Penalties for haze offences 'too low'

The criminal penalties in a draft Bill to tackle transboundary haze are too low, say those who gave their feedback on the proposed law earlier this year.

For example, the draft Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill suggested a fine of up to $300,000 for causing or contributing to haze that affects Singapore, or up to $450,000 if a company failed to comply with Singapore's request to prevent, reduce or control haze pollution.

Yesterday, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said feedback had indicated the sums were too low, and there should be penalties for continuous offences. Others said some terms ought to be more clearly defined, and called for a provision for whistleblowers. Some also noted that gathering evidence overseas would be challenging.

The ministry said it would refine the Bill, to be tabled in Parliament on July 7, to incorporate the feedback. For instance, the penalty formula might take into account how long the haze lingered.

The Bill aims to hold companies that cause haze in Singapore liable, and provides for both civil and criminal liability.

The ministry received 52 feedback suggestions on the proposed law between Feb 19 and March. About 10 were from the general public and the rest from non-governmental organisations, civil society and corporations. It held a question-and-answer session yesterday for those who gave comments during the public consultation exercise.

"It's very clear there is overwhelming support for this Bill," said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. "The feedback that was provided has been... so substantive that we have to amend the Bill," he told reporters.

If passed, the Bill could take effect by October or November. "This new Act on transboundary haze is not going to solve the problem, but it is one more step forward," he said, adding that legislation is not the main or only means of progress. Rather, Singapore continues to work with Indonesia to offer help during haze episodes, and to push for official concession maps necessary for an agreed-on ASEAN haze monitoring system.

"The greater long-term tragedy is not the episodic haze, but the huge amount of carbon that you're releasing by burning peat land. That is the elephant in the room," he added.

This article was first published on June 29, 2014.
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