Haze crisis a man-made tragedy: Vivian Balakrishnan

Smoke rising from a forest fire in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra, on Oct 30.
Smoke rising from a forest fire in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra, on Oct 30. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

He stresses need to boost global and regional cooperation to exert effective pressure on errant firms

SINGAPORE - The haze problem was described as a man-made tragedy, a crime and vandalism by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Tuesday (Nov 3).

Speaking at the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development, he stressed the need to intensify regional and international cooperation to exert "effective legal and commercial pressure" on the handful of firms involved in starting fires to clear land in Indonesia.

"This is not a natural disaster. This is a deliberate, man-made tragedy, vandalism against society, against the environment, and ultimately, against ourselves," he said at the forum at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre .

The Singapore Government was reviewing its procurement practices to see how it can support companies that have instituted sustainable practices, he added yesterday. "This will take into account the practices not just of that particular company, but of your suppliers in your chain."

 
 

The Government expects firms to be transparent about supply chains, particularly those in the oil, palm oil and forestry sectors, he said. Other private-sector firms are urged to likewise practise "sustainable procurement". The thick haze has sparked demand for responsible and sustainable business practices, he added.

In September, Singapore wielded the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, serving "preventive measure notices" on four Indonesian firms: PT Rimba Hutani Mas, PT Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, PT Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa and PT Wachyuni Mandira.

Investigations indicated that fires on lands held via concessions under the four firms may have contributed to the haze.

A notice was also served on Asia Pulp and Paper, seeking information on its units in Singapore and Indonesia, as well as measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions.

Indonesia has also been probing various firms. In September, it took four plantation firms to task for alleged illegal land clearing, by suspending or revoking their licences.

Mr Rachmat Witoelar, the Indonesian President's special envoy on climate change in Indonesia, told The Straits Times he agreed with Dr Balakrishnan that more collaboration is needed to tackle the haze issue. "Indonesia is suffering the most. We will try our best, and our President (Joko Widodo) has been camping there, so it is not for the lack of attention," he added.

The prolonged dry spell has also aggravated the haze situation, Mr Rachmat said on the sidelines of the forum. He reiterated that Indonesia needs time to address the haze problem, and agreed that "morally", it is right to punish errant firms, "but it has to be done carefully, that's why the government set a timeline of two to three years to settle this, including the prosecution".

At the forum, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore aims to be a leading green economy where government and businesses work to create "an eco- system of supporting infrastructure and policies" that will help the country to be energy- efficient, water-efficient, and reduce carbon emissions and waste. These, he added, are essential to Singapore's survival.

The forum also heard from Singapore businesses on their waste recycling efforts. Supermarket chain FairPrice has a framework to help it cut food waste while telco StarHub runs an e-waste recycling scheme that is open to everyone to recycle their unwanted electronic devices.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline 'Haze crisis a man-made tragedy: Vivian'. Print Edition | Subscribe