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Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill meant to send a 'strong signal': Balakrishnan

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said the Bill is intended to ensure errant companies know that Singapore will not tolerate the actions of errant companies that harm the environment and put at risk the health of citizens.

SINGAPORE: The inadequate enforcement to deter illegal land land clearing, which is a cause of transboundary haze, is why the Government is tabling the Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill, said the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (Aug 4).

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

Dr Balakrishnan, speaking in Parliament, said that transboundary haze pollution has been a perennial problem in the region for the past two decades. "The root of this problem is misaligned commercial interests where companies burn forests and engage in unsustainable degradation of land because of short-term profits," he said.

There is, therefore, an urgent need for governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), responsible companies and local communities, to collaborate more effectively, to insist on transparency and to pursue investigations in order to hold the culprits accountable for their actions, he said.

However, there is inadequate enforcement on the ground to deter such illegal land clearing and Singapore cannot "simply wait and wishfully hope for the situation to resolve on its own".

This legislation will make it an offence for any entity – Singaporean and non-Singaporean - to cause or contribute to transboundary haze pollution in Singapore, he stated.

"The Singapore Government, and this Parliament, wants to send a strong signal that we will not tolerate the actions of errant companies that harm our environment and put at risk the health of our citizens," Dr Balakrishnan said.

"Given the very strong economic incentives today for companies to adopt, quite frankly, the cheapest methods of clearing land for plantations, we need to tilt the playing field in favour of businesses that do the right and responsible thing, and to deter against those who do not."

He added that the Bill is not intended to replace the laws and enforcement actions of other countries, but to complement their efforts to hold companies to account.

The Ministry of The Environment And Water Resources said in a statement on Monday that it will provide additional haze assistance to Indonesia in the form of a helicopter equipped with a heli-bucket to fight fires. This is in addition to the haze assistance package offered to Indonesia in June, the ministry said.