Jakarta to share names of culprits behind haze fires

Protesters demonstrating outside the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur yesterday over the prevailing haze conditions. Haze from forest and peatland fires in Indonesia over the past weeks has spread to Singapore and Malaysia, with the bad air making
Protesters demonstrating outside the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur yesterday over the prevailing haze conditions. Haze from forest and peatland fires in Indonesia over the past weeks has spread to Singapore and Malaysia, with the bad air making some people fall sick.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Singapore will take action against named companies 'to the fullest extent of our laws', says Shanmugam

Indonesia will soon share with Singapore the names of companies responsible for the illegal forest fires that caused the haze, so that they can be punished, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) yesterday.

The news came after Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam called his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi earlier to express his deep concern over the ongoing haze crisis. He said strong action was needed against the companies, and urged Indonesia to share their names with Singapore.

The MFA said in a statement that Ms Retno responded with word that Indonesia's Ministry of Environment and Forestry will provide the details to Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Ministry soon.

"Minister Shanmugam welcomed this and said Singapore would take action against these companies to the fullest extent of our laws once the names were provided," said MFA. "Minister Shanmugam also emphasised the importance of finding a longer-term solution to address the causes of the haze, given that this was a recurrent problem."

Parts of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia have been blanketed in a thick haze caused by the illegal burning of peatland and forests in Indonesia in recent weeks.

Fingers have been pointed at large plantation companies and their suppliers, who in turn blame small-time farmers and indigenous village folk for the fires.

Indonesia's national police, however, have since arrested more than 140 suspects, including seven corporate executives, for turning a blind eye to fires burning on estates accorded to them for cultivation, thus breaking environmental laws.

Mr Shanmugam said he welcomed the steps taken by Indonesia thus far to address the haze issue, including the declaration of a state of emergency in affected provinces and its investigations of errant companies suspected of causing the fires.

Indonesia's decision to share the names of companies behind the illegal fires comes after its Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar on Thursday made a U-turn on Vice-President Jusuf Kalla's invitation to Singapore to help fight the haze. She had also previously agreed to reveal the firms' names to her Singapore counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan, but had yet to do so as of yesterday.

Singapore's Ambassador to Indonesia, Mr Anil Kumar Nayar, had told CNN Indonesia on Wednesday that Singapore has no interest in protecting any company or individual implicated in the illegal forest fires that have led to the haze crisis.

And if they are found in Singapore and proof is provided, action will be taken against them based on laws here, he said.

"It's because the problem they are causing is a problem not just for Singaporeans, but for everyone in Indonesia, Malaysia and the region... so we will definitely take action, but for that, we will need the support and the information from our friends in Indonesia," he said.

Mr Shanmugam also said yesterday that the haze had a negative economic impact on the entire region and "greater regional efforts and cooperation were needed to effectively combat the haze problem".

He emphasised that all Asean states should follow through and fulfil their obligations under the Agreement on Transboundary Haze that all 10 Asean members have signed. These include operationalising the Asean Haze Monitoring System, said the MFA.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2015, with the headline 'Jakarta to share names of culprits behind haze fires'. Print Edition | Subscribe