Bill to tackle haze passed

Bill to tackle haze passed
Marina Bayfront is shrouded in haze, as seen from the Singapore Flyer, as the PSI surpasses the healthy threshold of 100 on June 17, 2013.

A Bill to impose fines of up to $2 million on companies that cause or contribute to transboundary haze pollution in Singapore was passed by Parliament yesterday.

The penalties and the practicality of enforcing a Singapore law on firms overseas were raised in the debate before the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act was passed.

Members who spoke on the Bill over two days felt the penalties, which are up to $100,000 per day of unhealthy haze, going up to $2 million, were too low compared with the size of the profits of some of the firms that may cause the haze.

In response, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan pointed out that this was new legislation and he said it would be reviewed.

"We want to be very careful that we don't overreach or have unrealistic penalties. So we'll start now at this level," The Straits Times quoted him as saying.

The Government would assess whether the Act has sufficient deterrence after it comes into effect.

It also allows those responsible for haze to be sued, with no set limit on the amount of damages that the court may award.

MPs asked how the law would be enforced, especially if companies are based overseas.

Representatives of the firms responsible for the haze can be served notices when they are in Singapore, the minister said, and the National Environment Agency would work closely with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to do so. And the Public Prosecutor can apply for a court order to require them to remain in Singapore to assist in investigations.

But the new law is not a "silver bullet", he said, adding that consumer interest groups and non-governmental organisations can help by tracking agricultural supply chains and monitoring the fire situation on the ground.

The Bill was passed unanimously.

This article was first published on August 06, 2014.
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