Strengthen reach of environmental laws to fight haze

Strengthen reach of environmental laws to fight haze

SINGAPORE - The legal issues shrouding the annual haze problem we are facing in Singapore are complex, but more can certainly be done on the Singapore side.

On the one hand, there are tricky international law issues between Singapore and Indonesia - independent sovereign states with distinct legal regimes - set against a backdrop of multi-layered sociopolitical forces which animate the Asean regional grouping.

On the other hand, the essence of the dispute lies in the irresponsible actions of one group of people in one country causing harm to a much larger group of people in a neighbouring territory. Open burning causes air pollution which is harmful to the environment and public health.

In Singapore, a clear statutory prohibition against the open burning of refuse or waste can be found in Section 6A of the Environmental Public Health (Public Cleansing) Regulations.

Other criminal and civil sanctions may also be levied against the parties responsible for such air pollution where the air pollution generated causes personal injury, property damage or a nuisance to others.

A similar spectrum of Indonesian legal remedies may be triggered where both the polluter and the injured party are located within Indonesia.

If both countries have environmental laws which can be invoked to punish those who engage in open-burning activities, why is the problem intractable once the air pollution crosses national boundaries and inflicts harm upon victims in another territory?

The immediate obstacle is whether the legal system of the country whose residents bear the brunt of the ill effects of the pollution can be used against the perpetrators. In other words, whether the Singapore courts and other organs of state have jurisdiction over those who engage in harmful activities outside of Singapore.

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