Oral Answer by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam to Parliamentary Questions on the haze
8 Jul 2013 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Mr Zaqy Mohamad: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether there are any bilateral engagements or a special action plan by ASEAN to contain the current haze faced by Singapore.
Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Minister for Law whether the use of international law provides an avenue to deter irresponsible parties from causing fires that result in the annual haze hazard.
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether Singapore can take this matter up at the United Nations to seek a resolution should the burning persist.
Mr Lim Biow Chuan: To ask the Minister for Law whether there are any criminal sanctions which can be imposed on local or foreign companies that have caused the haze in Singapore by their illegal burning.
Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs what pressure can be brought to bear on Indonesia to prevent future recurrence of the haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia.
Assoc Prof Tan Kheng Boon Eugene: To ask the Minister for Law (a) whether the Government will consider introducing legislation that has extra-territorial jurisdiction over Singaporean or Singapore-based companies and their subsidiaries whose overseas business activities have detrimental environmental or economic effects on Singapore; and (b) whether legislation can be introduced to enable Singapore to claim jurisdiction over non-Singaporean individuals and organisations for activities outside Singapore that result in production of negative environmental and economic effects within Singapore.
Mr Pritam Singh: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) what is Singapore’s regional and international strategy in dealing with the haze problem going forward; and (b) what is the Government’s proposed regional and international course of action in exerting pressure against companies found to be causing the haze.
Ms Tan Su Shan: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) what is the likelihood of Indonesia’s ratification of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution being concluded before the next period of potential haze development; and (b) whether there is real scope for ASEAN to come up with concrete action under this Agreement to tackle the haze problem.
This year’s smoke haze has been the worst Singapore has ever encountered. The sentiment of our people is entirely understandable. Caused by fires in Riau and other parts of Sumatra, the smoke haze has not only affected Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, but also southern Thailand.
When the number of hotspots in Sumatra increased in mid-June, our National Environment Agency contacted the Indonesian Ministry of Environment on 14 June to seek an urgent update. They also requested that mitigating measures to deal with the hotspot situation be taken. 1 When the smoke haze situation worsened, NEA followed up with a letter to the Indonesian Ministry of Environment on 17 June to register the alarming increase in hotspot activities in Sumatra. The next day, Minister Vivian Balakrishnan telephoned Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya to call for urgent action. I likewise spoke with my Indonesian counterpart, Dr Marty Natalegawa. Arising from this, the CEO of NEA visited Jakarta to meet with Indonesian officials on 20 June.
To further underscore the seriousness of the matter, Prime Minister Lee sent Minister Vivian to Jakarta as his Special Envoy on 21 June to convey a letter to the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. We stressed the following: (i) this is a recurrent problem that has regional implications; (ii) we needed strong and immediate action on the ground to put out the fires, and also legal action against the companies involved; (iii) if any Singapore-linked companies were involved, Indonesia should share with us the names of the companies and evidence so that we can take up the matter; (iv) countries in the region had to work together to overcome the problem; and (v) Singapore stood ready to cooperate with Indonesia.
This cooperation included renewing environmental collaboration between Singapore and the Jambi province. We had good cooperation under a Master Plan to deal with land and forest fires in Jambi. The project had however lapsed, and the air quality and weather monitoring stations we had helped to install required repair. We have informed Indonesia that we are ready to send a technical team to assist with the repair, renew our cooperation with Jambi, and extend it to other fire-prone provinces if Indonesia is willing. As in previous years, we have also offered a haze assistance package that includes aircraft for cloud seeding, satellite imagery, and hotspot coordinates. Indonesia has yet to take up our offer of assistance, but the offer remains open.
Our expression of concern did not sit well with several Indonesian Ministers. But President Yudhoyono gave a sincere public apology to the people of Singapore and Malaysia, and promised to spare no efforts to tackle this serious problem. This was an act of statesmanship that we have welcomed.
We also welcome President Yudhoyono’s assurance that action will be taken against errant plantation companies, whether based in Indonesia, Singapore or Malaysia or elsewhere. As to whether Singapore-linked companies are involved, we have formally sought clarification through a diplomatic note, and have requested that Indonesia provide any evidence of wrong-doing that Indonesia has. We are awaiting Indonesia’s response.
Mr Lim and Mr Singh have asked whether criminal sanctions or pressure can be applied to companies found to be causing the haze. A/P Tan has asked whether extraterritorial legislation can be introduced. This is being considered. I have asked the Attorney-General to study the possibility of introducing such legislation. I have also asked him to consider what legal options are available, if credible and usable evidence is received that Singapore-linked companies are involved. The primary responsibility for taking action against those companies, of course still lies with Indonesia.
Mr de Souza asked whether the use of international law provides an avenue to deter irresponsible parties from causing fires that result in the annual smoke haze. Countries do have international obligations to prevent, reduce and control pollution if activities within their territories have a transboundary effect. For instance, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted at a UN Conference in 1992 outlines two key principles: (i) responsibility to ensure that activities within a country do not cause damage to the environment of other countries; (ii) obligation for countries to inform and consult with others whose environment may be negatively affected.
Ms Tan asked about the likelihood that Indonesia will ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. The Indonesian government has told us that it will be submitting this Agreement to the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR) for ratification soon. However, we also know that some Indonesian legislators feel that Indonesia does not benefit from the Agreement. Indeed this is the second time that the Indonesian government will be submitting the Agreement to the DPR. We hope that Indonesia will expedite the ratification of the Agreement.
Countries in the region must work together to deal with this common challenge. This view, expressed by me and my Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts, Dr Natalegawa and Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman, was strongly supported by all the Foreign Ministers at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Brunei on 30 June. Hence our collective agreement to strengthen national and regional capacities to deal with the smoke haze. This includes a commitment to establish effective monitoring, rapid response and fire-fighting systems. We also tasked our senior officials to consolidate ASEAN’s existing initiatives to combat the smoke haze, and recommend regional cooperation measures. The progress of these efforts will have to be submitted to the Leaders at the next ASEAN Summit.
Dr Natalegwa, Dato’ Sri Anifah and I also met in Brunei a day before the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. This informal meeting was a follow-up to the telephone calls I had with them a few days earlier. We had candid and constructive discussions on how to deal with the smoke haze. We agreed to establish a trilateral cooperative process or TCP to tackle the problem. The TCP will look at ways to strengthen joint efforts to mitigate the smoke haze. The process will involve officials and experts from the foreign ministries and related agencies of the three countries, and will complement existing platforms such as the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution.
Ms Ng has asked what pressure can be brought to bear on Indonesia. We should focus on cooperation and persuading our neighbours to work together with us to put in place a long-term solution. Relationships between countries can vary depending on the circumstances. They can be friendly, they can be correct and cool, or they can be not very friendly. Between neighbours it is important to keep relationships friendly and take a constructive approach to sorting out issues. This is what we have always tried to do with Indonesia. Exerting pressure would change relationships between countries and move them from being friendly to either cool and correct, or unfriendly. We are linked on so many levels that when one country exerts pressure on one issue, both sides will feel the impact on the overall relationship. This holds true for all our bilateral relationships. It does not mean that we will not do anything no matter how severe the impact is on us. But we must maintain a clear, long-term perspective of the bilateral relationship, and do our utmost to avoid hurting this relationship as much as possible.
Dr Lee has asked whether Singapore can take the haze problem up at the United Nations. That is possible. We have done so before. However, this is not just about raising the issue. Our goal is to put in place systems and processes to prevent the smoke haze from recurring. Right now our focus is on taking actions on the ground, and making progress through ASEAN, the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution and the TCP. But we will regularly review the options available to mitigate and resolve this problem.
 On 14 June, the 24-hour PSI was 55-62 and the 3-hour PSI was 81. The hotspot count was 46 in Sumatra. On 17 June, the 24-hour PSI was 67-80 and the 3-hour PSI was 105. There were 113 hotspots in Sumatra.
Last updated on 13 Sep 2013