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- Prime Minister Najib Razak has said urged the Indonesian government to act against the haze causing culprits from the country.Seeing as the haze is no longer something new and can also be considered an annual nuisance, what can the Indonesia do to help curb the matter once and for all?
The Indonesian government must overcome the corruption and patronage that is rife in their land management. There are two aspects to this. First, the government should ensure that peatlands are not released for agricultural development. Peatlands, when drained for agriculture, become very dry and fire prone (be it accidental or manmade fires). And the fire that burns on peatlands are especially thick, sooty and heavy, which produce the worst kind of haze that can travel across vast distances. Second, the government should properly enforce all its burning laws to ensure that no company or individual can get away with using fire to clear land. At the moment, both of these aspects are easily sidestepped due to the problem of patronage and corruption in the country. Companies with good links to government elites can gain permits for peatlands, and the same firms can often get away with burning due to their healthy relationships with local police.
- Can the haze caused by Indonesia considered a trans national crime? If so what actions can neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Singapore can take against the culprit or the Indonesian government for that matter?
The ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that has been ratified by all ASEAN states is a legally-binding treaty. It contains several international law principles like the obligation not to cause environmental harm, the precautionary principle, the duty to cooperate, good neighborliness etc. This means that the parties to the agreement should have to adhere to all these international law principles. However, the agreement does not include any enforcement or dispute resolution mechanisms. This means that, even if a country does not adhere to the principles stipulated in the agreement, they cannot be called to task for it. Hence, neighbouring countries cannot “take action” against Indonesia, per se. Neighbouring countries of course continue to offer assistance or exert pressure on Indonesia, but as we know these methods have not been very effective in the past.
In terms of taking action against culprits, it is a question of jurisdiction. The Malaysian courts do not have jurisdiction over what happens on Indonesian soil. At most, Malaysian authorities could pressure Malaysian companies whose subsidiaries are are suspected culprits in Indonesia, encouraging them to more closely oversee the actions of their subsidiaries. Singapore’s case is a bit different, because of its newly adopted Transboundary Pollution Bill. This bill allows legal action against firms or individuals suspected as being responsible of haze in Singapore. This bill is revolutionary in theory but it has not yet been tested. One major problem is the difficulty of pinpointing exactly where the smoke affecting Singapore is coming from. With the lack of transparency of Indonesia’s land maps, it would be challenging to prove who own the land that is the source of haze for Singapore.
- Najib also said that Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are still working on interpreting the agreement into a suitable form of action to ensure the matter does not recur. As an expert in environment politics, what do you suggest the coalition come up with?
From my perspective, the main issue in terms of interpreting the agreement now is the delay between the offering of assistance by Malaysia and Singapore and the clearance from Indonesia. Actually, the agreement allows for instantaneous diplomatic clearance for assistance. This means that as soon as a serious fire is spotted by the ASEAN Specialised Meteorelogical Centre, assistance from neigbouring countries should be able to move in without having to wait for diplomatic clearance. However, the non-intervention principle in ASEAN still prescribes that neighbouring governments seek permission from Indonesia first. The nature of the haze problem is such that every hour of delay will result in exponential amounts of smoke. So the priority now should really be to cut down on wait time for assistance to roll in.