Pasir Gudang victims can make culprits pay, say lawyers

Lazareen Thaveethu Moses
Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar took time to visit the Pasir Gudang fume inhalation victims in the Sultan Ismail Hospital in Johor Baru March 14, 2019. — Picture courtesy of the Johor Royal Press Office

KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 — The Ministry of Education announced in Parliament yesterday that student victims of the toxic waste dumping in Pasir Gudang, Johor will receive medical compensation from Putrajaya.

But lawyers have told Malay Mail that other victims can also seek justice and recourse by suing the perpetrators responsible for the atrocity, from the companies themselves to their board of directors.

“Victims can sue the perpetrators in the civil courts for damages. This would include compensation for pain and suffering, as well as any medical costs,” lawyer Syahredzan Johan told Malay Mail when queried.

The political secretary to Iskandar Puteri MP Lim Kit Siang had earlier tweeted that victims should consider the civil suit as the Environmental Quality Act does not guarantee recourse from the perpetrators.

“Unfortunately the Environmental Quality Act doesn't provide for the culprits to pay medical costs. Even the fine (up to RM500,000) will go to the State coffers.

“Of course, there is no point going after the guy doing the physical dumping. Must go after the company,” he posted, in reply to Twitter user Dr Khoo Yoong Khean who pointed out that the victims may suffer from long-term consequences from the dumping.

In response to Syahredzan’s tweets, lawyer K. Shanmuga suggested that the event was “a classic case of public nuisance”, saying that the Department of Environment and the Attorney General’s Chambers could even consider leading the suit.

Lawyer Seira Sacha Abu Bakar also shared the same opinion with Syahredzan, telling Malay Mail: “In general, the victims can claim for compensation for the injuries that they have suffered. They can file a civil suit against the company and named the directors as defendants too.”

Apart from being able to claim for the usual damages, Seira also said victims can consider claiming for aggravated and exemplary damages in their suit.

Despite acknowledging the usefulness of civil suits, lawyer Roger Chan pointed out that the victims may not be easily compensated in monetary terms.

“Prevention is always better than cure in these instances. Dumping toxic waste into the river can be prevented. Hundreds of children were affected. Money cannot replace people’s health,” said the deputy chair of the Bar Council’s Environment and Climate Change Committee.

Chan also urged Putrajaya to come up with better environmental laws, highlighting that Malaysia lags behind other countries when it comes to such protections.

“Pre-event and post event enforcement laws should be implemented to ensure a better environmental regime and to avoid future toxic waste dumping. Hopefully, Parliament will impose it in the future,” he said.

He added that with these laws, it would be mandatory that toxic waste be declared by all factories so that the public would know whether or not a factory carries scheduled waste, before any unfortunate incident occurs.

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.

Last night, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Putrajaya will not declare a state of emergency or call for an evacuation in Pasir Gudang as the situation is still under control.

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