Name and shame companies behind haze: Singapore

Singapore is calling on Indonesia to name the companies behind the illegal forest burning which has caused serious haze pollution this week across the Republic.

In a joint statement, both Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said they had spoken to their Indonesian counterparts to express their concern about the worsening haze situation.

Both Ministers had asked Indonesia to share the names of errant companies involved in illegal burning, as an Indonesian Forestry Ministry official had said that Malaysian and Singapore palm oil companies that had invested in Indonesia may be responsible for starting the fires in Riau.

“Primary responsibility to take legal and enforcement actions against these companies lies with Indonesia as they have clearly violated Indonesian laws within Indonesian jurisdiction,” they said in the statement.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which measures air quality, hit 155 on Monday in Singapore – the highest in 16 years.

The smog enveloped most of the island, with the southern part most badly hit. Singapore’s distinct skyline at the Marina Bay area and Central Business District was shrouded by the haze. Neighbouring Malaysia was also affected.

Air quality is considered unhealthy when the PSI is above 100. The highest reading was recorded at 226 in 1997.

Dr Balakrishnan noted in a separate note on Facebook on Tuesday that the haze has “practically become a permanent fixture every year”.

He suggested that Indonesia name the companies responsible for the fires, “as I am sure consumers will know what to do”.

The haze is primarily caused by farmers and land owners using fire to clear forest land to plant crops during the dry weather season. The resulting deforestation and pollution has been a dicey issue for Asean countries for many years, with Indonesia being the only member who has not ratified an Asean agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, a legally-binding tool for controlling haze.

Environmental NGOs have long called for major agri-businesses to commit to zero burning with limited success.

Greenpeace International told Eco-Business on Wednesday that “nothing could be more illustrative of forest destruction than the polluting haze that is coming from Sumatra”.

“But what’s ironic is that many of the corporations, such as palm oil trader Wilmar International which has been known to source palm oil from companies involved in fire clearing and forest destruction, are also based in Singapore,” said its spokesman.

Singapore-based Golden Agri-Resources and Wilmar International, however, told local media that they have a zero-burning policy.

Golden Agri-Resources said the company uses only mechanical means such as excavators and bulldozers in land preparation; while Wilmar said that even though it is committed to zero-burning, it cannot prevent local practices of slash-and-burn for agricultural and other purposes.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also weighed in on the issue, saying that the Republic was monitoring the situation closely and “will stay in close touch with the Indonesian authorities”.

“Meanwhile, please stay indoors whenever you can, especially children, seniors and those prone to respiratory problems,” he urged in his Facebook note.

Greenpeace noted that the fires that burn across Indonesia are “a reminder that the destruction of Indonesia’s forests is an international problem, and demand solutions from government and business”.

“The fact these fires continue to affect the region shows just how poorly enforced forest protection measures are in Indonesia; but corporations must also take responsibility for their entire supply chains, commit to zero deforestation and stop the sort of illegal practices such as fire clearing that is destroying our forests and clogging our air,” said its spokesman.

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