Strong comments from Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam over Indonesia's 'shocking statements'

Upper Bukit TImah Road shrouded by the haze around 5pm, on Sept 25, 2015.
Upper Bukit TImah Road shrouded by the haze around 5pm, on Sept 25, 2015.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The ongoing haze crisis, which has affected the lives of millions across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, has started to draw strong comments from leaders here.

Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, in a Facebook post on Thursday night, expressed his unhappiness at what he referred to as "shocking statements made, at senior levels, from Indonesia, with a complete disregard for our people, and their own".

"How is it possible for senior people in government to issue such statements, without any regard for their people, or ours, and without any embarrassment, or sense of responsibility?" wrote the minister.

Mr Shanmugam did not name any of his Indonesian counterparts or elaborate on the statement in question at the time.

His post on social media came after Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla had reiterated that Indonesia need not apologise to its neighbours over the haze.

Speaking at a dialogue at the Indonesian Consulate-General in New York on Thursday, Mr Kalla said Indonesia needs only to ensure that forest fires that cause haze do not recur, Kompas daily reported yesterday.

 

"Look at how long they have enjoyed fresh air from our green environment and forests when there were no fires," said Mr Kalla.

"Could be months. Are they grateful? But when forest fires occur, a month at the most, haze pollutes their regions. So why should there be an apology?"

He also accused "companies from neighbouring countries" of paying locals to clear lands using the slash-and-burn technique, which have led to the blaze.

Mr Kalla had made similar remarks in previous years.

The most recent occasion was in March this year, when he rapped neighbouring countries for complaining about the haze, asking them to be grateful instead for the clean air they enjoy for the rest of the year.

"For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us," he said at the time. "They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset."

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday wrote a post on Facebook directed at Indonesia and the haze crisis.

"Merlion is mythical like the Garuda and will not be affected by the haze. But we humans will be, not just now but also in the long term if haze continues year after year," he said. The Merlion and Garuda are associated with Singapore and Indonesia respectively.

"If Indonesia can stamp out illegal burning, they will gain investor confidence in their abilities to tackle other complex challenges. The haze is their litmus test for effective administration and regional leadership. We all see it, breathe it; and there is no hiding."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline 'Strong comments from S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe