Transboundary haze Bill 'not shrouded in secrecy'

Transboundary haze Bill 'not shrouded in secrecy'
This file photo taken in June 2013 shows the Marina Barrage with a barely visible Singapore Flyer standing in the thick haze.

SINGAPORE'S proposed transboundary haze law is not an attempt to interfere with other countries, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

The Republic has been transparent and answered its neighbours' questions about the Bill, he said at the inaugural Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources.

Responding to a question on whether the Bill went beyond ASEAN's principle of non-interference, Dr Balakrishnan said: "The Bill has not been hatched in secret, and there are no surprises.

"We've done it in an open manner because I know that, ultimately, we need to work together if it is going to have any effect."

The minister also gave the keynote address on Singapore's vision on sustainability and the haze.

Under the proposed law, companies and other entities that have fires on their land leading to transboundary haze in Singapore will be deemed to have committed an offence.

The law will also allow those affected by haze to bring civil suits against such companies. For instance, a construction firm that has to stop work could theoretically sue for damages.

The Bill is expected be tabled in Parliament later this year.

A sticking point in ASEAN discussions about the haze has been some governments' reluctance to share concession maps, needed to show firms burning land illegally.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan said there are reliable maps compiled by non-government groups such as the World Resources Institute (WRI).

"The question is, will the evidence reach the level demanded by the court?" he said. "Can I take a WRI map and go to court and say, this is enough to convict a company? That's something only a judge in court can answer."

The dialogue, held at the Grand Hyatt Singapore Hotel, was organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

It brought together policymakers, business leaders and non-government organisations to address the issues of climate change, and the connections between trade, the environment, investment and corporate social responsibility.

Topics during panel discussions included how to balance sustainability with the need for resources, encourage businesses to be environmentally friendly and use financing methods to boost green behaviour.

Mr Bustar Maitar, global head of non-government group Greenpeace's Indonesia Forest Campaign, said laws were not enough to prevent, say, illegal fires.

"There is a need for enforcement. Corporations should help to enforce the law and not make a profit out of the lack of enforcement," he said.

Other participants suggested that financial agreements should allow investors to exit contracts if the firms are found to have engaged in anti-environmental practices.

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