Indonesia is not staying idle about the fires which are causing the haze over Southeast Asia, says the country’s Minister of Forestry and the Environment, Siti Nurbaya Bakar.
Mdm Siti called on Singapore to be “fair” and said that her government was doing all it can to put out the fires in Sumatra and the Borneo Islands.
She was responding to recent criticisms from Singapore’s government ministers, including the Law Minister, K Shanmugam, who said that “senior people” in the Indonesia government were making “shocking statements” about the haze and that they had no regard for the well-being of the people of both Singapore and Indonesia.
The annual haze has once again shrouded Singapore and had even caused the closure of primary and secondary schools last Friday.
“Indonesia is working hard,” Mdm Siti told local media. “The president has deployed thousands of soldiers and police [to fight the fires].”
Indonesian vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, said the fires were “helped by the dry weather and winds”, and repeated Mdm Siti’s position that the Indonesian government was doing all it could.
Mr Kalla also once again called on Singapore to provide help to distinguish the fires which at one point were ablaze in more than 900 spots.
“Please come, we are open. Singapore can see for itself. Singapore, please come if you want to help. Don’t just talk,” Mr Kalla was quoted as saying on the sidelines of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York.
He had first called on Singapore to provide assistance on 15 September. However, his call was contradicted by his colleague, Mdm Siti, who declined Singapore’s help, and said that her country is trying to handle the crisis on its own.
Also at the UN summit was Singapore’s Minister of Environment and Water Resources, Vivian Balakrishnan, who referred to the problem of the haze in his speech there.
“[The] transboundary haze from forest and peatland fires in Southeast Asia impairs the health of millions of people in the region, it compromises the safety of aircraft, and it damages our regional economy,” Dr Vivian said. “The large quantities of carbon dioxide released sets back our global efforts to mitigate climate change.”
He said that while countries are individually tackling this problem of transboundary haze, there was a need for “closer regional and international cooperation to apply legal and commercial pressure on errant companies to prevent them from profiting from unsustainable land and forest clearing.”
Last week, the Singapore government took the first step towards tougher actions against those it deems responsible for the fires in Indonesia, and issued letters of demand to five companies, four of them Indonesian-owned and the fifth a Singapore-listed company, Asia Pulp and Paper Ltd.
The government’s tough stance is the first under Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, which allows for a maximum fine of S$100,000 per day, capped at S$2 million in total, for companies found guilty of starting fires.
“We will share our results with the public whenever possible,” Dr Balakrishnan said of the ongoing investigations by the National Environment Agency. “The Government will also review our procurement practices to see how we can weed out errant companies. We will therefore expect companies to be transparent about their supply chains, particularly those involved in the palm oil and forestry sectors. Ultimately, errant companies must know there must be a price to be paid for damaging our health, the environment and economy.”