Indonesia's President-elect Joko Widodo has vowed tough law enforcement to fix the recurring haze problem, making it clear that the local authorities know who the culprits are.
In plainly worded statements suggesting he means business, Mr Joko told The Straits Times that it was a question of political will and that he would use his power to give necessary instructions to the relevant authorities.
"For me, it's not a complicated problem, it's only a matter of managing the people and how we communicate with them. The haze is caused both by the people and also the companies. If we have good, tough law enforcement, then it can be resolved," he said, gesturing to indicate that the problem would be swept away.
Smoke from Indonesian forest fires, sometimes causing pollution in Singapore to reach unhealthy levels, has been one of the more frustrating aspects of relations between the city state and its giant neighbour. Mr Joko gave his views on this and other bilateral issues in an interview at his Jakarta Governor's office on Tuesday, eight weeks before he is due to take over as Indonesia's seventh president.
He comes with a reputation of solving issues on the ground, after successful tenures as mayor of the city of Solo and governor of the capital city. He promised to bring this to bear on the haze problem. Those guilty of illegal burning will be stopped, he said. "Our local governments, also our provincial governments, they know where they are," he said repeatedly.
Acknowledging the importance of the issue, he noted that the haze had been recurring every year, not infrequently. It was a question of the "political will to act or not", he added.
Asked how different his approach would be from his predecessors', Mr Joko declined to comment on the progress made so far, but said: "When we have the power, we must use the power to solve the problem, not only haze but also other problems. I'm sure that the governor or the Bupati, they know where the problem comes from, for example, whether it's this district or that district. They know. I'm sure they know."
Bupati, or regents, are district- level leaders, the equivalent of elected mayors in cities. Democratic Indonesia has a highly decentralised system of authority, but it is not a federal system - Jakarta still wields great power, and Mr Joko appears ready to demand greater accountability. "When we go to the ground, we need to give instructions to both the governors and the Bupati," he said.
This month, Singapore's Parliament passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill to go after companies fingered for causing haze pollution.
Mr Joko, 53, won the July election with 53.15 per cent of votes, over his sole rival. The Constitutional Court yesterday rejected a challenge by his defeated opponent Prabowo Subianto. Observers have lauded Mr Joko's refreshing approach, though many are doubtful that he can root out Indonesia's deeply entrenched corruption.
During the wide-ranging interview, he said he was looking forward to meeting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, whom he revealed was the first foreign leader to congratulate him upon his victory. Mr Joko was a regular visitor to Singapore in his days running a furniture business. He sent two of his children to study here, one of whom is now at Anglo-Chinese School (International).
On how bilateral ties might be further strengthened, he said that Indonesia would welcome more investment from Singapore to boost the vast archipelago's connectivity through urban rail networks, seaports and airports.
Expressing confidence of deepening ties, he said: "We have, more or less, the same culture... we have a long story of cooperation and relations with Singapore, it's easier to talk with Singapore compared to the other countries outside ASEAN."
This article was first published on August 22, 2014.
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