Malaysia's environment minister ignores calls to resign

Malaysia's Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin brushed aside calls for her resignation over a supposed conflict of interest in handling the issue of transboundary haze. PHOTO: ST FILE

SERI ISKANDAR • Malaysia's environment minister Yeo Bee Yin has brushed aside calls for her to resign over a supposed conflict of interest in handling the transboundary haze issue.

Her husband's company, IOI Corporation, is one of several oil palm firms with plantations in Indonesia that have been named by the Indonesian government as contributing to the forest fires that have engulfed the region in choking smog in recent weeks.

Responding to media questions, the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister said the matter should be handled by the Indonesian government.

Ms Yeo said the Indonesian government should first investigate and take necessary action against any company found guilty of an offence.

"I hope that instead of criticising, the opposition can give constructive ideas to resolve similar issues in the future. This situation has been occurring for decades, and we welcome ideas from either the government or the opposition," she told reporters after an event on Tuesday. "If there are constructive ideas, we will accept and execute them," she said.

It was reported that four plantation companies in Indonesia with ties to Malaysians were among the industry players blamed for causing the haze currently blanketing the region, because of slash-and-burn land-clearing methods.

The companies include Sukses Karya Sawit, a unit of IOI Corporation, and Sime Indo Agro, which is related to Sime Darby Plantation.

The youth chief of opposition party Malaysian Chinese Association Nicole Wong had called for Ms Yeo to step down due to the links with her husband's family company. Ms Yeo's husband Lee Yeow Seng is chief executive of IOI Properties Group.

The minister said that a new law, the Cross-Border Pollution Act, was being drawn up so that Malaysian companies and individuals causing pollution overseas would be held accountable.

"We are preparing the policy and will bring it to the Cabinet for approval. Once approved, a draft will be prepared," she said.

Ms Yeo said that while it usually took months - sometimes years - to bring a new law into effect, her ministry has communicated the urgency of the matter to the Attorney-General's Chambers.

She also said that the Indonesian government has not responded to offers from Malaysia and Singapore to help handle the haze crisis.

The poor air quality in Malaysia would improve by the end of the week, she added.

"Our Meteorological Department has announced that there would be changes in the wind direction and we are expecting the monsoon season to arrive," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2019, with the headline Malaysia's environment minister ignores calls to resign. Subscribe