SINGAPORE: Companies responsible for the haze that has enveloped the region must be hauled up and held accountable, and governments must not be in a state of denial when tackling the problem, said Malaysia’s prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim.
Responding to questions at a dialogue on Thursday night (Sep 19) at the Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore, Mr Anwar highlighted that the haze has caused problems in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore and more must be done to prevent it from recurring.
“Millions are affected, thousands of schools are closed. Millions have been spent by the common folk to buy some pills and (face) masks. And governments are not able to work together to resolve this,” he said.
On reports that some of the fires contributing to the haze were spotted on palm oil plantations operated by at least four subsidiaries of Malaysian companies, Mr Anwar said that the firms will be punished if found to be at fault.
“Once it is established … that these companies were involved, then they should be hauled up and be held accountable,” said Mr Anwar.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Wednesday that Malaysia may have to pass a law forcing its companies to tackle fires on land they control abroad.
Mr Anwar expressed similar sentiments, stressing that the companies responsible should provide resources to help ease the fires and not leave the extinguishing of the flames “entirely” to the Indonesian government.
“The influence of the big conglomerates is so powerful - they are registering RM800 million to RM1 billion profit, but they are still not able to spare RM20 million to RM30 million to help ease part of the problem,” said Mr Anwar.
Without pointing the finger at a specific party, Mr Anwar highlighted that countries in ASEAN must work together and “relook” at the haze problem that is “affecting millions of people”.
“I would of course (not play) the blame game. Some say Indonesians are at fault, but there are Malaysia companies involved, and Singapore (firms) have a lot of shares there, so all three must partly shoulder the blame,” said Mr Anwar.
He added that governments must also not be in a state of denial, and blame the haze on God or any natural phenomenon.
The Indonesia president’s chief of staff, Moeldoko, had reportedly called on people affected by the haze to be patient and pray, and blamed the disaster squarely on "God".
Mr Anwar said: “But you have been blaming God for the last two decades. God cannot be that cruel.
“So I would suggest certainly (governments) must have adequate laws,” he added.
“(Firms) must be hauled up and they must be held accountable. Millions are suffering and you just can’t say that we will just study and take the necessary measures so that it won’t recur next year,” he said.