Singapore's Environment Minister Masagos Zulkifli says errant firms must be stopped from producing haze

Haze shrouds buildings in Singapore's Central Business District on Oct 26, 2015.
Haze shrouds buildings in Singapore's Central Business District on Oct 26, 2015. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Singapore's new Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, said the root cause of fires that produce transboundary haze is commercially driven, and errant companies need to be stopped from starting fires, mismanaging land, and causing harm to people in the region.

"Singapore passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) in 2014, so that we can take action against companies, and not against countries. We have no interest to take friends to task, since they are doing their best," he wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday (Oct 29).

"I appreciated Indonesia's efforts to bring these companies to task and reiterated our calls for Indonesia to share information on these companies to facilitate our effective enforcement of the THPA."

Mr Masagos said that while he respects Indonesia's sovereignty and understands that details under investigation cannot be shared, he looked forward to receiving information that can be shared, including names of these companies and its managers, as well as the charges made against them.

"Hope that all of us can work together to bring these recalcitrant companies to task. These companies have been profiting at the expense of the well-being of others and should not go unpunished," he added.

"The issue of transboundary haze has been affecting us for way too long and there must be a more decisive effort towards attaining a long-term solution to eradicate this man-made crisis that should not be tolerated. There are five new environment ministers from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. I hope this will allow us to take a fresh look at initiatives we can take together at the regional and bilateral levels to prevent (the) haze from enveloping the region again from acts of irresponsible corporations."

Meanwhile, cities across Kalimantan and Sumatra saw significant improvements in air quality for the first time in weeks on Thursday.

This, after two days of heavy rain over the two regions, which have been the worst hit by the haze from forest fires this year.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in Palangkaraya for most of Thursday remained under 250, still in the "unhealthy" range but a vast improvement from the four-digit readings that for weeks were the norm for the city in Central Kalimantan.

The PSI for Medan and Pekanbaru in Sumatra never rose above 125 as of noon.

Air pollution was still fairly high in Jambi, located to the east of central Sumatra, hovering just under a PSI of 300.

However, Palembang in South Sumatra province, where President Joko Widodo had just arrived earlier after cutting short his trip to the United States, still saw high spikes in air pollution levels.

The PSI peaked at 376 at 1pm, although prior to noon, the PSI readings were as low as just 150.

The heavy rainfall not only helped to reduce the number of hot spots and provide much-needed relief for people in the two regions, but also opened a window to start cloud-seeding operations, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said earlier.