Extra-territorial legislation could be introduced to deal with haze

Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said extraterritorial legislation is being considered by the Attorney-General to tackle the recurrent problem.

He has asked the Attorney-General to study the possibility of introducing legislation and consider what legal options are available, if credible and usable evidence shows Singapore-linked companies are involved.

But he stressed the primary responsibility for taking action against companies still lies with Indonesia.

Mr Shanmugam said: “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 Shanmugam also shared that Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to establish a trilateral cooperative process.

This is to look at ways to strengthen joint efforts to tackle the smoke haze.

It will involve officials and experts from foreign ministries and related agencies of the three countries.

This will complement existing platforms, like the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Mr Shanmugam also responded to questions on the likelihood that Indonesia will ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

He said: “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.”

Mr Shanmugam also stressed that Singapore should focus on cooperation and persuading its neighbours to work together to put in place a long-term solution and the importance of keeping relationships friendly and taking a constructive approach to sort out issues.

He added Singapore will regularly review the options available to mitigate and resolve the haze problem.

Mr Shanmugam said: “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, if at all possible.” 

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