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S’pore’s efforts to tackle haze culprits ‘not about national sovereignty’

SINGAPORE — Indonesia should welcome Singapore’s transboundary haze laws as an additional tool to curtail irresponsible acts that have caused the haze which has plagued both Indonesians and others in the region for decades, Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) said on Wednesday (June 15).

S’pore’s efforts to tackle haze culprits ‘not about national sovereignty’

A forest fire is seen burning from a helicopter belonging to the Indonesian National Board of Disaster Management in Pelalawan, Riau province on Sumatra on June 10, 2016. Photo: ANTARA FOTO VIA REUTERS

SINGAPORE — Indonesia should welcome Singapore’s transboundary haze laws as an additional tool to curtail irresponsible acts that have caused the haze which has plagued both Indonesians and others in the region for decades, Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) said on Wednesday (June 15).

The issue, the ministry added in a statement, was thus not one of “sovereignty or national dignity”, despite recent statements by Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Dr Siti Nurbaya Bakar that Singapore could not “tread on the realm of law that was under Indonesia”, and that the Republic’s actions showed that it “did not respect Indonesia”.

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla also entered the fray, warning earlier this week that the country would not allow Singapore to prosecute its citizens suspected of causing forest fires that led to the haze which blanketed the region last year. 

His comments were in response to Singapore issuing a court warrant against an unnamed Indonesian company director after he failed to turn up for an interview over ongoing investigations into firms linked to last year’s haze, despite being served a legal notice.

On Wednesday, the MEWR said Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) is aimed at deterring and prosecuting entities that are responsible for transboundary haze pollution in Singapore, whether Singaporean or foreign. The act, it said, “adds to the collective efforts to hold errant companies accountable for their irresponsible actions”.  

“Indonesia should welcome this additional tool to curtail irresponsible activities that have affected the health, social and economic well-being of Indonesians and people in the region,” said the MEWR. 

“If anything, the companies will hide behind any opacity if they can, to avoid being held accountable, and further perpetuate the haze problem that has plagued the region for decades.”

Adding that the THPA was drafted with advice from experts in international law, and complies with international law, Mewr said it is not directed at any individual or company based on nationality. 

“This is, therefore, not an issue of sovereignty or national dignity.”

Stressing that Singapore respects Indonesian sovereignty, the MEWR said: “It is for this very reason that Singapore has repeatedly asked for the information on companies suspected of illegal burning in Indonesia from the relevant Indonesian authorities. We have yet to receive any information.” 

“Singapore has always upheld its bilateral relations with Indonesia. That is why Singapore companies continue to be encouraged to invest in Indonesia, and vice versa, and bilateral tourism thrives,” the ministry said, adding that it remains committed to working with its Indonesian counterparts “in the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect”.

The ministry also reiterated that the key driver of the recurring transboundary haze is commercial, and as such, its actions are directed at irresponsible companies that clear land by burning. 

“Such blatant disregard of the environmental and social consequences affecting millions of people in our region should not go unchecked, and calls for collective efforts by governments and all stakeholders,” it said.

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