Law passed to fight haze

Law passed to fight haze
A jogger runs along the sky bridge amidst a hazy skyline of Singapore at Pinnacle @Duxton at 6pm on 17 June 2013.

SINGAPORE - A new law which targets firms responsible for haze pollution in Singapore will be ground-breaking, but must not overreach, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, in response to calls for heavier penalties and for the Bill to have a wider scope.

Addressing concerns raised in Parliament on Aug 5 that the maximum fine of $2 million may not be harsh enough, Dr Balakrishnan said it would be a start and that the law would be reviewed to assess whether the amount would be "sufficient deterrence".

"This is new legislation. We don't know yet how this will work in practice. We want to be very careful that we don't overreach or have unrealistic penalties," he added.

Under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill, which was passed in Parliament on Aug 5, firms here or abroad can be fined up to $100,000 for each day of haze, up to a cap of $2 million. It may take effect in October or November, reports said.

The penalties have been raised from a previous cap of $300,000, spelt out in a draft Bill earlier this year.

Members of Parliament (MPs) said during the debate on the Bill that $2 million may be a slap on the wrist for large corporations responsible for the slash-and-burn practices.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that, besides criminal liabilities, civil suits may be brought against the errant entities. "And there is no limit to the civil liability except what the court decides to award," he said.

During the debate, MPs raised a number of concerns, including whether consumers can play a part and if the Bill should cast a wider net.

Nominated MP Faizah Jamal called on the Government to take the lead in identifying the source of palm-oil products and to deny support to companies with poor harvesting practices.

Dr Balakrishnan replied that the challenge in doing this lies in the sheer number of products which have palm oil as an ingredient, which make up more than half of supermarket products.

"So the point is we shouldn't go on this wild goose chase of saying, 'I'm going to exclude and eliminate all palm oil from our consumer consumption'," he said.

While he noted the merits of pressuring companies to ensure that their supply chains are legitimate and derived from sustainable sources, Dr Balakrishnan said it should be done by consumer groups or non-governmental groups, rather than from a top-down approach.

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