Ng Eng Hen, Environment

Singapore's haze task force met before the crisis struck

Singapore's inter-agency haze task force actually met on May 29, before the haze occurred, to go over what might happen, revealed Dr Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Monday.

The 23-agency team was created in 1994 and has met each year to prepare for the annual dry season. It reports to a crisis management group comprising relevant ministries.

Dr Ng chairs an inter-ministerial haze committee set up in June to oversee national efforts against the crisis, and was responding to MPs' questions on Singapore's national action plans on the smoke menace.

During this year's haze episode, the committee focused on protecting public health and safety, working with Indonesia to curb the burning, and maintaining social and economic resilience, he said.

When there was panic-buying of N95 masks and bottlenecks in getting masks to retailers, "the first task was to restore calm and protect the vulnerable", said Dr Ng, giving out free masks to needy households and distributing three million more masks to retailers.

But he admitted community guidance could be improved with more timely information while recognising that "not everyone wants or needs the same amount of information".

On the responses to crises, he assured the public that "our basic structure is comprehensive and sound, but we should always learn from every episode".

Singapore needs "two essential elements" to withstand threats, he added: trust between leaders and people, and care for each other. "The day we lose that trust, the day we stop caring...any crisis will be too big for us."