Protection of whistle blowers and filing of civil suits suggested for proposed Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill

By Yasmeen Banu

Over the years, Singapore has dealt with reoccurring haze situations and managed to get past it. The city state has been affected by haze resulting from land or forest fires in Indonesia since 1991.

According to Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), in 1994, 1997, 2006, 2010, and 2013, the haze situation “was particularly severe.” In 2013 however, the 24-hour PSI reached 246, a very unhealthy range, on the 20th of June, the worse we have been affected since 1991.

MEWR has come up with a proposed bill called the Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill and has requested the views of the public on the draft which introduces “new legislative measures against errant companies that cause or contribute to transboundary haze pollution in Singapore.” This consultation period ended on the 19th of March 2014.

The proposed bill had three main features to it, the Extra Territoriality, Criminal Liability and the Civil Liability.

Extra-territoriality: The Bill covers the operations of all Singapore and non-Singapore entities whose activities outside of Singapore contribute to haze pollution in Singapore.

Criminal liability: The Bill makes it a criminal offence when an entity engages in conduct, or authorises or condones any conduct which causes or contributes to any transboundary haze pollution in Singapore.  A heavy criminal penalty of up to $300,000 may be imposed.  The fine may increase up to $450,000 if the entity has deliberately ignored requests by the authorities to take appropriate action to prevent, reduce or control transboundary haze pollution.

Civil liability: Affected parties may bring civil suits against errant entities that are involved in causing or contributing to the transboundary haze problem in Singapore.  The civil damages recoverable under the Bill will be determined by the courts of Singapore based on evidence of personal injury, physical damage or economic loss.

(Bill’s three main features taken from www.reach.gov.sg)

Tan Yi Han, founder of People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM. Haze), who have been actively involved in the haze situation has helped bring awareness to the situation as well as travelled to Indonesia and Malaysia to find answers regarding the haze and what Singaporeans can do about it.

By sharing his case studies, and understanding the situation in the neighbouring countries, as well as give suggestions to better the situation, Mr Tan has keenly expressed his views and the views of his group, PM. Haze.

In a letter to MEWR, Mr Tan represented the views of his group and made feedback and suggestions to improve the bill, his hopes for the Bill, as well as complimented the Bill.

Mr Tan and PM. Haze hopes that the final bill, amongst other things, can deter plantation companies from deliberately burning vegetation while encouraging these companies to implement best practices to prevent and control fires from any source.

The group also offers a list of suggestions of areas that can be improved of the Bill such as protecting whistleblowers and allowing members of the public to file civil suit in foreign courts.

Mr Tan and his team broke down their feedback and suggestions in improving the Bill into six sections, and goes into details about how they feel this might really help the Bill achieve its ultimate objective in bettering the haze situation.

Together with their opinions and feedback, Mr Tan and PM. Haze complemented the Bill’s objective of safeguarding Singapore with a multi-faceted strategy, one of which is to have engagement with ASEAN countries in order to suggest that they too, should adopt similar laws to bring light and seriousness, as well as improve the haze situation.

Mr Tan also found that funding for research on sustainable agriculture is needed to understand a more sustainable pathway for agro-based production and trade.

Below is the letter, in details, sent to MEWR:

PM.Haze_HazeBillFeedback