Indonesia rebuffs Singapore on haze again

Tama Salim The Jakarta Post 18 Jun 16;

Indonesia has rejected a request by the Singaporean government for access to information on companies suspected of causing annual haze and has called on the city state to deal with the issue under the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP).

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry maintained that the agreement, signed in 2002 and ratified by all ASEAN countries by 2014, was the most effective tool to tackle the haze issue, which the ASEAN expected to be solved by 2020.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said the agreement provided a platform for devising collective efforts to prevent, monitor and mitigate transboundary haze, set up region-wide quick response measures and establish legal means of cooperation.

“We encourage all ASEAN members to use this mechanism to address the issue of transboundary haze in our region,” he said.

Arrmanatha added that at the national level, the Indonesian government had made progress in mitigating the haze problem, which occurs in Sumatra, Kalimantan and some other parts of the country every year.

The ministry’s spokesman was responding to Singapore’s bid to obtain information on companies suspected of illegal burning in Indonesia.

Earlier, Singapore’s Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) had issued a statement demanding prosecution of companies linked to last year’s fires, regardless of their origin.

The MEWR said the companies’ blatant disregard for the environmental and social consequences of the haze, which affected millions of people in the region, should not go unchecked.

It said actions under Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) were aimed at deterring and prosecuting entities responsible for transboundary haze pollution.

“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,” an MEWR spokesperson said.

The law allows regulators to sue individuals or companies in neighboring countries that cause severe air pollution in Singapore through agricultural slash-and-burn practices.

It was first proposed in 2013 after a huge rise in the number of forest fires in the neighboring Indonesian province of Riau caused thick smoke that blanketed Singapore in a choking haze.

Previously, Indonesia raised concerns that the THPA would disregard individuals’ rights to legal and consular assistance abroad, after procedures pursued by Singapore involving an unnamed Indonesian private executive went awry.

Last month, Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) asked a local court to issue an arrest warrant against the director of an Indonesian company who had failed to turn up for questioning with authorities in Singapore, an act that evoked a strong reaction from Jakarta.

The businessperson, who has since left the country, may be detained “for the purpose of investigations” if they try to reenter the country, an NEA spokesman said.

The NEA’s actions are part of a previous attempt to glean information on six Indonesian private firms’ environmental responsibilities with regard to their respective land concessions.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has lashed out at Singapore, saying the country could not “tread on the realm of law that was under Indonesia” and that Singapore “did not respect Indonesia”.

Separately, Indonesian Ambassador to Singapore Ngurah Swajaya said Indonesia was ready to work with Singapore to prevent future forest and peatland fires, but he also wanted the Singaporean government to acknowledge what local authorities in the country had already achieved.

Smoke from fires last year sent air pollution to record levels, resulting in at least 19 deaths from haze-related illnesses and more than half a million Indonesians suffering from respiratory diseases.

The World Bank estimates that the fires and haze caused at least US$16 billion in economic losses to Indonesia alone.

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