Budget 2014: Environment, wildlife, heritage conservation efforts need boost in funds
PETALING JAYA: When it comes to allocations in the national budget, everyone fights for a slice of the pie. Amidst the calls for accelerating economic growth and social welfare, conservation groups are hoping that a little is put aside to safeguard our environment, wildlife and heritage buildings.
“What we would like to see in the 2014 budget is the creation of an institutional framework to mainstream sustainable development in Malaysia, through committees such as a National Cabinet Committee for Sustainable Development” said Nithi Nesadurai, president of the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia.
“Under this system, before any projects get approved, those seeking approval will have to consider if the projects are good for Malaysia’s environmental sustainability,” he explained.
Nesadurai also recommended the establishment of a National Council on Sustainable Development which allows for vertical integration.
“This will bring all players on the federal, state and local government sectors on one table to bring emphasis to environmental protection,” he said.
Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Professor Maketab Mohammad advocates substantial tax breaks for truly green industries and tax exemptions for corporate social responsibility (CSR) conservation programmes from major companies.
In addition to that, financial support for environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and similar organisations should also be taken into account, he said.
Currently, he said MNS’ rent for its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur and Penang is subsidised but it does not receive any financial funding from government agencies.
What about wildlife?
Malaysia’s abundance of flora and fauna makes it an irresistible target for wildlife poachers and traffickers. Apart from the high demand for endangered animals in traditional medicine and in the exotic meat market, Malaysia also serves as a significant transit area for ivory smuggling.
As such, a large number of enforcement officers is required to be able to handle the stream of wildlife criminals who make base in our lands.
Dr Chris R. Shepherd, wildlife protection NGO Traffic deputy regional director, argued that although our nation has very good wildlife conservation laws, enforcement is still lacking.
“The number of staff patrolling Malaysia’s protected areas is very low, considering the size of the area, and the constant threat from local and foreign poachers,” said Shepherd and added that a bigger presence of authorities works as a deterrent to poachers.
“This is an area that the Malaysian government should look into when tabulating the budget.”
He said there was also the issue of specialised training required in species identification, wildlife trade policies and handling wildlife crime cases, all of which require further funding.
Preserving culture and history through heritage buildings
At present, conservation measures of heritage buildings are mainly reactive in nature. To encourage the preservation of our architectural history, perhaps it is time to go the extra mile and implement preventive conservation in addition to present reactive measures.
“The 2014 budget can look into allocating funds to establish a specialised team in every state which are trained to look for and restore heritage buildings. This will allow for better maintenance and progressive restoration,” said Khoo Salma Nasution, Penang Heritage Trust president.
Khoo also recommended the establishment of a task force within specific government bodies, which is trained to handle conservation.
“Some of these buildings require immediate attention. If we don’t take quick action, their condition will only worsen,” said Khoo, who added that good maintenance and preventive conservation would save costs on extensive restoration later on.
“This specialised body can help to oversee repairs and make sure they are done in a way which is compatible with conservation approaches,” said Khoo.
While it may be difficult to allocate resources to restore private sector buildings, Khoo believes that government assets deemed heritage, at the very least, should be taken care of.
“Now that the Government is asking the private sector to conserve its buildings, it must make sure none of its own heritage buildings are badly renovated or left in derelict conditions.”