Government proposes law to allow action against firms causing haze

Government proposes law to allow action against firms causing haze
The haze in Singapore on June 17, 2013. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong
Errant companies, both local and foreign, could be fined up to S$300,000
Published: 4:03 AM, February 20, 2014
Updated: 6:37 AM, February 20, 2014
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SINGAPORE — In a move aimed at sending “a strong signal of deterrence” to errant companies, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources plans to introduce a law that will allow legal action to be taken against companies, both local and foreign, that cause transboundary haze.

Under the draft Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill, errant companies can be fined up to S$300,000 if their activities outside Singapore result in the island being blanketed by unhealthy levels of haze. The draft Bill is up for public consultation until March 19.

TODAY understands that the only way for the Government to take action against errant companies that do not have any presence here is when any of their representatives holding management positions set foot on Singapore soil.

Environmentalists and observers TODAY spoke to lauded the proposed legislation as “a great first step” towards tackling the haze menace, but some pointed out that identifying errant companies and taking them to court could be a challenge, and that the proposed maximum fine was too low.

Besides criminal liability, the proposed law will also allow the National Environment Agency (NEA) to ask relevant parties to reduce or control the haze pollution, such as putting out fires or adopting zero-burning practices. If they deliberately ignore such requests, they can be fined up to S$450,000.

Singaporeans affected by the haze can also sue these errant companies for personal injuries, damage to their properties or any other losses due to the haze.

Plans to table the Bill were revealed last year by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan following Singapore’s worst haze episode in June. The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) had then hit an unprecedented high of 401, beyond the hazardous level of 300.

Dr Balakrishnan had said that he hoped to have the Bill passed within the first half of this year. In a Facebook post yesterday evening, he noted that transboundary haze had recurred “for too many years” in the region.

“The root cause (of transboundary haze) is commercial ... Errant companies have been clearing land by illegal burning because it is the cheapest way to do so. Although there are domestic laws against this practice, there are real problems in investigation and enforcement in those countries,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

“We hope this legislation will send a strong signal of deterrence to such errant companies.”

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