Sabah NGO wants details of plastic bag sale proceeds

Sabah Environmental Protection Association (Sepa) has urged the state Tourism Ministry to clear the air over the hundreds of thousands of ringgit collected from the sale of plastic bags since 2011.

Sepa said based on accounting documents of the Environmental Action Centre (EAC), which was supposed to collect the proceeds from the sale, the proceeds would be used for educational campaigns.

Sepa had partnered the state Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry for the past 16 years to operate the EAC.

Sepa secretary Julia Hwong said however they had not seen any EAC accounts especially since 2011 when supermarkets and other retail outlets began charging 20 sen per plastic bag from Saturday to Mondays under the Bring Your Own Plastic Bag campaign.

Hwong explained that the EAC accounts had been handled by a finance officer who failed to show the accounts since she and the other Sepa committee were elected in 2013.

“We have not seen documents such as receipts, bank statements, bank-in slips or payment vouchers between 2010 and 2013,” she said adding that the finance officer had since been hired by the state Environmental Protection Department (EPD).

Crucially, Sepa could not ascertain as to where the money collected from the sale of the plastic bags went to.

She said Sepa lodged a police report on the matter on Wednesday calling for a probe into the EAC accounts.

For the past four years, shoppers had to pay 20sen for each plastic bag at dozens of supermarkets and other retail outlets. The money was to go to the EAC to fund environmental education campaigns.

Sepa was told that the collection in 2013 amounted to about RM300,000.

Hwong said since the EAC was not a legal entity and set up on the basis of State Cabinet Paper, the money collected from the plastic bag sale was to be deposited into Sepa’s bank account.

The two authorised signatories for any withdrawals from that bank account could either be the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, the Environmental Protection Department, the Sepa president or secretary.

“However, there was no standard operating procedure as to how the money were to be collected from the respective retail outlets, counted, verified and deposited into the bank account,” said Hwong.

Instead from what the Sepa committee had discovered, she said, the money was kept under petty cash.

She said Sepa also tried to obtain any documents from the EAC auditor but was told these had already been taken by officials from the ministry.

“We tried to get access to the documents from the ministry’s Permanent Secretary Ginun Yangus but to no avail,” Hwang said.

“He only told us that those documents belonged to them,” she said.

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