Singapore's move to target companies linked to Indonesian forest fires not an issue of sovereignty: MEWR

A forest fire is seen burning in Pelalawan, Riau province, Sumatra island, Indonesia on June 10, 2016.
A forest fire is seen burning in Pelalawan, Riau province, Sumatra island, Indonesia on June 10, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS/ANTARA FOTO

JAKARTA - Singapore's move to go after companies linked to forest fires in Indonesia that led to last year's haze crisis is not an issue of sovereignty or national dignity, said the country's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) on Wednesday (June 15).

It also said the purpose of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) is to deter and prosecute entities that are responsible for transboundary haze pollution in Singapore, whether Singaporean or foreign, as well as persons holding positions of responsibility in these entities.

"The THPA was drafted with advice from experts in international law and complies with international law. It is not directed at any individual nor company based on nationality," said a MEWR spokesman in a statement.

The ministry was responding to comments in recent days by Indonesia's Vice-President Jusuf Kalla as well as the country's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar over the Singapore National Environment Agency's decision to take court action against an Indonesian company director in line with the THPA.

Mr Kalla had said Indonesia will not allow one of its citizens accused of causing forest fires last year to be "processed" under the laws of Singapore, while Ms Siti accused the Republic of not showing "mutual respect".

MEWR on Wednesday reiterated that the key driver of the recurring transboundary haze is commercial and its actions are therefore directed at irresponsible companies which clear land by burning. It added that such blatant disregard of the environmental and social consequences affecting millions of people in our region should not go unchecked and it called for collective efforts by governments and all stakeholders, due to the widespread and transboundary nature of the resultant haze.

"The phenomenal amount of greenhouse gases also emitted during the burning of peatland will have a profound effect on climate change that the world is battling to slow," said the spokesman.

"This is therefore not an issue of sovereignty or national dignity. The THPA adds to the collective efforts to hold errant companies accountable for their irresponsible actions," the spokesman added.

"Indonesia should welcome this additional tool to curtail irresponsible activities that have affected the health, social and economic well-being of Indonesians and people in the region. If anything, the companies will hide behind any opacity if they can, to avoid being held accountable and further perpetuate the haze problem that has plagued the region for decades."

The ministry emphasised that Singapore respects Indonesian sovereignty and it is for that very reason that Singapore has repeatedly asked for the information on companies suspected of illegal burning in Indonesia from the relevant Indonesian authorities.

"We have yet to receive any information," said the MEWR spokesman.

"Singapore has always upheld its bilateral relations with Indonesia. That is why Singapore companies continue to be encouraged to invest in Indonesia, and vice versa, and bilateral tourism thrives," the spokesman added.

"The Ministry pursues errant companies that cause haze in this spirit. The Ministry remains committed to work with its Indonesian counterparts to bring errant companies to task, and tackle the fires and haze problem which is affecting Indonesians, Singaporeans and others in the region, in the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect."