Channel NewsAsia

Up to S$100,000 fine for every day of transboundary haze

Changes have been made to Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill to introduce harsher penalties and a broader definition of who is deemed to be the "owner" of the plot of land where the fire is occurring.

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan tabled changes to Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution bill in Parliament on Monday (July 7). The amendments were made based on feedback from members of the public following a month-long consultation.

When it was first unveiled early this year, the draft Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill proposed a fine of up to S$300,000 for those found guilty. Following public feedback, penalties have increased to up to S$100,000 for every day that the haze occurs in Singapore.

For example, if the haze persists at an unhealthy level and evidence shows it is caused by three days of burning, culprits can be fined up to S$300,000.

"There was a sense that we needed to increase the overall level of deterrence and this was one way to do that, because otherwise you have the position where the guy says, 'Well since I've already caused the haze on one day, I might as well do more of it'," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"So we felt there was more of a need to send a clear signal. So first you should not do it, and if you do it, try and put it out as quickly as possible. Hence, pegging it to each day of the transboundary haze it has caused."

The fine for not complying with a notice to take preventive measures has also been amended - from a previous cap of S$450,000, including the S$300,000 penalty, to up to S$50,000 for every day of non-compliance. The maximum penalty for each offence is now S$2 million - including penalty and non-compliance.The bill also exposes guilty parties liable to civil action by affected individuals, companies or industries.

Should the foreign-based director of the errant company be in Singapore, for example, the court can now require him to remain in the country to give evidence or more information.

A narrow definition of "land-owner" in the draft bill also raised concerns, especially for countries where a third party may be operating a particular plantation.

In this case, the bill also now defines the owner of the land to include anyone with a valid licence or permit to carry out operations, or one who has an agreement with the landowner. However, the bill allows accused parties who have taken measures to stop or prevent the fires to use this as a defense.

"This bill cannot act in isolation. This is an ASEAN problem," noted Dr Balakrishnan. "We need effective collaboration, cooperation between governments. We need to share information, we need to share results of investigations."

Dr Balakrishnan says he hopes irresponsible behaviour that causes the yearly problem will be deterred with a network of agencies working together with existing legislation.

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia