Shanmugam: "Only so much" Singapore can do to help fight haze

Shanmugam: "Only so much" Singapore can do to help fight haze
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - There is "only so much" Singapore can do to prevent the haze from recurring, Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam said on Sunday.

In a Facebook post, Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that Singaporeans' frustrations with the yearly recurrence of the haze was amplified because it was a problem that could be prevented.

"The frustration of our people is all the greater because the haze can be prevented. The majority of the fires are man-made, by companies seeking to profit while people pay the costs."

Mr Shanmugam highlighted that Singapore had taken various efforts to combat the haze: "We have offered assistance to help fight the fires (including this year, but our offer has yet to be accepted). We passed a bill in August 2014 that would allow us to prosecute errant companies found to be causing or contributing to the haze. We have asked Indonesia to give us the names of the companies so that we can consider if we can take action against them."

However, he said that Singapore's ability to stop the fires was limited as they are occurring in another country.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that Indonesia also had a responsibility to take legal and enforcement action against errant companies which violated Indonesia's own laws.

He described as "positive steps" the Indonesian government's actions to declare a state of emergency, deploy troops and assets to deal with the haze, and prosecute companies.

In his post, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, pointed out that the pollution affected not only Singaporeans, but also Indonesians closest to the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan who were the worst affected.

He said that the haze was not only a health hazard which especially affected the young, the elderly and those with chronic lung and heart conditions, but also affected regional economies.

"The 1997 haze cost Southeast Asia an estimated US$9 billion (S$12.6 billion). The potential loss to Riau's economy this year has been estimated at around eight per cent of the province's GDP - some Rp20 trillion (S$1.8 billion)."

Mr Shanmugam revealed that he had expressed "deep concern" while speaking with Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi on Friday, while emphasising that a longer-term solution was necessary.

He said that there had been no concrete progress thus far despite Singapore's efforts to raise the issue at ASEAN, the United Nations and other fora and suggest ways for regional countries to co-operate.

He concluded that "a lasting solution is needed. Our people expect that. And understandly so".

The haze this year has blanketed parts of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

Indonesia has been sending conflicting signals on Singapore's offer to aid in dealing with the haze. Earlier, Channel NewsAsia reported that Indonesia's Vice President Jusuf Kalla had invited Singapore to help, only for Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar to decline Singapore's offer.

In Singapore, the air quality has been in the "unhealthy" range for most of the week leading up to Sunday, Sep 20, when the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix is scheduled to take place.

Race organisers had previously released a statement clarifying that the racing and entertainment programmes from Sep 18-20 would not be altered despite the hazy weather, and the practice sessions and concerts on Friday and Saturday proceeded smoothly.

On Sunday, however, the air quality had improved and fallen back into the "moderate" range, according to the National Environment Agency.

For more haze updates from AsiaOne, click here:

seanyap@sph.com.sg

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