TOC Editorial: Take a pro-active approach to haze

The haze situation has revived an old thorn in Singapore-Indonesia relations.

The Government’s response so far has been strongly worded, and rightly so. But, Singapore’s response needs to go further.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan has expressed his deep distress at Indonesia and has urged it to name the companies guilty of the slash and burn.

Dr Balakrishnan has also indicated that Singapore needs to “exert commercial pressure against companies causing the haze” as and when this information comes in.

TOC supports the suggestions made by Dr Balakrishnan. We also agree with Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam that the haze issue should not be one of party politics.

We believe that a unified national response is necessary as the haze is an issue that affects and concerns all Singaporeans.

In addition to the measures taken by the Government so far, TOC calls on the Government to take a more pro-active and aggressive approach to tackling the haze.

We propose that the Government do the following:

1)      Pro-actively identify a list of Singapore based companies with a presence in the affected areas, either in the form of direct land holdings or by way of joint ventures and cross-shareholdings with Indonesian counterparts. Investigate the manner in which these companies clear their land in Indonesia with specific information requests directed to the relevant Indonesian authorities;

2)      If Government linked companies have stakeholdings in companies that use slash and burn techniques, use the influence of these stakeholdings in the boardroom to demand that these companies desist from slash and burn; and

3)      Launch an investigation into whether Singapore based companies or Indonesian companies with Singaporean directors in the affected areas are corruptly procuring the agreement of Indonesian officials to turn a blind eye to slash and burn. Section 37 of the Prevention of Corruption Act has extra-territorial effect on corrupt acts committed by Singaporeans overseas. While the Government cannot enforce Indonesian forestry regulations, we can certainly can and have enforced our Prevention of Corruption Act on acts of bribing foreign officials before.

While Mr Shanmugam is correct in highlighting our geographical limitations and vulnerabilities as the reason Singapore is so affected by the haze, Singapore needs to foreground and leverage our economic strength to break out of this cycle of being a “price-taker” with regards to haze.

Despite our size, Singapore is currently one of the top three largest sources of foreign investment in Indonesia.

While Mr Shanmugam and MP Ms Irene Ng are correct to say that principles of sovereignty limit the extent of what Singapore can do, we need to send a clear signal to Singaporean corporate interests that they must be part of the national effort in combating haze.

We need to use the full extent of the law in Singapore to make the point that we will do what is necessary to break out of this cycle of smoggy dependency.

We are hopeful that our political leaders will step up to the plate and change gears to take control of the situation. When that happens, TOC will support the national effort fully.