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Jakarta Post

Singapore upset by RI'€™s haze

  • Hans Nicholas Jong

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, July 29, 2015   /  04:35 pm

While President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo was on a state visit to Singapore on Tuesday, on the same day in Jakarta a Singaporean minister expressed his country'€™s growing impatience with Indonesia'€™s slow progress in controlling the annual forest fires.

Speaking during a meeting in Jakarta with five ASEAN country members about the haze issue, Singapore Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that the goal of a haze-free ASEAN by 2020 was not good enough for Singaporeans as the country had suffered too long from the air pollution.

'€œAs far as Singaporeans are concerned, we want a haze-free ASEAN now, not in 2020. We want it now. The human, social and economic cost of haze in our part of the world has been too high and been going on for far too long,'€ he said in front of his counterparts, including Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

The meeting was the 17th of its kind held by the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on transboundary haze pollution, attended by senior officials from five Southeast Asian countries: Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Thailand.

Annual cross-border air pollution caused by uncontrolled land clearing on Indonesian plantations has been a source of discontent among Indonesia'€™s neighbours since the 1990s.

In 2013, smoky haze wrought by forest fires in Indonesia spread to Singapore and Malaysia, causing Singapore'€™s worst air pollution in 16 years.

This year, the Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has warned that the dry season could last longer than in previous years because of a weather phenomenon known as El Niño, which affects temperatures and rainfall.

A total of 4,763 hotspots, indicating wildfires, were detected across Indonesia during the period between Jan. 1 and July 23 this year.

Singapore has repeatedly urged Indonesia to provide data on companies and concession maps to enable it to act against plantation firms that allow slash-and-burn farming, saying that it will send an unequivocal signal that ASEAN countries are prepared to be transparent and hold individual companies accountable for their actions.

'€œDespite multiple meetings, to be honest with you the progress is very slow. The key hurdle is due to the separate regulatory and legislative systems in Malaysia and Indonesia, which until today have prevented them from openly publishing the concession maps for the ASEAN Haze Monitoring System [AHMS],'€ Vivian said.

The AHMS is a computerised system developed by Singapore in 2012 to enhance hotspot monitoring by combining hotspot data, high-resolution satellite pictures and land concession maps.

Minister Siti, however, countered Vivian'€™s statement by saying Indonesia would fulfill Singapore'€™s demand for the list of companies.

'€œIn Indonesia, we have a law on public information access. In that law, there are some documents [that could be published], except for those that have to be kept secret. So we haven'€™t been able to say that all data is legitimate. We have to verify it first. We still have to [share it] through the G2G. We'€™re not using a multilateral approach in this case,'€ Siti said.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Siti said she could not understand what the Singaporean minister meant by saying that Indonesia was too slow in making progress.

'€œI don'€™t know what he'€™s saying, in which time frame, because as you'€™ve mentioned, this is already the 17th agenda,'€ the minister responded.

Siti emphasized that the government was obliged to protect the environment not for other countries, but for its own people. '€œYou know what we are doing is not only for other people, but it is in our Constitution that we have to provide a good environment for our people. So in anycase we have to do [it].'€

Faizal Parish, senior technical advisor for the ASEAN Peatland Forests Project (APFP) and director of the Malaysia-based Global Environment Centre, said Singapore should be more sensitive to other countries'€™ problems.

'€œIt'€™s a sensitive issue because people think Singapore will be [the environmental] police for Asia who will prosecute all companies [regardless of their nationalities],'€ he said on Tuesday. '€œBut it will be unwise for Singapore to prosecute
Indonesians.'€

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