20 June 2013

What Singapore And Malaysia Must Do To Stop Haze

The Haze Situation
The 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index ("PSI") reached 371 — considered to be hazardous — at 1 p.m. on 20 June 2013, the highest level ever recorded in Singapore.

According to National Environment Agency, weather conditions in the region have become drier recently and 187 hot spots were observed over Indonesia's central Sumatra on 18 June 2013.  The smoke haze from fires such as these have affected Singapore and peninsula Malaysia since 13 June 2013.

Correction.  The smoke haze from Indonesia has affected Singapore and peninsula Malaysia for almost two decades.

Indonesia's Attitude
The illegal burning of forests to clear land for palm oil plantations is a recurrent problem in Indonesia.

Indonesia is the only ASEAN country not to have ratified the 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution.

Why?  There seems to be little or no incentive for the Indonesian government to clamp down on the illegal burning of forests, often blamed on poor farmers, to clear land cheaply for palm oil plantations because Indonesia wants to increase palm oil production.

An official of Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry reportedly alleged that Malaysian and Singapore palm oil companies that had invested in Indonesia might be responsible for starting the fires in Riau.  He has conveniently ignored the fact the primary responsibility for taking legal and enforcement action against them lies with Indonesia as these companies have violated Indonesian laws within Indonesian jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, Singapore has requested the names of these errant companies involved in the illegal burning.

According to Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, commercial pressure should be exerted on the companies behind the haze.  Such companies can be identified by superimposing the daily satellite photographs on concession maps.  But Indonesia is unlikely to publish the maps because it considered Mr Balakrishnan to be interfering with Indonesia's domestic affairs.[1][2]

In any case, the most important thing, according to an Indonesian government official, is that Indonesia has attempted to control the damage resulting from the forest fires.[2]  Attempted?

To add fuel to the fire (no pun intended), Indonesia Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono, who is coordinating the relief and response efforts, remarked that Singapore should not be like children, in such a tizzy; it was nature and the government needed to look after its people, of whom there were hundreds.  Nature?  Besides, Singapore said nothing when there was fresh air, but complained about the occasional haze.[5]  Perhaps, Mr Agung would not complain even if haze of the same intensity had affected Jakarta.

Plantation Companies
Plantation companies with land concessions in Indonesia include Wilmar International, Golden Agri-Resources Ltd and First Resources.  Wilmar, Golden Agri-Resources and First Resources said that they had a zero-burning policy.[1][4]

Wilmar added, however, that it could not prevent local practices of slash-and-burn for agricultural and other purposes, which might lead to high incidence of uncontrolled fires which inevitably spread over to its plantations.[1]

Plantation companies also buy palm oil from third-party suppliers, which may or may not have no-burn policies.[4]

What Singapore and Malaysia Can and Must Do
Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam said that there is little that the Singapore Government could have done, or could do, about the haze situation, given the limitations of international relationships and foreign policy and the fact that every country was sovereign.[3]

But should we take Indonesia's lack of political will and enforcement lying down?

If, as is likely, the Indonesian government does not publish the concession maps, the Singapore and Malaysian governments should direct the palm oil plantation companies in their respective countries to publish details of their concessions in Indonesia.

People in Singapore and Malaysia should let the Indonesian government and Indonesian people know that they are very angry with this perennial problem, and that it cannot be allowed to continue.

People in Singapore and Malaysia should protest — legally of course.

People in Singapore and Malaysia should boycott all Indonesian goods, regardless whether or not they are produced by the plantation companies involved in the illegal burning of forests to clear land for palm oil plantations.  For a start, they should boycott Indonesian palm oil and products made from or with Indonesian palm oil.

People in Singapore and Malaysia should boycott Indonesia as a travel destination.

Otherwise, the Indonesian government will shrug its shoulders and dismiss the haze as a passing minor irritation for its neighbours, which irritation will subside when the haze subsides and life returns to normal.

Final Thoughts
The current haze problem brings out clearly what some Indonesian leaders think about Singapore.

Mr Agung also noted that border, extradition and corruption issues, presumably between Indonesia and Singapore, had not been settled.[5]  While not related to the haze, they appear to be an irritant with some Indonesian politicians.


1. S’pore Leaders Want Firms Causing Haze to be Named TODAY 19 Jun 2013.

2. Singapore Pressures Indonesia to Identify Firms Behind Haze TODAY 18 Jun 2013.

3. Limitations on What Can Be Done about Haze: Shanmugam www.channelnewsasia.com 19 Jun 2013 9:15 p.m.

4. Palm Oil Companies Listed in Singapore Deny Using Fire to Clear Land The Straits Times 20 Jun 2013.

5. Indonesian Minister Says Singapore "Behaving Like a Small Child" Over Haze The Straits Times 20 Jun 2013.

This article was last updated on 20 June 2013 at 3:20 p.m.


  1. What everyone in Singapore should do to punish Indonesians is to boycott every single product that comes from that country.
    Thru the use of Facebook it would be very easy to create a chain suggesting this idea to all Singaporeans.
    Then you'll see how quickly the Indonesians react.

  2. Don't think you should presume that just because a company has a no-burn policy that no burning takes place on its land. Not many actually do as they say. Our govt is a prime example.

    As it is, these companies are saying, Oh well, we can't help it if fire spreads to our place from somewhere outside our plot. That is BS. They have the funds and people to put the fires on their plots out.

    They should also help their poorer neighbours to clear the land without burning it!!!! How much will it cost??? Enough of this Not in My Backyard syndrome. That's for cold-blooded cheats and mean misers.

  3. When you get smoke coming from neighbour's house that is suffocating your family, you would use all possible means to get the smoke stopped immediately.

    Here similar actions would be appropriate and much more international pressure needs to be put on Indo.

    Companies causing such harm to large number of people may even be fined heavily and served closure notices if they do not take immediate action.
    Help from international agencies with good expertise of artificial rain needs to be summoned and action to be forced on Indo through tough talk by Singapore snd Malaysia.
    Ideas like commercial pressure by bycotting use of Indo goods can be useful short term tactics.

  4. all of the above method is not working at all. Indo rely heavily on China export/import/economy everything, and only China can help us now, because China is Indo's boss.

  5. What's I able to do is excluded Indonesia from my tourist destination now.

    1. I was just in Malaysia for three weeks and it was a pity to see the young students not being able to attend school due to the smoke, the elderly coughing, and people who had to work outside wearing mask to prevent inhaling the smoke, the worst three week vacation ever.

  6. Can we take Indo to international court?

    1. I'm pretty sure we can, and we should also, we should show solidarity by not buying products that come from them.

  7. Lets get the united nations involved