Parliament: Transboundary Haze Bill penalties too small, say MPs

Marina Bayfront is shrouded in haze, as seen from the Singapore Flyer, as the PSI surpasses the healthy threshold of 100 on June 17, 2013. Penalties in the proposed Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill may not be large enough to deter big firms, an
Marina Bayfront is shrouded in haze, as seen from the Singapore Flyer, as the PSI surpasses the healthy threshold of 100 on June 17, 2013. Penalties in the proposed Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill may not be large enough to deter big firms, and should be increased for repeat offenders, said the first two MPs who debated the new Bill before Parliament was adjourned on Monday. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Penalties in the proposed Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill may not be large enough to deter big firms, and should be increased for repeat offenders, said the first two MPs who debated the new Bill before Parliament was adjourned on Monday.

The Bill - an earlier version of which was up for public consultation earlier this year - was introduced in Parliament in July and holds entities liable for activities inside or outside Singapore that cause unhealthy haze here.

Its aim is to help combat the haze that blankets Singapore from time to time, especially during the dry season, due to illegal land clearing by burning in Indonesia.

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Chris de Souza pointed out that the financial penalties, which go up to a maximum of $2 million, may represent only a small sum to large agroforestry firms.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah said the fines should be doubled or even tripled. "The fines in the Bill may not be sufficient deterrent against offenders who will weigh the cost of fine if they are caught, against the profits they will gain." Monitoring and locating hot spots takes up government resources, while haze also incurs economic and personal health losses here, she added.

In addition, the new law should contain a provision for whistleblowers, she said.

Mr de Souza urged that errant companies' use of illegal slash-and-burn land clearing methods be exposed, and for consumers to pressure them economically.

"Until and unless consumers are made aware that certain products they purchase are the product of these actions...companies will continue undeterred," he said.

At least seven more MPs are scheduled to debate the Bill, and it is expected to be passed on Tuesday.

Separately, the Government said it had offered the Indonesian government the use of a helicopter with a specialised heli-bucket to help fight fires there. This adds to its earlier offer in June, of satellite pictures, Singapore Civil Defence Force assistance, and other aircraft for cloud-seeding.

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