- Indonesia’s disaster chief said the government is doing “the best we can” to combat fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.
- Singapore’s banking association will soon announce new lending guidelines in a bid to introduce greater environmental criteria in lending decisions.
- Malaysia will draft new laws to enable the country to prosecute foreign companies responsible for haze.
Haze pollution continued to cover much of Southeast Asia on Tuesday as Malaysia said it would draft new laws and Indonesian officials maintained the archipelago was doing all it could to tackle the crisis.
Malaysia’s environment minister pledged to draw up transboundary haze laws as soon as possible while Singapore’s banking association prepared to unveil new environmental lending guidelines as soon as Thursday. As easterly winds blew haze westwards over the South China Sea Tuesday, Indonesia’s disaster agency chief said he was unable to set a deadline for extinguishing fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.
Air quality in Malaysia and Singapore had moderated early Monday after a significant deterioration over the weekend. But by Tuesday afternoon easterly winds had brought haze from Kalimantan over the South China Sea to Malaysia and Singapore, sending the PSI in the Lion City to an “unhealthy” 136-173 range. Thailand’s Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department said the haze was affecting seven provinces on Tuesday afternoon and that more residents were checking into local hospitals with respiratory complaints, the Bangkok Post reported.
Malaysia’s environment minister, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, said the government would draft new haze laws to bring the country’s legal powers in line with Singapore.
“If we have jurisdiction through laws being drafted we can take action against all parties whether they are from Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore,” Wan Junaidi told reporters.
The plan under discussion is to update Malaysia’s 1974 Environmental Quality Act with legislation modeled on Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014. The latter act enables Singapore to levy a maximum $2 million fine on any entity that “engages in conduct (whether in or outside Singapore) which causes or contributes to any haze pollution in Singapore.”
Singapore has used the legislation to take legal action against five Indonesian companies – Asia Pulp & Paper, Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa, Rimba Hutani Mas, Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries and Wachyuni Mandira.
Wan Junaidi said Malaysia’s haze task force would be meeting again this week to decide on additional measures, likely to include greater distribution of face masks. The minister was also forced to deny that Malaysia was using chemicals harmful to humans in cloud-seeding flights, a method used to artificially induce rain.
While Malaysia looked to add to its statute book, a Singaporean banking body said it was drafting guidelines on responsible lending, to be announced on Thursday. The 158-member Association of Banks in Singapore includes most foreign lenders as well as the city-state’s three largest banks.
Bloomberg View columnist Nisid Harjari wrote on Tuesday that many companies have begun to self-regulate as a consequence of past laws and regulations, but other firms “face no penalties for failing to scrutinize how their suppliers conduct business, or how the land they buy was cleared.”
In Jakarta on Tuesday, under-pressure Indonesian government officials said they remained committed to tackling the fires.
Willem Rampangilei, who was made head of Indonesia’s disaster agency in September, said it was impossible to set a deadline for extinguishing fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.
“It is understandable if other countries are upset, but we Indonesians are more upset,” he told reporters in Jakarta on Tuesday.
Indonesia’s environment minister Siti Nurbaya, meanwhile, said the ministry was looking to drop a fire retardant on hotspots burning 3-5 meters beneath the surface of burning peatlands.