Indonesia is in a race with Malaysia for leadership of the upcoming ASEAN secretariat that will coordinate efforts to reduce transboundary air pollution caused by land and forest fires in the region.
“We are competing with Malaysia over this center. We want it to be here instead of in Kuala Lumpur,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told the House of Representatives Commission IV on Monday.
During the meeting with the commission, which oversees agriculture, plantations, maritime affairs, fisheries and food, Siti assured lawmakers the Indonesian government was making all the necessary preparations for gaining approval to host the center from all ASEAN countries.
“We have also asked the Foreign Ministry to help in the effort,” she said.
The government’s proposal quickly gained support at the House due to the benefits it would bring to the country’s efforts to battle haze.
The establishment of the ASEAN coordinating center on transboundary haze pollution is required by the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that Indonesia ratified in September last year.
As the last signatory, the government proposed to take charge of the joint secretariat that will coordinate information, reports and policies needed to address the problems raised by transboundary haze pollution in the region.
Indonesia adopted the decades-old haze treaty following pressure from neighboring countries over serial forest fires on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, which got worse in June last year due to the spread of haze caused by land clearing in Sumatra to Singapore and Malaysia.
The agreement was originally initiated as a response to an environmental crises in Southeast Asia in the late 1990s that caused estimated losses of US$9 billion due to health care problems, disruption of air travel and other business activities.
Before Indonesia finally ratified the treaty, Singapore, which has experienced the worsening impact of haze on its citizens and businesses, also increased its efforts to curb rampant haze and forest fires by introducing a law that punishes companies responsible for forest fires and spreading haze to the country.
Environment and Forestry Ministry’s deputy for environmental damage control and climate change, Arief Yuwono, said Indonesia would be greatly benefited by hosting the coordinating center.
“We would eventually be able to develop our own center to handle forest fires at home due to the transfer of information, data and expertise inherited by the joint center,” he said.
Arief added that the ASEAN coordinating center would be located at the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s headquarters in West Jakarta.
Upon the establishment of the center, the haze treaty requires signatory countries to jointly finance its operations through fundraising.
Arief added that as host of the center, Indonesia would be required to provide the overhead funds.