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Singapore takes Indonesian companies to task over haze role

SINGAPORE — Wielding the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act for the first time since it was passed last year, Singapore has served “preventive measure notices” on four Indonesian companies deemed responsible for the latest bout of haze, which hit hazardous levels yesterday and forced schools islandwide to shut down.

The haze situation at Orchard Road today (Sept 25). Photo: Ernest Chua

The haze situation at Orchard Road today (Sept 25). Photo: Ernest Chua

SINGAPORE — Wielding the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act for the first time since it was passed last year, Singapore has served “preventive measure notices” on four Indonesian companies deemed responsible for the latest bout of haze, which hit hazardous levels today (Sept 25) and forced schools islandwide to shut down. 

The notices require the firms to deploy fire-fighting personnel to extinguish or prevent the spread of any fire on land owned or occupied by them, and discontinue any burning activities on such land, among other things. 

Today, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading peaked at 322 at 8am while the three-hour PSI reading hit a high of 341 at 5am. The air quality improved in the late morning to midday, before the three-hour PSI crept up again to 168 at 8pm.  The 24-hour PSI is expected to remain in the “very unhealthy” range (201-300) today and may gradually fall to the high end of the “unhealthy” range (101-200). 

The errant firms were identified today as PT Rimba Hutani Mas, PT Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, PT Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa and PT Wachyuni Mandira. Based on the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) investigations so far, they hold concessions to the lands where the fires may have originated and contributed to the haze here. 

The NEA has also served notice on a fifth Indonesian company Asia Pulp & Paper Company - which has an office here - to provide information on its subsidiaries here and in Indonesia, as well as the measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions. 

The Government is also examining ways to apply more economic pressure against errant companies, and reviewing its procurement practices to see how it can weed these companies, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan in a media briefing yesterday. 

For example, the Government will look into how it can support companies which are recognised by their industry or by international bodies to have instituted sustainable practices. “As far as possible, this would take into account the practices of their suppliers further down the supply chain to ensure that they meet social and environmental standards,” the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) said. 

Dr Balakrishnan described the haze as a “serious man-made recurring problem” that has “gone on for far too long”. “This cannot be tolerated,” he said.

Adding that the Government has been in constant contact with its Indonesian counterparts, Dr Balakrishnan said the NEA has been gathering information through the close monitoring of hotspots and smoke plumes from fires in the region, drawing on information from sources such as maps, meteorological data and satellite imagery.

Under the Act, haze pollution is stipulated as occasions where the 24-hour PSI remain above 100 for at least 24 hours. Since Sept 10, there have been four such episodes. The first breach of the Act on Sept 10 lasted 41 hours, and the second on Sept 12 lasted 109 hours, The third on Sept 19 went on for 33 hours. The latest breach began on Tuesday, and is still ongoing - having lasted for more than 72 hours so far. 

Dr Balakrishnan said the NEA had sent Indonesia the coordinates of the hotspots that were detected over Sumatra, and requested that the Indonesian authorities analyse the coordinates and share the names of the companies that hold concessions in these areas.

Responding to sceptism towards the Act’s effectiveness, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore is “certainly in a better position now than in the past where we didn’t have any levers at all”. He reiterated that for companies that are causing haze in Singapore, they “now have to be very careful” if they have any dealings or presence here. “I will not say this is a panacea... but there must be no doubt in the minds of the owners and the key executives of these companies that greater transparency and liability if going to be attached to actions of errant companies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has again claimed that Indonesia need not apologise to neighbouring countries over the transboundary haze problem. He was quoted as saying on Indonesian news site kompas.com during a dialogue session with Indonesians in New York at the Indonesian Consulate-General yesterday: “Look at how long they have enjoyed fresh air from our green environment and forests when there were no fires. Could be months. Are they grateful? But when forest fires occur, a month at the most, haze pollutes their regions. So why should there be an apology?”

Yesterday, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam had sharp words for the Indonesian authorities in a Facebook post, describing the comments made by some senior officials as “shocking” and “with a complete disregard for our people, and their own”.

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