Malaysia calls for regional haze meeting to be held earlier

MALAYSIA - WITH air pollution in parts of the region hitting alarming levels, Malaysia has proposed bringing forward to next week a five-nation ministerial meeting on the haze.

Singapore said it backed the call for an earlier meeting - formally known as the 15th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Malaysian Natural Resources and Environment Minister G. Palanivel said on Monday he was waiting for a formal response from Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei.

If they agree to an earlier meeting, it could be convened in Kuala Lumpur as early as Tuesday instead of Aug 20-21, he said.

In an e-mail response to The Straits Times, a spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said: "Singapore supports Malaysia's proposal to bring forward the MSC meeting.

"Our top-most concern is how member countries can address the current crisis effectively and expediently, and to decide on approaches and put in place measures to prevent a recurrence."

The haze - a phenomenon that affects the region annually - has caused record levels of pollution in Singapore and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia since it returned this month.

Emergency declared in Malaysia as API surpasses 750Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: AFP, Reuters )
Smoke from hotspots blanket Riau provinceClick on thumbnail to view (Photos: Hang Nadim Meteorological Station, ST, Reuters, AFP, Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment)

Mr Palanivel has been under public pressure to act on the haze affecting Malaysia. More than 40 per cent of the country now suffers from unhealthy air.

The minister, who was meeting Indonesian counterpart Balthasar Kambuaya in Jakarta on Wednesday, also rejected calls for the Malaysian authorities to punish Malaysian companies allegedly responsible for causing the haze.

Indonesia last week fingered eight companies with Malaysian investors as being responsible for the current haze.

They include two linked to plantation giant and government-linked company Sime Darby, which rejects the claims.

Mr Palanivel said: "If they (Indonesia) want to prosecute the Malaysian companies, they should prosecute them in Indonesia. We can't go and prosecute companies that operate there."

He added that he would look at the evidence Indonesia provides, as well as meet representatives of the eight companies during his visit to Jakarta.

"They are saying that so many Malaysian companies are involved. I am sure Indonesian planters are also involved," he said.

chengwee@sph.com.sg

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