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The clear blue sky of Jakarta

  • If the leaders in Jakarta feel their neighbors should be thankful for the clean air they have provided and not to blame them for the bad air, then I'm afraid this administration may not have much sincerity to resolve the transboundary haze issue. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

By TAY TIAN YAN
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

I was in Jakarta a few weeks ago. The sky was clear and blue.

I asked a friend there, and he told me with the exception of cloudy and rainy days, Jakarta's sky was always like that.

"Don't you have anything like smog?" I asked.

"Smog? What's that?"

It took me quite some effort to get the message across to him what smog or haze was all about, making sure he knew this thing was the primary, complimentary third quarter export by his country to his neighbors in Malaysia and Singapore every year.

I can't blame the Indons for not knowing this. In fully developed West Java, especially in and around the capital city, land clearings through open burning is practically non-existent and haze is a rarity.

Places with the most serious open burning are located on the island of Sumatra to the northwest. The monsoon that blows towards the north and northeast takes the dust particles with it across the Straits of Melaka to Singapore and Malaysia.

So, the decision-makers in Jakarta will never see the haze, or inhale it into their lungs; neither will the Jakartans exert the slightest pressure on their government to resolve the transboundary haze issue.

The media contingent had an itinerary to visit vice president Jusuf Kalla before leaving Jakarta.

Meeting us at the lobby of the vice president's office, Jusuf Kalla was greeted with questions on regional economy and politics, all of which he happily answered..

Not going to miss such an opportunity, I threw out my question on haze.

"Pak Jusuf, I am Tay from Malaysia. It is indeed an encouraging phenomenon to see the relationship between Indonesia and Malaysia grow steadily these two years. However, where haze i concerned, the situation seems to be largely unchanged.

"Does the Indonesian government have more proactive measures to tackle this perennial issue?"

The way Pak Jusuf replied to my question subsequently took me by surprise.

"Every year Indonesia gives you 11 months of good air and only one month of haze. Why bother so much about this and keep pointing your finger at us?"

I admit I was rather stunned by his reply. He didn't sound apologetic or that he was joking.

As a guest, I tried not to be offensive. "I just like to know whether Indonesia has taken some steps to improve the situation and what Malaysia can do to coordinate."

He tamed his tone and talked about how they had worked together to put out the forest fires.

The question marks still hang above me even after we stepped out of the VP's office. Perhaps I enraged the VP by posing a question he either disliked or was unable to answer.

Based on his reasoning, Malaysia and Singapore should be grateful that they have provided us 11 months of clean air every year, and should therefore accept with submission the one month of smog.

I simply found myself unable to accept such a logic.

Of course I can't negate Pak Jusuf's great contributions to his country merely because of such an answer. Nor will I interpret that as the official stand of the Indonesian government.

However, if the leaders in Jakarta feel their neighbors should be thankful for the clean air they have provided and not to blame them for the bad air, then I'm afraid this administration may not have much sincerity to resolve the transboundary haze issue.

 

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