Singapore to defy Indonesia over last year’s fires
SINGAPORE is refusing to back down in its pursuit of those responsible for haze-belching forest fires in Southeast Asia last year, despite struggling to bring the perpetrators before the courts and drawing a sharp rebuke from neighbouring Indonesia.
Forest fires are part of an annual dry-season problem in Indonesia, started illegally to quickly and cheaply clear land for cultivation – particularly for palm oil and pulpwood.
But last year’s haze outbreak was among the worst in memory, shrouding Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Thailand in acrid smoke as pollution reached hazardous levels and thousands fell sick across the region.
Singapore has served notice to six Indonesian companies it believes may have cleared land by burning but could target others as investigations continue, according to Singapore’s ambassador to Indonesia Anil Kumar Nayar.
However, the city-state’s efforts to punish Indonesian companies under its own anti-haze law have become a flashpoint with Jakarta.
Singapore argues that international rules allow states to take action – even if harm is being caused by activities outside its jurisdiction – but Jakarta has questioned how Singapore could pursue Indonesian citizens for prosecution, especially in the absence of a ratified extradition treaty between the neighbours.
The latest sabre-rattling came after Singapore issued a court warrant to detain a director of an Indonesian company linked to the haze while he was in the city-state.
Afterward, Indonesia’s Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said that she would be reviewing her ministry’s cooperation with Singapore on environmental issues.
The law threatens local and foreign firms with fines of up to S$100,000 (US$74,000) for every day Singapore endures unhealthy haze pollution.
Singapore has repeatedly asked Indonesia for details about companies but says Jakarta has not provided any information.
Fellow ASEAN member Malaysia, which also suffers greatly from the haze each year, has expressed interest in adopting its own law similar to Singapore’s to pursue errant companies.