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Singapore request for haze information tricky for Indonesia

  • A formal request by Singapore to the Indonesian government for information on companies will be politically difficult for Jakarta.
  • Eyes on the Forest coalition tells Jakarta to take stronger action against companies.
  • Thai junta leader signals kingdom to become more involved at ASEAN level after haze blankets several Thai provinces.

Singapore formally requested Wednesday that the Indonesian government provide details of companies it suspects of causing haze pollution. If Indonesia complies it could forerun a wave of new Singaporean legal action under the city-state’s transboundary laws against firms operating in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

“We look forward to an early response from the Government of the Republic of Indonesia on our requests so that we can take the necessary action against those who are responsible for the haze,” Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014 enables the republic to levy a maximum $2 million fine on any company – regardless of where the company is domiciled – if a firm is judged responsible for haze in Singapore’s air space. Nationalist politicians in Indonesia are likely to oppose sending evidence of alleged corporate wrongdoing to a foreign country.

Data by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), an NGO, published by Mongabay this week show the extent of the allegations against big business involvement in agricultural fires. The list includes major firms such as Asia Pulp & Paper, Cargill, First Resources, Sime Darby and Wilmar.

University of Indonesia professor of law Hikmahanto Juwana told Mongabay a combination of legal impasses and political sensitivity would likely preclude Indonesian authorities from providing Singapore with detailed information.

“I don’t think the Indonesian authorities will disclose information if the company against which legal action would be taken is not the one that started the fire,” he said.

A coalition of three of Indonesia’s most influential environmental pressure groups said Jakarta had yet to take sufficiently strong action.

“Our call is clear to the Indonesian government and Singaporean government to take stern measure to all culprits of setting fires as regulated by existing laws and regulation to halt this repeating catastrophe,” said Nursamsu from the Eyes on the Forest environmental coalition.

Elsewhere, the leader of Thailand’s military government instructed the country’s foreign ministry to boost efforts to engage with neighboring countries on the issue after haze affected 14 Thai provinces on Tuesday, the Bangkok Post reported. 

Writing in today’s Singapore Straits Times, the head of Greenpeace’s Indonesia forest campaign says President Joko Widodo is making a “disastrous mistake” by ordering peatland canals dug in an attempt to flood subterranean fires.

“The canals will not supply enough water to douse the widespread fires, and will only contribute to drying out peatlands further over the long run,” Bustar Maitar writes.

Air quality in Singapore and Malaysia improved by Wednesday afternoon after rainfall partly dispersed haze, but hazardous conditions continued to cause illnesses in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Indonesian news network BeritaSatu reported the local government in Jambi is under pressure over its decision not to waive healthcare costs for the 60,000 people suffering from respiratory disease. The network reported Jambi Mayor Syarif Fasha had instructed the city’s healthcare centers to remain open 24 hours to treat those with respiratory illnesses caused by the haze.

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