Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Right Environment Ministry Structure: A Big Step Towards Holistic Environmental Governance


Media Statement by Yeo Bee Yin on 7 December 2022 (Wednesday) in Puchong

The Right Environment Ministry Structure: A Big Step Towards Holistic Environmental Governance

 Many people have said many things about the newly formed cabinet. As the former Environment Minister, I am writing specifically to congratulate the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for getting the environment ministerial structure right by combining Energy and Natural Resources (KeTSA) and Environment and Water Ministry (KASA), so the Environment Ministry finally has the right structure to ensure holistic environmental governance in Malaysia. I shall elaborate further.  

Historically in Malaysia, a minister is called Environment Minister when he/she is responsible for the environment sector with punca kuasa from the Environmental Quality Act 1974 (EQA 1974) and its enforcement agency, Department of Environment (DOE). EQA 1974 only deals with pollution control, hence the “Environment Ministry” in Malaysia essentially only had direct power over pollution control. Other areas of jurisdiction depend on the sectors which are combined with the environment sector of the ministry.

Before May 2018, the Environment Minister was responsible for the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry (NRE); under Pakatan Harapan, the Environment Minister was responsible for the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC); while after the Sheraton Move, the Environment Minister is responsible for the Ministry of Environment and Water (KASA). All of NRE, MESTECC and KASA ministry structures present challenges to the “Environment Ministers” to function optimally.

Under the MESTECC and KASA ministry structures, the natural resources sector is separated from the environment sector, i.e. green issues (forestry and wildlife conservation) are not combined with brown issues (pollution control). This makes it difficult to draw the line in determining which party is responsible to tackle the destruction of natural habitat caused by pollution, for example, the impact of plastic pollution to marine life. In addition, the environment sector is also responsible for climate change, which in turn, is heavily connected to forestry (as carbon sink) hence wildlife and biodiversity. Separating green and brown issues to different ministries results in a disjointed and fragmented climate change agenda.

Furthermore, the natural resources sector in Malaysia is also responsible for land management. There are generally two types of pollution sources for water bodies: i. point source, which is a single identifiable source of pollutants such as effluent from factories and sewage treatment plants; and ii. non-point source, which is based on geographical scales for example, agricultural water runoff etc. Separating the sectors responsible for land management and pollution control will not only make it trickier to manage pollution on land (soil pollution) but also water bodies (from non-point source).

As for NRE and MESTECC ministry structures, the water sector is separated from the environment sector. Not only does this confuse the public as to which ministry has punca kuasa over river issues, it also causes coordination challenges in handling river pollution which, adding to the complication, also involves state governments. This becomes especially evident in a water-stressed area like the Klang Valley with a low reserve margin in its water supply system.

In short, environmental governance in Malaysia has always been fragmented for the past few decades.

Therefore, I am very happy to see that the current environment ministry combines natural resources, pollution control, climate change and water sector all under one roof. This will surely avoid unnecessary lost time spent in inter-ministerial coordination and ensure holistic environmental governance.

It will be even more perfect if Solid Waste Management Department (JPSPN), which is a small part of Housing and Local Government Ministry (KPKT) jurisdictions, can be moved to Environment Ministry as practiced in many other countries.

Is a ministry that covers forestry and wildlife conservation, pollution control, climate change, water, as well as waste management too big to handle? No. The table below shows the responsibilities of the Environment Ministry in different countries and the combinations of jurisdictions. If these countries can do it, there’s no excuse that in Malaysia, we need two or more ministries to do it. Some of these countries have an even bigger population than Malaysia!

All in all, the new government under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has made the most important fundamental change, i.e the ministerial structure change, towards a more holistic environmental governance. I am looking forward to see holistic changes to environmental conservation and protection efforts in the country under the leadership of my friend, the newly-minted Environment Minister, Nik Nazmi.


 Environment Ministry Combination for Different Countries

Source: The Unfinished Business, Yeo Bee Yin