PUTRAJAYA, Aug 16 — The government is unconvinced that a transboundary haze Act that will allow Malaysia to take action against companies responsible for setting fires outside its borders is the best way to go.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said based on Singapore’s experience with its Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) 2014, diplomacy was still the best way to address the issue.
He said while Malaysia had considered using laws similar to Singapore’s, their effectiveness remained to be seen.
“This is because the people they want to take action against are in another country and (under THPA) it can only be done if they are in Singapore itself,” he said.
“The law also does not allow them (Singapore) to nab the culprits unless they get the green light from Indonesia or other neighbouring countries.”
Singapore passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in 2014 to take action against companies that started fires or let their concessions burn.
In June, Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told the media that Singapore could not enter Indonesia’s legal domain on forest fires because they did not have an agreement on the matter.
In response, Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said the Act was to deter and prosecute parties for transboundary haze pollution in Singapore and not directed at any individual or company based on nationality.
Stressing diplomacy, Wan Junaidi said it was important to respect the sovereignty of a country.
“I have met with officials from Indonesia to discuss the matter and it has had a positive impact with minimal friction between Malaysia and Indonesia,” he said.
He said Malaysia and Indonesia had reached their highest level of diplomacy when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo discussed the matter.
“The ‘slash-and-burn’ culture in Indonesia persists and that is where the problem lies,” he said.
Wan Junaidi said he was informed that in Indonesia, there were 3,000 police and army personnel deployed to deal with forest fires.
“Some parties may claim that there is a lack of political will but there is not much we can do as well,” he said, hitting out at non-governmental organisations who criticised the Conference of Parties to the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution last Thursday.
“We have achieved the highest level of public relations with the meeting of the two leaders and both parties have expressed concern," he said.
Wan Junaidi said that during the conference, Asean nations also called for a study on the impact of last year’s haze.
“The study includes health, social and economical impacts and it requires reports from all affected countries,” he said.
“We do not know how long it would take for the report to be done but we hope to get it by next year so that we know how the haze has affected us.”
As of Sunday, there were 37 hotspots in Sumatra, 14 in Kalimantan, six in Sarawak and four in Sabah. No hotspots were detected in Peninsular Malaysia.