Jul 7 Jakarta moves to ratify Asean haze pact

Workers from a palm oil concession firm trying to put out a forest fire in Riau's Kampar district last month. Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said it is important for Indonesia to ratify the regional pact, as a nation that's affected by haze and concerned with the well-being of others.

JAKARTA - Indonesia's government has begun preparations to ratify a regional agreement on combating the haze, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said.

Dr Balthasar told reporters at a climate change conference on Thursday that the documents for ratification had been cleared by the Law Ministry.

The next step is for the State Secretariat to get agreement from affected ministries, before taking it to Parliament. "We hope it will be completed this year," said Dr Balthasar.

"It is important for us to ratify it, as a nation that's affected (by haze) and concerned with the well-being of others. And if there are things we need to do together, we should."

He said that claims by MPs that the pact would infringe Indonesian sovereignty were not true, saying Indonesia would be in full control of activities and assistance efforts on its soil.

Similar claims stymied previous attempts to approve the 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, but Indonesia - the only country yet to do so - made a commitment at the recent ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Brunei to ratify the pact as soon as possible.

"The points in the (agreement) respect that sovereignty. That is very clear," Dr Balthasar added.

Environmental law professor Laode Syarif told The Straits Times there is greater political will to see the pact ratified this time, given how bad the latest haze was.

"But the DPR (House of Representatives) also does not want to be seen as bowing under pressure from Malaysia and Singapore," he added. "They may also want neighbouring countries to show some give and take."

Calls by Singapore and Malaysia for Indonesia to ratify the agreement sparked a backlash from several ministers and claims that pulp and palm oil companies from both countries were also responsible for the open burning in Riau that caused the haze.

Tensions were eased when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologised to both countries for the haze.

Over the weekend, foreign ministers from all three countries agreed that their officials would work together to look at what was happening on the ground and recommend steps to prevent the haze from happening again.

ASEAN members also pledged to ensure effective monitoring, rapid response and firefighting systems.

On Thursday, Democratic Party MP Sutan Sukarnotomo, who was elected from Riau, told The Straits Times: "It will be good if we ratify it. Our citizens are the worst affected.

"But I also want to make sure the licences of companies responsible, some of whom are from Malaysia and Singapore, are revoked."

Dr Laode, from Makassar's Hasanuddin University, noted that, unlike Indonesia, neither Malaysia nor Singapore had ratified a 1985 ASEAN agreement on the conservation of nature and natural resources, although all six ASEAN members at the time had signed it.

Still, Mr Arief Yuwono, a deputy at the Environment Ministry, said Indonesia had an obligation to ratify the 2002 agreement as a responsible member of ASEAN.

"We want to ratify it as fast as possible," he said. "We wish we can do it today, but there is a process, and we have to follow it."

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