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S'pore haze bill gets support, but some question effectiveness

The local government of Indonesia's Riau province supported Singapore's plans to penalise companies and persons responsible for the haze. But some are questioning the effectiveness of the bill.

JAKARTA: The local government of Indonesia's Riau province supported Singapore's plans to penalise companies and persons responsible for the haze. But some are questioning the effectiveness of the bill.

Many factors need to be in place before anyone can be brought to trial in Singapore.

The Singapore government introduced a draft bill to penalise companies and persons responsible for the haze.

The legislation covers any nationality, no matter where the haze originates.

Those found guilty in Singapore risk being prosecuted in its courts.

But having enough evidence to secure a conviction is complex, requiring extensive investigations and Indonesia to share sensitive information, such as concession or land use maps.

Michael Zampa, director of corporate communications at Asia Pacific Resources International Limited, said: "We're supportive of government initiatives in Indonesia, as well as in Singapore to address the issue.

"The one caution we have is there needs to be understanding of the situation on the ground. It's very complex.

“There are conflicting land claims, there's economic pressure to clear land cheaply and quickly and in a dense forest, it's difficult to know exactly where a fire starts before it spreads broadly so it will require collaboration - public sector, private sector and the community in the forests to really address this issue long term."

The key to solving the haze problem in the region is Indonesia ratifying the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

It is the only country in the ASEAN grouping that has not done so.

Opponents of the treaty are concerned it could violate Indonesia's sovereignty.

Some government officials, though, support the idea.

The health and welfare of hundreds of thousands of people living in Riau province were badly affected by the transboundary haze.

Singapore's plans to penalise those responsible for the transboundary haze has gotten the approval of the Governor of Riau Annas Maamun.

Maamun said: "Those who started the fires must receive heavy punishment, otherwise it won't have a deterrent effect. So I agree with it (the bill) because so many people have suffered. The number of people suffering from the haze is not small."

Cooperation between stakeholders remains the key.

There are positive signs that Indonesia wants to support a more sustainable agro-industry.

For instance, the Ministry of Finance, Agriculture and Forestry is pushing for parties involved to comply with no-burn policies.  

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