The Straits Times says

Haze-free model for a new Indonesia

Indonesia's haze-weary neighbours would welcome its decision, although it is a belated one, to accept foreign help in fighting the fires that cause the regular regional scourge. Jakarta's fresh approach comes after an unnecessarily lengthy refusal to countenance foreign support, perhaps for reasons of national pride. It makes eminent sense because Indonesians who live closest to the forest fires that beget the haze are suffering immensely from hazardous pollution.

The haze also affects the national well-being of neighbouring countries. From sharply increased health risks and economic losses to social disruption, such as that produced by the closure of schools, friendly nations have to live with the imported consequences of domestic Indonesian policies. Their concerns deserve commensurate consideration.

Given the ecological indivisibility of human habitats straddling national frontiers, Indonesia's neighbours, as much as its citizens, would benefit from a new model of governance that is haze-free in all aspects. Quite apart from preventing and extinguishing fires effectively, steps must be taken to correct the corneal haze, so to speak, that is evident when Jakarta politicians get worked up about offering an apology for the blight or about demanding thanks for "nice air" from forests when these are not set alight.

What is needed is clear-eyed acceptance of the reality of South-east Asia as a single ecological territory whose integrity has to be recognised by all its states. Thus, businesses must be held strictly to environmental standards that offer no wriggle room - for example, by weighting the burden of proof against those operating large concessions and rejecting efforts by major producers to retract "no deforestation" pledges. A new model of thinking would see the production of environmentally sustainable palm oil as a non-negotiable goal. Consumers can give this a boost by "buying green" - one area where Singaporeans rank below the overall global score.

Next, the battle against haze must not be just a seasonal pre-occupation but a year-long effort to tackle the "haze of ignorance and misinformation", as one commentator noted, that accompanies the burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan. A new approach would involve the systematic reform of land laws and the Byzantine functioning of Indonesia's Forestry Department. It would also ensure that maps and other means to monitor compliance are made available to those seeking justice. And it would place importance on research into public health issues related to the inhalation of toxic fumes and fine particulate matter.

A fresh breath of air in Jakarta's operating culture could draw not only investors but also the 20 million international visitors that Indonesia hopes to attract annually to its shores by 2020.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'Haze-free model for a new Indonesia'. Print Edition | Subscribe