ENVIRONMENTAL activists have complained that not enough public input has been allowed at public hearings on the Enhancement and Conservation of National Environmental Quality Bill.
The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry on Monday arranged a series of public hearings for the new bill, although activists say that the sessions are not enough to reflect the opinions of all affected people.
They also warned that unless the law is well drafted, the problems of enforcing environmental law such as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) would remain and even get worse.
Supaporn Malailoi, the manager of Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for the Wants (EnLAW) Foundation, said the overall hearing process was not enough to ensure perfect legislation for the people.
“From what we have seen, in efforts to gather public opinion for the new bill, we have found that the authorities are not sincere in giving a clear understanding about the new law and listening to what people think,” Supaporn said.
“This is very obvious since the Environment Ministry only left half a day for public hearings, while their online public hearing also barred many people in the rural areas, who cannot access to the internet to raise their opinion.”
She stressed that since the law will be used as the main legal tool for environmental protection, the ministry should clearly break down the new law so that everyone can understand it easily and compare it to the old one to compare their strengths and weaknesses.
“This is a very important thing to do for a proper public hearing. There are many big flaws in the section about EIA in the new bill, as many problematic issues with the current version, are still not fixed,” Supaporn said.
“The imperfect law will still cause conflicts over projects that impact the environment, and the history of people’s struggle against the harmful project will continue.”
Natural Resources and Environment Ministry permanent secretary Wijarn Simachaya said the public hearing on the new bill was proper and aligned with Article 77 of the current Constitution.
“We have already concluded the online public hearing period of around 20 days for this bill in May, but we noticed that there were many comments about the bill, so we opened another round of public hearings at the forum on Monday,” Wijarn explained.
“The outcome of the public hearing is good. The participants were all eager to raise their voices. This can be an assurance that the public hearing is proper.”
He also said that the new bill would include improvements in the EIA process, the creation of an environmental fund to subsidise operations to clean up the environment or reward agencies with good environmental practices, and the setting up of a new environmental quality standard.
He said anyone who still wants to express their opinion about this bill can do so by presenting their comment to the ministry by next week, or they can send their view directly to the Council of State Office.
After the ministry finishes gathering comments they will be passed on to the Cabinet for consideration. The bill is scheduled to become law this November.