Tuesday, June 25, 2013

'Bring the culprits to book' those responsible for haze in Indonesia

An Indonesian villager standing on an oil well as fire burns an oil palm plantation in the haze-hit Bangko Pusako district in Rokan Hilir, Riau province

Indonesia told to enforce laws on Malaysian firms based there if they are found guilty of open burning

PUTRAJAYA: THE ongoing haze has prompted Malaysia and Singapore to push for the 15th sub-regional ministerial steering committee meeting on transboundary haze pollution to be brought forward from Aug 20 to next week.

The Malaysian government has also called on Indonesia to enforce laws on Malaysian companies based there if they were found guilty of open burning.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said Malaysia could not penalise the companies as the offence was committed in another country.

However, he said the government supported Indonesia's move to investigate and prosecute them.

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Palanivel said he would also meet with officials of the Malaysian companies involved to get a better understanding of the situation from them, following Balthasar's comments that eight Malaysian companies were being probed for open burning in Riau and Jambi.

On the possibility of declaring a state of emergency in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur because of the worsening haze situation, he said the government was closely monitoring the situation but there was no immediate need to do so.

"The latest reading is that the haze is at an unhealthy level. However, there is no need for an emergency just yet."

On the push for an earlier meeting among the steering committee members, Palanivel said Malaysia and Singapore wanted to bring forward the meeting, originally scheduled for Aug 20 and 21, to be held next week.

"We are still waiting for response from three other member countries, namely Indonesia, Brunei and Thailand."

Malaysia, he added, had proposed to host the meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

At the last meeting in Bali on Oct 31 last year, those attended had agreed on several matters, including the need for greater transparency to make plantation companies and land owners responsible for the haze, more accountability, and employing best management practices in land clearing activities as well as to undertake concerted effort in fire suppression.

They also agreed that member states should undertake more deterrent and effective enforcement measures against offenders and agreed to the proposal for the formation of a Technical Task Force to develop a fire monitoring platform at the ministerial steering committee level.

The ministers also provided guidance on the implementation of the Strategic Review of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) Programmes and Activities, which covers enhancing haze control management through early warning/monitoring, fire prevention and fire suppression, including refinement of the Fire Danger Rating System; enhancing bilateral collaboration and replication of bilateral projects, where appropriate; conducting training courses offered by member states under the Regional Haze Training Network.

Among the preventive and preparedness measures undertaken by Indonesia are campaign of zero burning technique and a budget of up to IDR127 billion (RM41.2 million) had also been proposed by the Ministry of Forestry of Indonesia to be allocated for addressing land and forest fire issue at all levels.

After the Asean region was hit by haze in 1997, the Regional Haze Action Plan, aimed to prevent land and forest fires through better management of policies and enforcement, was implemented.

On June 10 2002, several Asean member states signed the Asean Ageement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. However, only Indonesia, among the Asean countries, has not ratified the agreement.

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