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Burma’s environment law undergoes revisions

Burma's new Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) is in the process of final revisions and should be completed by the end of this year, according to reports.

Ohn, an conservationist with FREDAA chief concern among environmentalists is that the law is too weak on enforcement penalties and will not deter violations. The law was rushed to approval in March, but now needs key details changed, said conservationists.

Officials from relevant ministries and environmental groups are now meeting to consider changes in parts of the law and they hope for a final review by late September and approval later this year, said Aung Myint, the chairman of the Renewable Energy Association of Myanmar (REAM).

 “Formulating a environmental conservation laws is very complex. Soon foreign investment will increase and domestic businesses will grow. So we need [very effective] rules,” said Aung Myint.

Groups taking part in the discussion include the Environmental Conservation and Forestry Ministry, Office of the Attorney General, Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association (FREDA), Renewable Energy Association of Myanmar (REAM), Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) and others.

Ohn, the FREDA vice chairman, noted that timber production is just one area of concern.

“In 1956-57, Burma produced 400,000 tons of teak. Now it produces just 80,000 tons of teak per year,” he said. “Timber is becoming scarce. Although the government announced that the forest area in Burma was about 42 per cent, I thought it’s around 25 per cent,” he said.

“I have talked with forestry experts, and I will put forward suggestions in the process. We will try to amend existing forestry laws,” Ohn said.    

Ohn told the Myanmar Times in April that he was optimistic about the law although there are weak points in the area of penalties and enforcement.

“We need to change some points in the law,” he said.

Conservationist said the law lacks sufficient penalties and also effective enforcement by government officials is a major concern.

Ohn said earlier that financial penalties for breaking the law should begin at US$ 13,000 and range to hundreds of millions of kyat.
Currently, individuals who violate the law face a jail term of up to five years, and fines range from just 100,000 to 2 million (about US$ 2,500).

He said President Thein Sein’s advocacy of policies that benefit and serve the people bode well to create a more effective conservation policy in Burma, if the law is crafted carefully with conservation efforts as the dominate factor.

The Environmental Conservation Law will affect many areas of the economy including timber production, mining, oil and natural gas production and hydropower dams.

Daw Davi Thant Sin, an environmental activist and editor Aungpinlae magazine, said the law is “meaningless without enforcement.”

Soe Nyunt, chairman of Myanmar Birds and Nature Society (MBNS), expressed concern over how the law would be enforced.

“We welcome the environmental law; it is certainly better than nothing. But there are also weak points … we need to add additional points gradually,” Soe Nyunt told the Myanmar Times.

The Environmental Law contains 14 chapters that define the rights and responsibilities of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, environmental standards, environmental conservation, management in urban areas, conservation of natural and cultural resources, process for businesses to apply for permission to engage in an enterprise that has the potential to damage the environment, prohibitions, offences and punishments.

An official from the Natural Resource and Environmental Conservation Committee, a parliamentary committee established in September 2011, said the law had some weaknesses because it was rushed through Parliament and was mostly based on an earlier draft.