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Malaysia prefers to use diplomacy to fight haze-causing fires

Singapore

MALAYSIA has decided that diplomacy is a better option than enacting a law similar to Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act after observing the city-state’s experience.

The country had in 2015 said it was studying the possibility of also introducing a law to punish companies responsible for haze-causing fires in Indonesia. But Singapore’s experience has prompted Malaysia to reconsider whether to press ahead with it, said Malaysia’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Wan Junaidi bin Tuanku Jaafar.

“If you look at the experience Singapore has… the implementation of the law is not as simple as we consider it to be, because you need the person to be in Singapore before you can take action,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the 4th Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources.

Both countries have, over the past two decades, been severely affected by haze from illegal land-clearing activities in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia.

Singapore passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in August 2014. This allows the government to fine local or foreign companies up to S$100,000 a day, capped at S$2 million, for causing haze in the country.

The law was used for the first time in 2015, when legal notices were served to six Indonesian companies asking them to take immediate measures to stop the fires that caused the haze. Two responded to the notices and said they were no longer associated with the affected areas before the fires occurred.

The other four, suppliers of Asia Pulp and Paper, did not respond to letters by the National Environment Agency (NEA) despite repeated reminders.

A director for one of these companies had been served with a notice to be interviewed by NEA when he was in Singapore, but he failed to turn up. The agency has since obtained a court warrant allowing it to detain the director for investigations if he enters Singapore.

Given the limitation of enforcement efforts, “we feel diplomacy works better”, said Dr Wan Junaidi. “We can get access to the authorities in Indonesia.”

Malaysia has not dropped the idea of the law completely, but “we’re putting it at the back and taking more action on the diplomatic front”, he said, adding that this seemed to have worked.

Indonesia has stepped up its enforcement efforts last year, he noted. This, coupled with better weather conditions, was why there was no repeat of a haze episode last year, he said.

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Malaysia prefers to use diplomacy to fight haze-causing fires