Stop-work order if severe haze continues

Stop-work order if severe haze continues

THE government may issue a stop work order if the haze situation continues at hazardous levels.

The problem in Singapore officially reached crisis levels as the air pollution index entered "hazardous" territory yesterday - hitting a historical high of 321 on Wednesday night.

Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said at a hastily convened press conference on Wednesday that the Manpower Ministry may even issue a stop-work order depending on the severity of the situation.

And in a development that could have implications for companies with investments in Indonesia, Singapore is planning to publish satellite pictures to link specific hotspots to firms.

Dr Balakrishnan also revealed that the government has set up a haze task force comprising 23 agencies to deal with the haze and draw up contingency plans. He also said that schools here may close if the haze persists.

Singapore, he added, has urged Indonesia to take immediate action. The National Environment Agency will be sending a delegation to Indonesia later today to meet officials there.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) soared to an astonishing 321 at 10pm last night - almost a hundred points higher than the previous record of 226 set back in 1997 - before dipping to 218 at midnight. Air becomes "hazardous" when the index passes 300.

"We are now at a state where nobody should pollute and make money at others' expense," said Dr Balakrishnan as he warned that the PSI levels would probably remain beyond 200 for the rest of today.

The haze forced many organisations to take swift action to protect its people.

The Singapore Armed Forces has stopped all outfield training until further notice, while NTUC FairPrice has issued face masks to its staff at petrol stations.

Singapore Environment Council chief Jose Raymond revealed that he would be sending a petition on behalf of Singaporeans to the Indonesian Embassy as soon as possible to "register our displeasure and unhappiness over the irresponsible behaviour" of businesses that are contributing to this haze. "We urge all our friends, supporters and members of the public to support us as we try and push the Indonesian government to act, on behalf of our people."

In a separate interview with BBC News yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singaporeans are "very frustrated, angry and distressed" about the haze. Earlier this week, both he and Foreign Minister K Shanmugam urged Jakarta to name the errant firms responsible for the haze.

Dr Balakrishnan added that Singapore companies with investments in Indonesia would also be punished if they were found guilty.

"I have spoken to my colleagues in Indonesia and I told them (that) if they have evidence to name the specific companies, I will take action against them."

The haze crisis is beyond Singapore's control and there are limits to what the government can do about the problem, said Mr Shanmugam. He was responding to criticism from the public that the government was not doing enough about the haze.

Indonesia, meanwhile, took the first steps to mitigate the problem following pressure from Singapore and Malaysia this week.

Yesterday, a Forestry Ministry official said the government planned to use "cloud seeding" that would unleash torrents of rain and hopefully extinguish the fires. Helicopters would be used to inject chemicals into clouds, which prompt the formation of heavy ice crystals, and speed up the production of rain as a result.

The Singapore government has offered technical assistance to Indonesia, expressed its "deep distress" at what is happening and has also raised the issue internationally.

"Despite these efforts, the haze problem recurs, nevertheless," said Mr Shanmugam as he urged critics to offer their own suggestions rather than take advantage of the occasion to attack the government and the PAP.


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