KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — Parliament is set to debate a motion to declare an emergency in Pasir Gudang, Johor, later today, as the number of victims from an illegal toxic waste dumping continues to rise.
Opposition parties Umno and PAS have stepped up calls for the declaration despite assurances from Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian, but how would an emergency affect those in the area?
Speaking to Malay Mail, civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan explained that it would likely be a “disaster emergency” rather than a Proclamation of Emergency as stipulated in Article 150 of the Federal Constitution that would result in a curfew.
“This is a different sort of emergency than the one provided for under the Constitution.
“It is a ‘disaster emergency’ where the State is not given extra powers or authority,” said Syahredzan, who is also the political secretary to Iskandar Puteri MP Lim Kit Siang.
Syahredzan said a “disaster emergency” can be declared under National Security Council’s Directive No. 20 to streamline federal agencies’ handling of the situation on the ground.
The directive — which handles the policy and mechanism of national disaster management and relief — outlines the role of the government agencies, lawmakers, private parties and volunteering bodies that are present throughout the disaster, he said.
He added that in the case of a disaster emergency, these measures would be taken to ensure resources can be directed efficiently and effectively, so the disaster can be swiftly resolved.
“This emergency does not mean there will be curfews and so on. The daily lives of Johor and Pasir Gudang folks will not be affected, if they’re not in the impacted areas,” he explained in a separate Facebook post.
So far, the Health Ministry said 937 victims have been treated as a result of the chemical dumping in Sungai Kim Kim, with 12 adult victims admitted to the Intensive Care Unit but in stable condition.
However, several lawyers pointed out that Putrajaya could still invoke Article 150 of the Federal Constitution as very serious environmental contamination in a large area is tantamount to a “grave emergency”.
Article 150 states that: “If the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security, or the economic life, or public order in the Federation or any part thereof is threatened, he may issue a proclamation of emergency making therein a declaration to that effect.”
“Such proclamation of emergency must also be tabled in Parliament. Hence, it is often only in the most serious of circumstances with immediate threat to national security or order which is worth an emergency,” said lawyer Lim Wei Jiet.
Another lawyer, Surendra Ananth, also noted that the requirements for a “grave emergency” are to be construed broadly and can include the incident in Sungai Kim Kim.
“The implications if this is done in the current scenario are that the authority of the Federal Government will extend to any matter within the power of the Johor State Government,” Surendran explained.
Syahredzan explained in his post that the decision to declare a “disaster emergency” lies with Putrajaya, and it does not need to do so if the situation is still under control.
“Let us not see a ‘disaster emergency’ as a magical term that can solve every issue in Pasir Gudang, or any emergency situation.
“It all depends on the government’s response towards the issue. If it can be handled, there is no need to declare a ‘disaster emergency’,” said Syahredzan in his post.
Yesterday, Mentri Besar Osman told reporters that there is no need to evacuate or move residents living along the river, pointing out that the various departments and agencies have contained the situation.
This was despite 111 schools being told to close by the Education Ministry last night amid concern that noxious fumes could be blown across the area due to weather conditions.
Earlier today, Barisan Nasional’s MPs Hassan Abdul Karim from Pasir Gudang and Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan from Pontian mooted a motion to declare an emergency, and urged that any technicalities on the motion should take a backseat.
Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin then said she has taken note of their request but also said she is unable to make a decision alone and must submit their request for a state of emergency to the proper committees.