Indonesia's Vice-President Jusuf Kalla criticises neighbours for grumbling about haze

Neighbouring countries should be grateful for the clean air they enjoy for the rest of the year, said Mr Jusuf Kalla.
Neighbouring countries should be grateful for the clean air they enjoy for the rest of the year, said Mr Jusuf Kalla.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JAKARTA - Cabinets may change but Indonesian leaders remain touchy when it comes to the haze brought on by forest fires.

Yesterday, in an echo of seasons past, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla rapped neighbouring countries for complaining about the haze, and asked them instead to be grateful for the clean air they enjoy for the rest of the year.

"For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us," he said.

"They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset," Jakarta Globe quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

It was a flashback to 2013, when Mr Agung Laksono, a minister in the previous government, hit out at murmurs from Singapore, which was shrouded by the haze.

"Singapore shouldn't be like children, in such a tizzy," he said.

Some days later, his colleague Jero Wacik warned Malaysia and Singapore not to "tell stories to the world".

These remarks prompted then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to apologise for the haze.

In a reference to that, Mr Kalla said Indonesia has repeatedly apologised for the forest fires that lead to hazy conditions in Singapore and Malaysia.

Losses to Indonesia due to the fires are also substantial, the Globe said. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said economic losses from the fires and haze recorded from Feb 26 to April 4 last year were estimated at US$1.6 billion (S$2.2 billion).

This week, fires caused haze in Indonesia's Riau province. Regional wind patterns were, however, blowing the haze away from Malaysia and Singapore.

Last year, Indonesia ratified the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which says countries have to cooperate in taking measures to prevent, monitor and mitigate the haze by controlling the sources of fires, in exchanging information and technology, and in helping one another manage outbreaks.

But weak law enforcement in the country means fires continue to burn and often spread uncontrollably during the dry season.

Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources enacted the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act last year, to give regulators the legal right to prosecute those countries responsible for causing severe air pollution.

Mr Kalla had previously deflected blame for the forest fires, saying it was foreign demand and foreign technology that caused it. "Somebody once told me that Indonesia must restore its tropical forests, and I told him, 'Excuse me? What did you say? Do you know who damaged our forests?' " he said.