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Political patronage protecting haze culprits

 | June 24, 2013

Political patronage and Indonesian local government officers' collusion with private companies were hindering efforts to stem the haze problem, claims a former senator.

GEORGE TOWN:  Many Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean firms, accused of causing the haze in Sumatra have been able to evade official investigation by Jakarta due their strong political connections.

Making these allegations, former DAP senator S Ramakrishnan said the widespread practice of patronage politics had enabled these companies to act with impunity, even in the face of open burning allegations by civil society.

He claimed that the Malaysian and Singaporean companies especially were government-linked corporations (GLCs) or linked to powerful political elites back home.

He said it can be inferred that these political elites were more motivated by material gains than protecting the interests of the society suffering from haze.

“Due to powerful political backing, these companies managed to evade probe by the Indonesian government despite repeated indicators of open burning.

“Political patronage protects the trans-border haze pollutants,” he said in a statement issued here today.

Ramakrishnan said while Singaporeans and Malaysians were now caught “red-handed”, Indonesia,  which was the haze-causing culprit for the past 20 years, seemed to be in no hurry and showed no expediency to reduce the smog.

He said Malaysian and Singaporean investors control more than two-thirds of the Indonesian oil palm plantation sector and were implicated in the fires alongside local plantations.

He said these companies were rich, huge and enjoyed the political protection of patrons from Indonesia and their home country.

“This explains why Malaysian and Singaporean investors continue to clear land by fire in the interests of cost-efficiency, despite their home countries suffering the worst effects of haze.

“(As such) there is little hope to address trans-boundary haze effectively unless the root cause of the system, patronage politics, is conclusively addressed,” said Ramakrishnan, who contested and lost Labis parliamentary seat in recent general election.

Haze affects 75 mil people

He also alleged that that it would “not be a surprise” if superannuation funds such as EPF, Tabung Haji and LTAT heavily invested in these pollutant companies.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, has vastly expanded its palm oil plantations in the past decade, overtaking Malaysia to become the world’s biggest supplier.

He said sources familiar with the problem estimated that 80% fires were set by plantation companies or their sub-contractors for land clearing purposes, while the remaining 20% were set by ‘swidden’ (‘slash-and-burn’) farmers.

The smoke from these fires accumulates and travels across international boundaries, he said resulting in trans-boundary haze pollution.

The annual haze phenomenon affects the health of some 75 million people and the economies of six Southeast Asian nations, with the worst affected being Malaysia and Singapore.


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