Haze Bill: Firms that cause haze could be fined up to $100,000 a day

A file picture from June 17, 2013, showing the Marina Bay area shrouded in haze. An ambitious Bill to fight transboundary haze here has proposed fining errant firms up to $2 million, nearly seven times what it originally suggested. -- ST PHOTO:
A file picture from June 17, 2013, showing the Marina Bay area shrouded in haze. An ambitious Bill to fight transboundary haze here has proposed fining errant firms up to $2 million, nearly seven times what it originally suggested. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - An ambitious Bill to fight transboundary haze here has proposed fining errant firms up to $2 million, nearly seven times what it originally suggested.

It has also widened its net. It wants to target not only companies or entities that cause haze in Singapore by having fires on their land, but also those with agreements or arrangements with these entities to start fires.

The Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill, introduced in Parliament on Monday, was strengthened in response to public feedback.

Many who commented on the draft Bill earlier this year said that the criminal penalties - previously a fine of up to $300,000 - were too low. They also wanted the duration of the haze to be taken into account, which it now has.

Other changes to the draft Bill include requiring entities to prove that fires on their land are completely beyond their control and knowledge; and preventing individuals from leaving Singapore if they have been served notice.

Singapore has been periodically blanketed by unhealthy haze in the past years, caused by illegal clearing of land by burning in Indonesia, in order to grow crops.

In February, the Government proposed the Bill as a way to deter errant firms both abroad and here more strongly.

Guilty entities would be more heavily penalised the longer the haze affects Singapore.They can be fined up to $100,000 for each day of haze, up to a maximum of $2 million for each unbroken stretch. This is as long as the haze lingers here for 24 hours or more continuously, at a stipulated air quality level yet to be decided by the authorities.

If the entity ignored requests to prevent or control haze, it can be fined an additional $50,000 for each day it failed to take action.

But first, satellite images, meteorological data and maps must show that the fires are on land owned or occupied by the entity, and that the wind is blowing smoke from them towards Singapore. Those affected by the haze can also bring civil suits against the culprits. If passed, the Bill could take effect by October or November.

The Government has warned that haze may return soon, with the ongoing dry season in Riau, Sumatra, coinciding with the southwest monsoon.