Saturday, August 20

Important Bills enacted into laws this year


The Sarawak Heritage Ordinance 2019 has a provision relating to underwater heritage to safeguard and preserve them for future generations. Photo from 2014 shows a section of the Katori Maru shipwreck, which has since been destroyed by unscrupulous metal salvagers.

THE year 2019 has been quite an eventful one for Sarawak with the State Legislative Assembly (DUN) passing several new Bills.

During the Sitting last month, the Strata (Subsidiary Titles) Bill, 2019; Strata Management Bill, 2019; and Sarawak Heritage Bill, 2019 were passed.

When tabling the Strata (Subsidiary Titles) Bill, 2019 Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan explained that its objectives are to provide protection for all stakeholders in strata development; formulate more dynamic and relevant provisions in tandem with the current and expected future of real estate and building industry trends; and to compel greater professionalism among developers, architects, engineers, surveyors, and other professionals involved in strata development.

The Bill also aimed to improve and streamline processes for speedy issuance of parent and subsidiary titles; and provide better provisions for enforcement and investigation powers of the Ordinance.

Awang Tengah noted that due to rapid changes in land development including strata, the Strata Titles Ordinance 1995 (Chapter 18) was inadequate to cater for current and future demands of the industry and as such the Sarawak government decided the law governing strata development need to be improved.

“Repealing the current Strata Titles Ordinance 1995 and replacing it with this new ordinance will enable enhancement among others, the issuance of subsidiary titles, establishment of management corporations, and the overall improvement of protections for all stakeholders involved in strata title development.

“This new law has been benchmarked against best practices in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia, as well as engagement with our counterparts in Johor and Selangor,” he said.

With the passing of this law, it is now mandatory for developers to apply for the issuance of strata titles.

Also passed unanimously was the Strata Management Bill, 2019, which makes it mandatory for unit owners to pay monthly maintenance charges for common facilities in and around their property.

Local Government and Housing Minister Dato Sri Dr Sim Kui Hian, when tabling the Bill, said no less than 10 per cent of the monthly charges would be put aside as a sinking fund for major repairs, replacement, and repainting works.

He added that the charges also apply to each unsold unit, which becomes the responsibility of the developer.

The Strata Management Ordinance 2019 would give confidence to purchasers when they buy strata units.

Dr Sim pointed out that the Bill also makes it mandatory for strata development to form a management body, where members are elected amongst unit owners, responsible for the management and maintenance of the subdivided building or land.

“More importantly, the management body is also responsible for the maintenance and sinking fund accounts, and such accounts will need to be audited annually in order to ensure that the monies collected are properly managed,” he said.

Apart from that, he explained that the Bill also outlined other duties and powers of the management body, such as the power to make and enforce by-laws and recover unpaid maintenance charges.

The Bill also outlined the establishment of a Tribunal to settle disputes between parties of the strata building community, he said.

“The Bill would also allow for the formation of a subsidiary management body, which has the same duties and powers of the main management body, to maintain and manage non-subsidiary non-residential common property in the case where strata development is a mixed development such as residential and commercial.”

Natural Resources and Environment (Amendment) Ordinance 2019 imposes a higher penalty for offences on illegal open burning.

In his winding-up speech, Dr Sim noted that the Bill would benefit both purchaser and developer, as it would give confidence to purchasers when they buy strata units as they would know that the common property would be well taken care of.

“This in effect would boost the demand for strata property, and this is good for developers in the sense that when they decide to do strata development, there will be eager buyers for the development,” he said.

The Bill replaces the Strata Titles Ordinance 1995 (Chapter 18, Part V).

Apart from that, there was also the passing of the Sarawak Heritage Bill, 2019, which ensures comprehensive protection and preservation of Sarawak’s heritage.

Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said the Bill repealed the Sarawak Cultural Heritage Ordinance 1993, and would cover four new elements not previously covered by the Ordinance.

The new elements are administration, duties, and responsibilities of the director; underwater heritage; and enforcement.

He said the inclusion of these parts and certain new provisions would widen the scope of heritage, and provide a clear framework in heritage conservation.

“Under this Bill, a body to be known as ‘Sarawak Heritage Council’ will be established to advise the government on matters of policy, strategy or plan of action to be taken relating to administration and management of heritage in Sarawak. Additionally, a fund to be known as ‘Sarawak Heritage Trust Fund’ will be established to assist owners do preservation works on heritage buildings or historical monuments or sites belonging to them through financial assistance,” he said in tabling the Bill.

Abdul Karim added that the Bill would enable the Sarawak Museum Department to exercise its roles and responsibilities in safeguarding Sarawak’s heritage assets efficiently.

He pointed out that a provision relating to underwater heritage was necessary to address the recent findings submerged in water bodies, noting that the provision would guide the ‘Director of Museum’ on such discoveries and empower the director to deal with underwater heritage.

The minister said the ‘Underwater Heritage’ element would ensure that underwater heritage within Sarawak’s territory would be safeguarded and preserved for future generations.

He added the Bill would also enable the museum director and enforcement officers, including police, and Customs officers, to enforce the new Ordinance.

“It will empower these officers with the necessary provisions to enable them to carry out investigation, search, seizure, and arrest of person(s) alleged to have committed any offence under the new Ordinance.”

The Bill would also provide provisions to safeguard and protect the traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions of communities in Sarawak, as well as give proper recognition to its owner or holder.

“This will ensure the protection and preservation of this fragile heritage from dying, and maintaining cultural diversity in the face of globalisation,” he said.

He noted the Bill would also restructure the process of declaring, registering, and publishing of gazettes relating to buildings, heritage sites, or historical sites which had heritage significance, and revise and enhance the penalties to be imposed for the commission of various offences.

Abdul Karim said it is important for Sarawak to have a workable and updated heritage management system not only for protection, but also to create awareness of and instil care for heritage.

“Sarawak is not only rich in natural resources but also rich in history and culture. Our heritage, our identity, and our pride,” he said.

Meanwhile, the august House also unanimously passed the Natural Resources and Environment (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which aimed to enhance the provisions relating to penalties and powers of Natural Resources and Environment Board Sarawak (NREB) for better enforcement of laws and a more effective deterrent to combat non-compliance of environmental laws in the state as well as to expand the law relating to open burning, particularly those related to commercial farming to facilitate better compliance with current environmental needs and practices.

Awang Tengah, who moved the Bill, said it sought to amend the Natural Resources and Environment Ordinance [Cap 84] (1958 Ed) (NREO) with the objective of strengthening the regulatory mechanism for sustainable management of natural resources and the protection of environmental quality in Sarawak.

The Second Urban Development and Resources Minister stressed that the tabling of this NREO amendment Bill is timely in ensuring that the implementation of planned socioeconomic transformation projects and development programmes will be carried out in a sustainable manner, in line with United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

He believed with this amendment, environmental agencies like the NREB will have the necessary regulatory power, adequate resources, and capacity, leveraging on green technologies to mitigate these environmental risks and to ensure ecological sustainability.

This amendment, he said, is necessary to help prepare the NREB, under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) Devolution of Powers, to accept additional responsibilities in managing the environment.

He said the lack of accountability and poor compliance from various parties, in particular developers, are the main causes of local haze pollution, water contamination, and land degradation.

Awang Tengah noted that as such a deterrent penalty should be enforced on habitual offenders, who intentionally cause environmental pollution, by imposing higher penalty for offences on illegal open burning, as well as land and inland water pollution.

He said in this regard, maximum penalties are increased for certain offences with the objectives that it would deter repeat and future offenders.

To further enhance the enforcement of the NREO, he pointed out that the Bill also provides for protection of informers as well as provisions for rewards.

“Proactive societal involvement in managing and protecting our environment are possible by leveraging on modern technology and provision for adequate appreciation.

“Therefore, this proposed amendment aims to provide adequate protection and incentives for public and individuals who come forward in reporting and providing information on any irresponsible acts that caused land degradation, water, and air pollution,” he said.

Awang Tengah said this amendment also aims to minimise haze pollution from local sources and is consistent with the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil Certification requirement for smallholders to comply with local environmental regulations.

He assured that this amendment will not affect the traditional farming practices of slash and burn by rural communities in Sarawak as the Controller has powers under Section 10 of the Principal Ordinance to make the necessary Orders to that effect.