A Review on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment in Malaysia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Brager and Specht (1973) referred participation to 'the means by which people, who are not elected or appointed officials of agencies and of government, influence decisions about programs and policies which affect their lives'. While the Skeffington (1969) defined public participation as 'a sharing action to formulate policies and proposal' but a complete participation only happens when the public are allowed to participate actively in the planning process. Public participation also is about human right as concluded in the World Conference of Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (1979: In Misra, Sundaram & UNCRD, 1983) 'Participation of the people in institutions and system which govern their lives is a basic human right and also essential for realignment of political power in favour of disadvantaged groups and for social and economic development'. It is a channel for people to 'ensure the effective influence on the decision making process at all levels of social activity and social institutions ...' (Geneletti, 1975). Furthermore, France's (1998) defined participation as 'a process of empowerment that helps to involve local people in the identification of problems, decision-making and implementation, which can contribute to sustainable development'.

The definition of participation actually covered various concepts such as:

1. According to France (1998), participation is a process of empowering every individual in the community to involve in government development.

2. Skeffington (1969) explained participation from political consideration by sharing an action to formulate policies and proposal between government and citizens.

3. While World Conference of Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (1979: In Misra, Sundaram & UNCRD 1983) and Brager and Specht (1973) defined participation as a basic human right for every human being especially disadvantages group.

In a simple conclusion, the definition of participation explains about the concept of democracy, human right and empowerment as a core of the definition. It shows that public participation is an important process in the planning system, which also extends to the political system and has a big role to bring the executive decision from the top to bottom through a planning process.

2. The Significance of Public Participation Process

Slocum and Thomas-Slayter (1995) explained that people need to participate during the decision making process for their personal interests as well as the society's since planning activities will consequently affect public lives. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation (WHO) (2002) developed several arguments as to why the public participation process is important from the viewpoint of the citizens and professionals working with the local authorities (Table 1).

The citizens stress on their right to voice opinions and want it to be considered in the decision-making. Meanwhile, professionals argue that involving citizens can contribute towards better decision-making and target resources more efficiently. The public participation process also has the potential to educate citizens and increase their awareness by being more responsive.

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3. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in Malaysia

The EIA was introduced in Malaysia in 1988 as a mandatory legislative requirement through the Environmental Impact Assessment Order (DOE, 1987) (prescribed activities). It was developed based on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 1969 of the United States (Briffett et al., 2004). The legislation empowered the Director General of the Department of Environment (DOE) to:

"... protect and enhance the quality of the environment through licensing, setting of standards, coordination of research, and dissemination of information to the public." (Briffett et al., 2004)

In terms of implementation, two types of the EIA report were adopted comprising preliminary and detailed assessment whereas the objectives of preliminary assessment are as follows (Figure 1):

* To examine and select the best form of project option available;

* To identify and incorporate into the project plan appropriate abatement and mitigating measures;

* To identify significant residual environmental impacts and another additional objective is required in the detailed assessment;

* To identify the environmental costs and benefits of the development project to the community. …