The Jakarta Post
The House of Representatives untypically changed its role from villain to hero on Tuesday when it ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. The belated move has saved Indonesia from international mockery, if not condemnation, for its failure to rein in the seasonal forest fires that have endangered the lives of its own people and those in neighboring countries.
For a decade the lawmakers, without any sense of culpability, refused to endorse the government's acceptance of the pact for fear of possible infringement on Indonesia's sovereignty, given the involvement of foreign, parties to the treaty in a joint task force that would fight fires inside Indonesia. Such a nationalist, if not xenophobic, mindset has led to a protracted, choking haze in the provinces of Sumatra and Kalimantan, home to oil palm plantations and logging activities. The disaster was recurring, which simply proved that Indonesia could not address the forest fires alone.
Tuesday's unanimous approval by the House therefore marked an end to the politicians' insensitivity to the suffering of many people ' ranging from schoolchildren whose right to education was denied because of health concerns, to investors whose business opportunities were lost because their flights were either delayed or canceled altogether.
But let's not let the lawmakers rest on the laurels that they may not deserve, given their decade-long resistance to mounting domestic and international pressures. Smarting from their 10 years of inaction, they need to ensure that the transboundary haze law is enforced and will effectively deter people and corporations from starting fires, for whatever reason.
We can no longer tolerate any attempt to distort the real issue of forest fires, as had been done in the past through statements by our political elites that unnecessarily fueled nationalistic sentiments. Neither can we let policymakers play a blame game over the hassles of coordinating efforts in the field to put out the forest fires once and for all. The ongoing fires that have recently started to blanket Singapore with smog will serve as an initial test of Indonesia's commitment to upholding the treaty.
Being a party to the regional pact, Indonesia will first of all have to promptly respond to requests for information from other member states, such as Singapore, which are affected by transboundary haze pollution coming from the forest fires in this country. Indonesia will then be obliged to cooperate in developing and implementing measures to prevent and monitor the transboundary pollution caused by land or forest fires, as well as to control the sources of the fires.
The political will of our policymakers should become manifest in a national movement to enforce the law against perpetrators of forest fires, if necessary against plantation companies that have so far acted with impunity. The law threatens individuals or corporations with up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to Rp 10 billion (US$854,000) for igniting forest fires. The companies can also face closure if found guilty.
The treaty will add pressure on law enforcers to get tough with forest burners. Such a hope must not go up in smoke this time around.
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