INDONESIA's Parliament is set to agree to ratify a decade-old regional haze treaty, as pollutant levels in parts of Riau remained hazardous for a second month and thick haze continued to spread across much of Sumatra.
A parliamentary committee comprising MPs from eight out of the nine parties met Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya and senior officials on Monday, and six of the parties - who make up 363 of the 560 MPs in the House - were in favour of ratifying the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.
The pact commits member countries to preventing open burning, monitoring prevention efforts, sharing information, and helping one another in tackling the haze.
A draft Bill on ratification will be tabled before a full session of Parliament, likely after the general election on April 9.
Jakarta's earlier efforts to get Parliament to ratify the pact, which was signed in 2002, were thwarted by objections that it infringed on Indonesia's sovereignty.
The issue cropped up again on Monday, with even MPs in favour of ratification saying that the government had to ensure Indonesian territory was not breached.
Professor Balthasar assured them that sovereignty was a top priority, and the treaty would help Indonesia tackle the haze better, including by working with other countries.
He also said the government was not under pressure from any foreign country to speed up ratification.
"Our people are the ones that suffer most from every haze incident. Ratifying the pact is also important as Indonesia must maintain its integrity and credibility in the region," he added.
Parliament's delay in ratifying the pact became a sticking point during last year's haze, which saw pollutant levels reach record highs in Malaysia and Singapore.
Indonesia is the only Asean country that has yet to ratify the treaty.
Golkar MP Bobby Adhityo Rizaldi said while his party agreed to ratify the pact, it should be on condition that Indonesian sovereignty not be breached.
"It should also not hurt either the interest of the people or the government when implementing cooperation, coordination and prevention," he added.
Riau is a Golkar stronghold. Yesterday morning, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in one of its major cities, Dumai - the epicentre of last June's haze - crossed 700.
The two parties that disagreed with ratification were the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) - although PDI-P chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri was president when Indonesia signed the treaty in 2002.
PKS MP Asmin Amin said the spirit of the pact was in line with existing Indonesian laws, so ratification was not necessary. He added that several clauses breached the country's sovereignty.
PDI-P MP Isma Yatun said: "We should not rush it, trying to find justification to ratify the pact. Is there a guarantee that the haze incident will not recur if we do so?"
She said the central and provincial governments should step up law enforcement instead.
But National Awakening Party (PKB) MP Nur Yasin dismissed her worries, saying that ratification would show Indonesia was serious in tackling raging forest fires.
"Indonesia can also make use of personnel and equipment within Asean as well as outside Asean," he added.
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