputs from NGOs are sometimes required in decision-making process, their agreement on the EIA Report is not a requirement for the department’s approval for the EIA,” he said.
SEPA president, Lanash Thanda, recently mentioned that the approval of the EIA for the project on Dec 19, 2014 came as a surprise to SEPA.
She said that during the Review Panel meeting held on June 5, 2014, it was unanimously decided that the EIA report was rejected.
“The director himself confirmed the rejection in his statement,” she said.
She also said that SEPA recalled no such decision being made at the meeting to allow the project proponent to submit additional information.
She urged EPD to share with the Review Panel and the public the additional information that was received by EPD on June 24, 2014.
She also said that SEPA was disappointed at EPD’s conduct of approving the EIA without further consultation with the EIA Review Panel members.