Q & A: No hard line where everything comes to a stop

SINGAPORE - With haze levels here continuing to hit record highs, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong convened a press conference at the Istana to answer queries on how the Government intends to deal with the situation.

Some key issues raised and the responses:

What is the PSI threshold before stop-work orders are issued or schools are closed?

The decision to issue a stop-work order will depend on more than just a single number, said PM Lee.

"I don't think there is any single point where we turn action on or action off on stop-work because it will depend on what people are doing, what their exposure is, what our assessment of the situation is in the past 24 hours and the outlook..."

He said that the Government would likely take a gradually escalating series of steps as the haze worsens, but there is no "hard line where we say everything comes to a stop".

Similarly, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that the Government will carefully consider when to close schools.

"We will assess on an ongoing basis when there is risk to the public at large before we make those decisions," he said.

What can Singapore do to compel the Indonesian government or companies involved to deal with the fires causing the haze?

Singapore will continue to engage the Indonesian government, said PM Lee as he noted that there was no mechanism for one sovereign country to cause another country to do something.

"You can influence, you can encourage, you can persuade, you can request but finally it's within each country's authority and responsibility to deal with the problems within their own country," he said.

He noted that while countries have certain obligations like the Rio de Janeiro Declaration which states that countries have a responsibility to ensure activities within their jurisdiction do not cause environmental damage to other states, it is up to each country to comply with them.

In the long term, Singapore wants to work with Indonesia on sustainable agricultural practices so that they can clear land without destructive burning. An existing partnership in south Sumatra has expired but the leaders of both sides have discussed a renewal.

PM Lee added, however, that the Government would act on any Singaporean companies found to have been responsible for the fires. He said the Government is studying what action it can take under the law.

"In principle, our view is you have to comply with Singapore laws and if you are doing something which is damaging the environment of Singapore, then we have to take it very seriously."

For PSI readings, why do we use a three-hour average instead of a one-hour average?

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that the focus should not be just on the data but also on how it is analysed, so that it can become "useful, actionable advice".

He pledged that the Government will provide all the data it has, but added: "I also want us to understand that our reactions have to be carefully and deliberately and consciously thought through."

Both he and PM Lee noted that the numbers can fluctuate greatly, which means that what someone feels may not always directly tally with the three-hour average.

Go to http://sph.straitstimes.com/the_haze_in_singapore for an edited transcript of the press conference

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