Thursday, 16 June 2016

Haze: Indonesia won’t allow Singapore to act against its citizens

Singapore targeting private firms linked to Indonesian fires, not national sovereignty: MEWR
Ministry says use of transboundary haze law aimed at preventing recurrence of crisis
By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 16 Jun 2016

Singapore's move to go after companies linked to fires in Indonesia that led to last year's haze is not an issue of sovereignty or national dignity, said a Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) spokesman yesterday.

The ministry said its actions under the country's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) was aimed at deterring and prosecuting entities that are responsible for transboundary haze pollution.

"The THPA was drafted with advice from experts in international law and complies with international law," added the spokesman. "It is not directed at any individual nor company based on nationality."

MEWR was responding to comments in recent days by Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla as well as the country's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar about Singapore's decision to take court action against an Indonesian company director via the THPA.

Mr Kalla said that Singapore cannot take action against its citizens responsible for last year's forest fires, while Ms Siti accused the Republic of not exercising "mutual respect" by invoking the THPA.

She said the Asean agreement on transboundary haze pollution is a multilateral one, and not a bilateral pact between Singapore and Indonesia. As such, "Singapore cannot step further into Indonesia's legal domain", she added.

Ms Siti also said the THPA remains a "controversial" law that is still being debated among Asean officials from Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

That is why she feels that Singapore's action under the law against errant firms in her country is not a show of "mutual respect".

MEWR, however, said the key driver of the recurring transboundary haze is commercial. It said companies' blatant disregard for the environmental and social consequences of the haze, which affects millions of people in the region, should not go unchecked.

"The phenomenal amount of greenhouse gases also emitted during the burning of peatland will have a profound effect on climate change that the world is battling to slow," said the spokesman.

"This is therefore not an issue of sovereignty or national dignity."

The ministry emphasised that Singapore respects Indonesian sovereignty and it is for that very reason that Singapore has repeatedly requested local authorities to share information on companies suspected of illegal burning in Indonesia.

Fires burning on concession land owned by private companies are said to have caused the haze crisis which affected many countries in South-east Asia.

The smoke from fires last year sent air pollution to record levels, resulting in at least 19 deaths from haze-related illnesses and more than half a million Indonesians suffering from respiratory infections.

The World Bank estimates that the fires and haze caused at least US$16 billion (S$21.7 billion) in economic losses for Indonesia alone.

Indonesian officials, however, do not expect a repeat of the crisis this year, though that may be due more to favourable weather than progress in addressing the underlying causes of the blazes, reported Bloomberg News yesterday.

Satellite imagery detected about 730 hot spots so far this year, down from more than 2,900 in the first six months of last year, according to government data.

Mr Raffles Panjaitan, the Environment and Forestry Ministry official tasked with overseeing fire prevention, said integrated fire patrol teams have been deployed in villages where forest fires are an annual occurrence.

"Normally forest fires are quite rampant in February and March, but there are no fires in villages where patrols are deployed," he said.

Indonesia not opposing Singapore's efforts against forest fire culprits: Official
The country is only concerned about ensuring these actions are being conducted in line with international regulations, says foreign ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir.
By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 16 Jun 2016

JAKARTA: Indonesia has been wrongly perceived as opposing Singapore for acting against Indonesians suspected of causing forest fires, its foreign ministry said on Thursday (Jun 16).

Spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said that whatever actions any country wishes to take against Indonesian companies and its employees have to be in line with international regulations.

“He has to be guaranteed of his legal rights, it must be ensured that it’s in line with the law, he has to be given counsel and so on. This is what we are concerned about,” said Arrmanatha in a news conference.

Last month, Singapore’s National Environment Agency said it had obtained a court warrant after the director of one of the Indonesian firms linked to illegal forest fires failed to turn up for an interview when he was in Singapore.

Singapore passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) in 2014 to go after companies that start fires or let their concessions burn.

Arrmanatha added that it is Singapore’s right to call the director for the interview, but stressed that it has to be done according to the law.

He reiterated that Indonesia is serious about and has a high commitment to tackling the haze-causing forest fires, and is doing this by using existing mechanisms in the context of ASEAN.

Singapore cannot enter Indonesia’s legal domain on forest fire issues: Forestry Minister
Indonesia had taken issue with Singapore's attempts to act against companies responsible for the haze-causing forest fires that choked parts of Indonesia and the region.
By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 14 Jun 2016

JAKARTA: Singapore cannot step further to enter Indonesia’s legal domain on the issue of forest fires because the two countries do not have an agreement in the matter, said Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

“The protocol on forest fires in the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) is a multilateral agreement, so there was never a bilateral agreement between Indonesia and Singapore, that must be remembered,” Dr Nurbaya said during a breaking of fast session with reporters on Monday (Jun 13).

She was responding to a question about Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) which it passed in 2014 to go after companies that start fires or let their concessions burn.

Indonesia has taken issue with Singapore's attempts to act against companies responsible for the haze-causing forest fires that choked parts of Indonesia and the region. Jakarta previously objected by lodging a strong protest through its ambassador in Singapore.

Dr Nurbaya said that she has explained to Singapore’s Foreign Minister that the THPA is controversial, and that it is being continuously discussed on the Asean’s sub-regional ministers level between Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

She added that every country who adhered to the ASEAN agreement needs to respect the sovereignty of each other’s country.

What Singapore has done did not show mutual respect to Indonesia, she said.

“Previously, Singapore's Environment Minister always gives an assessment on policies in Indonesia, for instance, on peatland, it should be like this and like that. That to me, is not an attitude that showed mutual respect,” said Dr Nurbaya.

Indonesia won't allow citizen accused of causing forest fires to be arraigned under Singapore laws: V-P Jusuf Kalla
The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2016

JAKARTA - Indonesia will not simply allow one of its citizens accused of causing the forest fires in 2015 to be "processed" under the laws of Singapore, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said on Sunday (June 12).

"If there is an offence, Singapore can take action but (the offence) occurred in Indonesia, that is the concern," said Mr Kalla on the sidelines of a community event in Jakarta.

Mr Kalla was referring to attempts by Singapore to act against companies responsible for causing the forest fires in Indonesia that led to last year's haze crisis.

Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) said last month that it had obtained a court warrant against an Indonesian company director after he failed to turn up for an interview despite being served a legal notice to explain his firm's measures to tackle fires on its concession land.

The NEA has said its actions were in line with the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014, which allows for prosecution of companies that cause the haze.

Some critics in Indonesia said the NEA's move was an attack on Indonesia's sovereignty.

Shortly after the NEA announcement, Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar reportedly said on May 14 that certain bilateral collaborations would be terminated and others subjected to a "substantial review".

Last week, however, Singapore renewed its haze assistance package to Indonesia, which it has been offering since 2005 to support the country's fire mitigation efforts.

"This is part of the Singapore Government's broader commitment to assist the Indonesian Government in its efforts to deal with the land and forest fires in the run-up to the traditional dry season from June to October," said Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) in a news release on June 7.

The haze assistance package includes, among others, a team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force to provide fire-fighting assessment and planning assistance to its Indonesian counterparts, a C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding operations and high-resolution satellite pictures of fires and the coordinates of the fire sites.

Indonesia has yet to indicate if it will be accepting Singapore's help, with Mr Kalla saying previously that his government has received many offers of assistance in 2015.

He said last week that Indonesia will accept help if it is really needed, but he reminded Indonesia's neighbours that tackling the forest fires are "not as easy as what our friends in Asean think".

"Don’t forget, I have always said, why the need for joint efforts? Because the clean air from the forests is enjoyed by everyone including those in Asia and Singapore. So if damage occurs, repair together,” he said.

Several other plantation firms in Indonesia are also under investigation by the Singapore authorities despite protests from some officials in Jakarta.

Singapore is prepared to prosecute any Indonesian firm behind the fires that led to the haze last year, Bloomberg reported last Friday (June 10).

The authorities in Singapore have ordered six suppliers of Asia Pulp and Paper, Indonesia's largest pulp and paper company, to provide information on how they plan to prevent fires on their land, said Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

"We are standing on high moral ground," he said. "We have the support of the international community. We are not doing anything criminal nor wrong. We are just asking for the companies and the directors to own up and be accountable for what they've done."

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