Special Unit Required to Curb Environmental Crime | WWF Malaysia

Special Unit Required to Curb Environmental Crime

Posted on 04 April 2019
Dr Henry Chan
© WWF - Malaysia
Sungai Kim Kim is a crime scene – an environmental crime scene to be specific. Hazardous chemical wastes dumped illegally led to an environmental crisis, which gravely threatened the lives of thousands of residents, including vulnerable school children. It is a crime that should never have happened. The question is, could it have been prevented if we had more stringent enforcement measures to tackle environmental crimes? It is the right time now for us to revisit Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye’s call last October to establish a dedicated environmental crime department under the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM). If commercial crime that causes loss of money warrants its own department, surely environmental crime that threatens peoples’ life also warrants its own dedicated department, or unit if deemed more relevant to PDRM.

A 2016 report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Criminal Police Organisation-INTERPOL1 estimates that the global value of environmental crimes, ranging from wildlife trade to illegal mining and dumping of waste to be at a staggering USD 91-258 billion annually, an increase of 26% compared to 2014. This makes it the fourth largest crime in the world, after drug trafficking, counterfeit crimes and human trafficking. In fact, the report states that environmental crimes are growing at 5-7% annually – two to three times more rapidly than the global economy!

What this basically means is that governments around the world and innocent people are paying for the crimes committed by unscrupulous people, like in the case of Sungai Kim Kim. The initial clean-up costs alone of only 1.5 km of Sg Kim Kim was RM6.4 million as reported in an interview by Minister Yeo Bee Yin. This is not taking into account indirect costs to human health, loss of fisheries resources, livelihoods and ecosystem services the river provides.

Another serious environmental crime, illegal wildlife trade, is estimated to be worth USD 7-23 billion per year globally. In wildlife, forestry and fisheries crimes, organized local and international syndicates are often involved, cutting across borders and forming a web of inter-connected networks. Just from illegal fishing alone, it is estimated that Malaysia loses between RM3 to 6 billion annually. Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade are affecting our species – both marine and terrestrial. Turtles are poached for their eggs, meat and shells, elephants are poached for their ivory whereas tiger parts are used in traditional medicine. Leatherback turtle is already functionally extinct while our Malayan tiger is on the brink of extinction with numbers now estimated to be only less than 200 in the wild.

The Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources recently announced that the government would form a 2,000-strong multi-agency task force to combat poaching in tiger landscapes. This is a very commendable move indeed, which is urgently needed to stem poaching in the forest. However, to effectively reduce poaching that is driven to meet the insatiable demand of wildlife and its parts, wildlife crime syndicates must be crippled.

The complexity of environmental crimes, and the need to prevent environmental disasters and species loss warrant us to revisit the suggestion on establishing such a unit within PDRM. Environmental crimes can cut across many enforcement agencies’ jurisdictions and can be transboundary in nature. According to INTERPOL, environmental crime is often committed together with other offences, such as passport fraud, corruption, money laundering and even murder, and routes used to traffic wildlife are often used to traffic arms, drugs and people.

Therefore, having a central unit under PDRM, the primary law enforcement agency empowered to enforce all laws of the country will help to effectively curb environmental crimes. PDRM can take the lead role in intelligence gathering and investigating environmental crimes collaboratively with other enforcement agencies, cutting across different laws and jurisdictions. Efficient investigation of possible links to other organised crimes such as money laundering, narcotics and arms trafficking can also be handled in a more holistic manner. Such a unit will enhance and complement the powers of current environment enforcement agencies by providing a strategic approach in tackling these crimes.

It was reported last year that the Inspector General of Police, Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun, in fact lauded the idea, but cited financial constraints as the reason why a new department on environmental crimes was not feasible at that point in time.

WWF-Malaysia understands that establishing a new unit will incur costs. In light of the seriousness of environmental crimes and the far-reaching impacts they have, as well as the direct and indirect losses that can be prevented, we strongly urge the government to invest towards the nation’s future by establishing the unit under PDRM.

PDRM has been proactive and successful in responding to and tackling new and emerging crimes such as money laundering and cybercrimes. We hope to see environmental crimes given the same importance and mainstreamed within our most important law enforcement agency. A dedicated environmental crime unit within the police force will show the world that Malaysia views these crimes very seriously.

It cannot be denied that environmental crimes have impacts beyond those posed by regular criminality. The resulting vast losses to our planet rob current and future generations of wealth, health and wellbeing on an unprecedented scale. Let us not wait for another incident like Sungai Kim Kim or lose another iconic species before taking steps to stem environmental crimes.

Dr Henry Chan
Conservation Director, WWF-Malaysia

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About Environmental Crime
There is no one definition for environmental crime. A 2016 United Nations Environment Programme and Interpol joint report titled “The Rise of Environmental Crimes” states environmental crime is understood as “a collective term to describe illegal activities harming the environment and aimed at benefitting individuals or groups or companies from the exploitation of, damage to, trade or theft of natural resources, including serious crimes and transnational organised crime”.

For more information, please contact:
Darshana Sivanantham
Communications Manager, Peninsular Malaysia Conservation Programme, WWF-Malaysia
Tel: +603-7450 3773
Email: dsivanantham@wwf.org.my

1 Our response to environmental crime: https://www.interpol.int/en/Crimes/Environmental-crime/Our-response-to-environmental-crime
Dr Henry Chan
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