The Jakarta Post
Indonesia is expected to sign the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution by the end of the year, thus strengthening its commitment in dealing with the haze issue in the Southeast Asian region.
Arif Yuwono, the deputy environment minister for environmental damage control and climate change, said the draft agreement was currently being discussed by the House of Representatives and was expected to be approved by the government by the end of the year at the latest.
'Indonesia's willingness to sign the agreement is not attributable to pressure by Malaysia and Singapore, but the spirit as an ASEAN member country,' he told The Jakarta Post over the phone.
Separately, after attending the 14th Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on the Environment and the 9th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution and related meetings in Surabaya, East Java, recently, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said the ministry had discussed the haze issue with participating countries, including Malaysia and Singapore.
'Regarding haze, we must seek a joint solution to overcome it so as to prevent it from recurring. We must raise awareness because the drought will last until October,' Balthasar told journalists.
He said Indonesia was currently formulating a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Singapore and Malaysia on joint haze supervision.
'The agreement with Singapore and Malaysia is in the form of joint research and particular matters concerning joint haze management. Malaysia also has the same interest,' said Balthasar.
As was known earlier, the Malaysian and Singaporean governments had urged Indonesia to immediately sign the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, a border treaty on haze management, which was signed on June 10, 2002. The treaty was put into effect on Nov 25, 2003, but of the 10 ASEAN member countries, Indonesia is the only country which has yet to ratify the treaty.
The call to sign the agreement emerges following the haze in Riau that also blanketed Singapore and Malaysia in June and July this year. Singapore claimed that the recent haze was the worst in 16 years. The issue had even sparked diplomatic war of words between Indonesia and the two neighboring countries.
Land and forest fires have been a major problem in Riau for years as smallholders and plantation firms allow slash-and-burn farming methods. Former National Police detectives chief Comr. Gen. (ret.) Ito Sumardi, who led the Riau Police between 2005 and 2006, revealed that a number of agricultural firms usually ordered their contractors to clear their land.
'Indonesia is still able to overcome the haze without assistance from Singapore. Haze is a joint issue so don't just blame Indonesia,' said Balthasar.
He added the Indonesian government was serious in taking action against eight companies which intentionally set fire to concession areas and sparked forest and peatland fires in Riau and caused Singapore to be shrouded by thick haze.
'One of the eight companies is involved in palm oil and pulp activities. We will impose sanctions, including revoking its business permit,' said Balthasar.
Earlier in Riau, Balthasar disclosed that one of the eight companies was also indicated to come from Malaysia.
'We are further conducting the investigation. Those involved in the investigation are from the prosecutor's office, police, forestry and agriculture offices,' he added.
Balthasar said his office was also currently examining 24 suspects.
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