Asean haze watch system 'delayed by others'

SINGAPORE - ASEAN countries have been unable to implement the regional grouping's haze monitoring system because other parties have yet to agree to do so.

Asean's credibility is thus at stake, said Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, as he accounted for the less-than-rapid progress on arresting the annual air pollution plaguing the region.

He was taking MPs' questions on Singapore's ties with Indonesia and Malaysia, when he also commented on Malaysian media reports that Johor wished to review the price of raw water sold to Singapore.

On the haze, the minister said that the Asean Sub-Regional Haze Monitoring System, which the 10 Asean countries had agreed to last October, was "ready". But its implementation was stalled by the lack of agreement of "other parties", which he did not name.

The system uses high-resolution satellite images with land use and concession maps to pinpoint culprits which burn land illegally. It was to be implemented in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Thailand.

But Mr Shanmugam welcomed a media report on Tuesday saying that the majority of an Indonesian Parliamentary Commission supported in principle the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Indonesia is the only Asean country that has yet to ratify the decade-old regional haze treaty.

"Thus, once Indonesia agrees, the treaty can come into force," he said.

Singapore is also waiting for final approval from Jakarta before cooperation on the haze between Singapore and Indonesia's Jambi province can be resumed, he said.

Singapore had given it technical help such as setting up air and weather monitoring stations. The cooperation was "reasonably successful" until the memorandum of understanding lapsed in 2009.

Singapore has suggested to Indonesia to renew the cooperation, and officials have met several times. Jambi is also keen for the cooperation to continue.

On water prices, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore's position was "clear, consistent and unambiguous". It has been articulated several times in the House, including on Jan 25, 2003, by then Foreign Affairs Minister S. Jayakumar, and formally to the Malaysian government on several occasions, he said.

Singapore's position is there is an existing 1962 Water Agreement, which is in turn guaranteed by the Separation Agreement.

"Both agreements are international treaties which are vital to us, our sovereignty and our security. The terms of that agreement cannot be changed unilaterally," he said.

Also, under the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement, Malaysia has lost the right to review the price of water, the minister said.

He added: "What we have set out is the legal position under international law. How good is it? It is good as long as both countries observe international law."

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