Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister says S'pore should 'focus on its own role' on haze, forest fires

Singapore should "focus on their own role" with regards to issues of forest fires and the haze, said Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister. PHOTO: ST FILE

Indonesia has taken substantial steps to prevent a repeat of the forest and land fires that caused last year's haze crisis, and Singapore should just focus on its own role in the transboundary issue instead of concerning itself with what its neighbour is doing.

That is the view of Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar as reported by an environmental news website over the weekend.

"We have been consistent in sticking to our part of the bargain, especially by attempting to prevent the recurrence of land and forest fires and by consistently enforcing the law. So, my question is - what has the Singaporean Government done? I feel that they should focus on their own role," Ms Siti told in a report posted online last Saturday.

According to the report, details of which The Straits Times could not reach the Environment and Forestry Ministry in Jakarta to verify, Ms Siti was referring to comments made by her Singaporean counterpart at a forum in Singapore last Friday.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli had said in his speech at the 3rd Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources that his government applauded Indonesian President Joko Widodo's latest move to push through a moratorium on new concessions for oil palm plantations and land for mining activities, in a bid to protect the environment.

Mr Masagos also said he welcomed the President's appointment of Mr Nazir Foead, a former director of WWF-Indonesia, to helm the new Peatland Restoration Agency. A key aim of the agency, set up by President Joko, is to restore about 2 million ha of peatlands in seven provinces by 2020.

The Singapore minister's speech did not contain any criticism of Indonesia, the country's efforts in tackling the environmental challenges it faced, or Ms Siti.

The Foresthints report said Ms Siti "understood the predicament of the Singaporean authorities, as they had been bragging about their role in the situation to their own public, and now find themselves in a position where they need to back up their words with actions or risk losing credibility in the eyes of their own people".

"There is really no need to comment too much on the part Indonesia is currently playing. However, with all due respect to my Singaporean counterpart, what are they doing? And where has it got them?" Ms Siti was quoted as saying. She said only Indonesia understood Indonesian problems and how to address them.

"The government is fully aware of the action that needs to be taken, in accordance with the Indonesian Constitution, in the interests of its citizens," said Ms Siti.

The Foresthints report comes at the end of a week when the Indonesian government seemed to be sending contradictory signals on the country's deforestation agenda. While Mr Joko called for the moratorium on new concessions, the Agriculture Ministry pushed for a zero-deforestation pledge by the private sector to be disbanded over concerns of cartel-like trade practices that may disadvantage smaller players in the country.

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