Singapore Aims to Prosecute Indonesian Polluters Under Haze Law

David Roman Bloomberg 10 Jun 16;

* Environment minister says Singapore can fine Indonesian firms
* Singapore ‘standing on high moral ground,’ minister says

Singapore is prepared to prosecute any Indonesian companies found responsible for the fires that produced hazardous ash clouds last year, a minister said, standing his ground even as recent efforts to take firms to account drew ire from the country’s largest Southeast Asian neighbor.

Under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act of 2014, Singapore has ordered six suppliers of Indonesia’s Asia Pulp and Paper Group to provide information on steps they are taking to prevent fires on their land, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said in an interview on June 7. APP, one of the world’s largest paper producers, didn’t reply to e-mailed requests for comment, while its parent company didn’t reply to calls for comment.

“We are standing on high moral ground," said Masagos. "We have the support of the international community. We are not doing anything criminal nor wrong. We are just asking for the companies and the directors to own up and be accountable for what they’ve done.”

The six companies have been told that Singapore has the right to bring their directors to court, and firms involved in haze-producing fires face fines of up to S$100,000 ($74,000) a day for every day of fire, the minister said.

Singapore, often among the worst hit by haze from forest fires that periodically envelope swathes of Southeast Asia for weeks at a time, enacted the 2014 law to address the pollution as Indonesia struggles to prevent the flares. Caused mainly by palm oil planters and pulp and paper companies using fire to clear peat swamp land in South Sumatra and Kalimantan, the haze has become a public health issue in Singapore, pushing the city-state’s Pollutant Standards Index to dangerously high levels at times.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, backed Singapore’s plans to wield heftier fines against overseas polluters as long as sovereignty is respected, before he took office in 2014. Last year, severe haze from fires in Indonesia caused Singapore’s three-hour index to peak at 316, near the 321 level reached in 2013.
The pollution forced Singapore to shut down schools and cost the economy an estimated S$700 million in 2015, Masagos said in March. Besides prompting school closures and disrupting sea and air travel in the region, the smog also forced some in Indonesia to flee their homes and cost Southeast Asia’s biggest economy $16.1 billion of losses, according to World Bank estimates.

Giving Opacity

Masagos, 53, a former minister of state at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said he doesn’t believe that pressuring Indonesian companies to comply with Singapore laws will hinder bilateral relations with Indonesia.

“We do respect Indonesia’s sovereignty, even their right not to divulge the information we have asked for," he said. “However, by doing that they give opacity, they give cover to these companies and indirectly encourage such acts to continue, and in the end their own industry can be affected.”

Last month, Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told an environmental news website that some joint collaborations with Singapore on forestry and haze issues could be terminated after a review. She made the comments days after Singapore issued a court warrant to detain an Indonesian company director who failed to appear for an interview with authorities in Singapore.

Singapore this week said it is offering assistance including aircraft to Indonesia to support its fire mitigation efforts, as it has every year since 2005.

Backlash Risk

Singapore is currently focused on its own legal approach, though if that doesn’t work, the city state can look at international avenues, said Masagos when asked about other options. Malaysia is considering a similar law to Singapore’s on haze, he said.

According to the Washington-based World Resources Institute -- which has worked with Google Inc. and forestry agencies in Indonesia to use satellite imaging to pinpoint and respond to wildfires -- at the peak last year Indonesia’s daily emissions of pollutants were the same as the U.S. because of the haze and the fires.

Kotaro Tamura, an adjunct professor at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said that Singapore may find it hard to prosecute Indonesian companies and risks a backlash from its neighbor. In the end, both countries may find it easier to opt for arbitration by a third party such as the United Nations, or the International Court of Justice, he said.

“It’s tricky, the bilateral approach," Tamura said. "I think he is just showing a strong intention, by going public,” he said, referring to the Singapore minister.

Indonesia rebuffs Singapore offer of haze assistance
Today Online 10 Jun 16;

JAKARTA — Responding to Singapore’s offer to help Indonesia combat forest fires, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said on Thursday (June 9) environmental issues needed to be dealt with through a regional agreement, not a bilateral one, according to a report by the Jakarta Globe.

“If the air is clean, all people in Asia — and Singapore — will be able to ­enjoy it. Therefore, if (the environment) is destroyed, we have to fix it ­together,” said Mr Kalla at the opening of the 20th Environmental and Forestry Week in Jakarta.

Jakarta has rejected previous ­bilateral offers since 2005, insisting all Asian countries — including Singapore — were responsible for environmental damage.

Mr Kalla noted that the Indonesian government accepted some offers of help for last year’s severe forest and peat land fires, including helicopters from Singapore.

A team comprising 40 Singapore Armed Forces and Singapore Civil Defence Force officers spent more than 10 days battling forest fires in Palembang in October. Malaysia and Japan also rendered assistance.

In 2005, Indonesia had accepted Singapore’s offer of providing high-resolution satellite pictures, one C-130 aircraft for cloud-seeding operations and a contingent of fire fighters.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya said her country could accept help only in ­accordance with regional agreements in South-east Asia.

“There is no bilateral (arrangement) for work or help to mitigate forest fires,” said Ms Nurbaya. “It is through the Asean (Association of South-east Asian Nations) agreement,” she said, referring to the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution signed in 2002. “Therefore, it is not true that a special bilateral partnership has been established.”

According to the agreement’s protocol, assistance can be provided only if a country has requested it in an emergency situation.

Malaysia has mooted the idea of a bilateral mechanism with Indonesia to tackle the yearly phenomenon.

Last year’s forest fires in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua, which lasted three months, created severe haze throughout the region. It was the worst-ever haze episode in the region, affecting tens of millions of people and costing Indonesia an estimated US$16 billion (S$22.1 billion) and Singapore about S$700 million.

Ahead of the annual dry season in Indonesia, Singapore this week ­renewed its offer to help combat forest fires with an assistance package that includes C-130 planes, firefighters and high-resolution satellite imagery.

“Every year since 2005, Singapore has offered assistance packages to support Indonesia in its fire mitigation efforts,” said the Ministry of the ­Environment and Water Resources in a statement on Tuesday.

“This is part of the Singapore Government’s broader commitment to assist the ­Indonesian government in its efforts to deal with the land and forest fires in the run-up to the traditional dry season from June to October.”

The statement added that “the Singapore Government remains committed to working with the Indonesian government and other like-minded partners to find more permanent solutions to this regional problem”.

However, media ­reports last month said Indonesia would scrap some ongoing and upcoming collaboration projects with Singapore on ­environment, forestry and haze-related issues as part of a unilateral review on bilateral cooperation that Jakarta was conducting.

Ms Nurbaya claimed on Thursday she was not aware of the offer from Singapore. “I haven’t read the (offer) letter. I will check,” she said. AGENCIES

Kalla Seeks Regional, Not Bilateral, Solution to Forest Fires
Novi Setuningsih & Eko Prasetyo Jakarta Globe 9 Jun 16;

Jakarta. Vice President Jusuf Kalla has responded to Singapore's offer to assist Indonesia in mitigating forest and land fires by saying environmental issues needed to be dealt with through a regional agreement, not a bilateral one.

"If the air is clean, all people in Asia – and Singapore – will be able to enjoy it. Therefore, if [the environment] is destroyed, we have to fix it together," Kalla said at the opening of the 20th Environmental and Forestry Week in Jakarta on Thursday (09/06).

The government has rejected previous bilateral offers since 2005, saying all Asian countries – including Singapore – were responsible for any environmental damage.

Kalla said Indonesia had accepted some offers of assistance for last year's severe forest and peat land fire, including helicopters from Singapore.

Meanwhile, Environmental Minister Siti Nurbaya said any offer of assistance had its own mechanisms. The minister said Indonesia could only accept help that was in accordance with regional agreements in Southeast Asia.

"There is no bilateral [partnership] for work or help to mitigate forest fires," Siti said.

"It is through the Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] agreement.

"Therefore, it is not true that a special bilateral partnership has been established."

According to the agreement's protocol, assistance can only be provided if a country has requested it in an emergency situation.

Siti said she was not aware of the offer from Singapore.

"I haven't read the [offering] letter. I will check," she said.

Last year's forest fires on Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua, which lasted three months, created severe haze that affected several neighboring countries.

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