Stop giving excuses

SINGAPORE - You are used to the haze.

Now, get used to Indonesia's excuses.

Yesterday, our neighbour took out from its "who to blame" toolbox a tired, old excuse it used on several occasions, dusted off the cobwebs and presented it to us again.

The sheer audacity of it, just like the first time it was used, still shocks anyone who reads it.

In a nutshell: It seems that it is Singapore and Malaysian companies in Sumatra that are causing the haze and we should do something about it.

Two major companies we spoke to denied this and gave details on how they clear land in Sumatra. Yesterday, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam telephoned Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa to express Singapore's concern about the worsening haze situation.

Separately, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan spoke to the Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya.

A joint statement from their two ministries said: "They (both ministers) asked Indonesia to share the names of errant companies involved in illegal burning, though primary responsibility to take legal and enforcement actions against these companies lies with Indonesia as they have clearly violated Indonesian laws within Indonesian jurisdiction."

Yes, if they broke the law in your country, enforce the law - prosecute them. Why blame us for something when it is happening in your backyard?

But we shouldn't be surprised at the logic, really.

In 2010, when the haze struck, its government spokesman said: "It has been only a week of smoke but people are already making so much noise. What about all the oxygen that (Indonesia) supplies to them during the rest of the year?"

Pact

This, from a country that signed in 2002 an ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. The anti-haze pact calls for member states to prevent and control burning that can pollute neighbouring countries.

Now, take a deep breath of polluted air. Don't worry, that won't make you gag.

This will: More than a decade after the agreement was signed, Indonesia is the only member of ASEAN not to have ratified it.

That's right, the main culprit is not fully on board. And there's more bad news.

Even if it does ratify the agreement, which its officials said was in the final stages of the ratification process during an ASEAN meeting in Bangkok last September, the agreement lacks teeth - there are no penalties or mandatory enforcement.

Enforcement in Indonesia itself lacks a push.

An official from the South Sumatra Forestry Office told The Jakarta Post last August that it was hard to change the habits among farmers, who have been doing this for decades. He said all his agency could do was to persuade farmers against the practice and disseminate legal information on forest burning.

While there are laws against burning forests - the penalty is up to 15 years' jail and a maximum fine of 5 billion rupiah (S$637,000) - it is very hard to police and enforce the laws due to the sheer size of land used for plantations.

Reuters reported in February that oil palm plantations cover about 8.5 million hectares (roughly equivalent to 120 times larger than Singapore) and this is expected to grow by 200,000 hectares a year.

So, Indonesia, enough with the excuses.

Instead of continuing to make them and trying to convince your neighbours that you have things under control, there's a much easier solution - admit that you can't handle it.

Your neighbours, Singapore included, have already signalled on more than one occasion that we're ready to help spot and fight the fires.

It's time to stop pointing fingers and start raising your hand.


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