Asean leaders must show the will to tackle haze

Asean leaders must show the will to tackle haze
Poor visibility in Klang Valley, Malaysia.

SINGAPORE - A thick haze has descended over the debate about just how to tackle the acrid smoke heading our way from Sumatra. It casts a pall on the readiness of Asean countries to come together to tackle pressing environmental challenges.

With almost childlike innocence, Indonesian minister Agung Laksono has chided Singaporeans for "behaving like a child, making all this noise" about the choking haze.

To add fuel to fire, he suggested that Singaporeans should instead be thankful to Indonesia for the clean air they enjoyed most of the time. Rather than make a fuss over the haze, they should offer dollops of cash to clean up the pollution, he suggested.

Other Indonesian officials have been quick to finger Malaysian and Singapore companies with plantations in Sumatra for being responsible for the haze. These companies are being investigated, they say, including two with some links to Singapore firms.

These are Jakarta-based Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology and Asia Pacific Resources International, which are said to have plantations within the area where the hot spots are to be found.

It is good that some of the companies which are allegedly responsible have been identified.

But let's clear the air on one thing: It does not matter who owns these firms, or what nationality they are. If indeed they are responsible for illegal burning at plantations on Indonesian territory, then Jakarta would have every right - and responsibility - to take action against them for the environmental damage they have caused.

Singaporeans and Malaysians, and just about everyone else on the planet, would cheer such action.

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