Clear the haze with clear thinking and tough action

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By Charles Santiago

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar’s statement calling for diplomacy between Malaysia and Indonesia to deal with the haze is a strategy that’s as clear as mud.

Malaysia has been enveloped by smog since April 1983. Since then the many efforts, crawling around the need not to offend each country’s fragile sensitivity, have only resulted in thicker smog.

As part of steps taken to avoid the recurring haze, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) approved the need for an early warning system in the Regional Haze Action Plan (RHAP) in 1998 to prevent forest fires and the resulting haze through improved management policies and enforcement action.

In addition, Malaysia and Indonesia came up with a disaster cooperation and assistance plan.

Sixteen years later, we are still talking about finding durable solutions, albeit in a diplomatic fashion. And this is partly because the plans were not properly implemented.

Asean has completely failed to put in place a comprehensive monitoring strategy, again because it doesn’t have the political spine to criticise companies and countries that indulge in open burning. And all in the name of the non-interference policy.

The smog is caused by slash and burn techniques adopted by farmers on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra: a method practised extensively for its low cost and easy way to clear the lands for traditional agriculture.

But Indonesian companies are not the only culprits as most of the big businesses are Malaysian and Singaporean as well.

Therefore, a Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, as implemented by Singapore, would be useful in punishing companies and their concessionaires that are contributing to the already raging forest fires in Indonesia.

We need to implement a similar law in Malaysia and to stop issuing statements that are a perfect blend of ignorance and being poorly thought-out.

We certainly don’t have the luxury of time to drum out diplomatic solutions as the smog has caused the closure of schools, made hundreds of people sick, forced them to stay indoors and halted air traffic.

Last year Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that the Malaysian and Indonesian governments would come up with long-term measures to solve the problem afflicting both countries.

He was confident of a positive outcome as details of the long-term solution were being worked out by the countries’ relevant ministries.

But these strategies, worked at from 1983, clearly haven’t worked for I only see thick smog covering the skyline as I look out from my balcony.

People are already complaining of cough, headaches and burning eyes. It will only continue to get worse if both countries throw much weight over diplomacy as opposed to making errant companies face the music.

Charles Santiago is MP for Klang.

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