Use the law to fight the haze

Use the law to fight the haze

SINGAPORE - It's become an almost annual ritual for Singaporeans during the South-West Monsoon season: the haze is back.

Effortlessly but sadly, I have built my own Pollutant Standards Index meter. I look out my NUS office window. When I cannot see the Pasir Panjang port cranes, just over 1,000m away, I know that the PSI exceeds 200.

How to solve this vexing issue? Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has suggested that consumers bring pressure on agricultural producers through "name and shame". The idea is good but the challenge is: How would we know who is burning the peat lands in Sumatra?

An Indonesian forestry official has countered that Malaysian and Singapore palm oil plantation companies are responsible for the open burning.

Dr Balakrishnan and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam have asked Indonesian ministers to name the companies responsible for the burning. But the silence from the government of Indonesia has been deafening.

Let me suggest two more practical approaches. One is to shift the burden of proof from the consumer to the producer.

We should legislate that palm oil and other agricultural products may be imported or trans-shipped through Singapore only if the product is certified as not produced on land cleared by open burning.

This law would be similar to the way that the world regulates trade in endangered species through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

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