Jakarta objects to Singapore moves against haze-linked firms

An aerial view of a forest fire burning near the village of Bokor, Meranti Islands regency, Riau province, Indonesia, on March 15, 2016.
An aerial view of a forest fire burning near the village of Bokor, Meranti Islands regency, Riau province, Indonesia, on March 15, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesia has lodged a "strong protest" with Singapore for demanding that Indonesia-based companies suspected to be linked to the region-wide haze explain measures they have taken in tackling fires on their land, a Foreign Ministry spokesman disclosed yesterday.

"In reference to some cases where Indonesian businessmen were interrogated... we have expressed our strong protest through our ambassador there," spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told reporters.

"We stress that the law by Singapore essentially should not harm trade and good cooperation between the two countries," he added.

Errant pulp and paper companies have been blamed for causing forest and peatland fires in Indonesia that led to thick, choking haze throughout the region in September and October last year.

 

Since then, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has given notices to six of these Indonesia-based companies, asking them to outline the steps that they are taking to put out and prevent fires on their land.

In the latest move, the NEA said on Wednesday that it has obtained a court warrant against the director of an Indonesian company who failed to turn up for an interview with the authorities in Singapore despite being served a legal notice to do so when he was in the country.

The director, who has since left Singapore, may be detained if he tries to enter the country again, "for the purpose of investigations", an NEA spokesman said, without naming him or his company.

The NEA said the move was in accordance with Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, passed in Parliament in 2014, which allows the authorities to punish those causing or condoning fires that result in unhealthy levels of haze in Singapore.

Mr Arrmanatha reiterated that the Indonesian government is not in favour of the law.

"From the beginning, our government had conveyed our objection to the law in Singapore," he said.

"We will continue to consult, and are still consulting, the Singapore Government so that the application of the law will not be detrimental to Indonesian companies as well as trade cooperation between the two countries in general," he said.

The NEA's latest move comes after Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli told reporters last month that only two of the six companies had replied.

He added that the director, who is from one of the other four companies, had been served a notice to provide information on his company's move to mitigate fires on its land and prevent a repeat of last year's haze.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta objects to S'pore moves against haze-linked firms'. Print Edition | Subscribe