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Indonesia to ratify Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution by year-end

KUALA LUMPUR, July 17 (Bernama) -- Indonesia will ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution by year-end or early next year, said its Environment Minister Prof Dr Balthashar Kambuaya.

He said the matter would be discussed in the Indonesian Parliament for a final decision.

"From our government side, it is all ready. The Indonesian Government has signed the agreement, but we have to discuss it in Parliament," he told reporters in a joint press conference here on the final day of a three-day, task force meeting to seek a solution to the haze problem.

Malaysia hosted the 15th Meeting of the Technical Working Group and Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Environment ministers from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand gathered for the meeting, which began on Monday.

The meeting was held as pressure intensifies on Indonesia to ratify the agreement after thick smog, resulting from forest fires in Sumatra and Riau, engulfed parts of Malaysia and Singapore recently.

Asked why the Indonesian Government took a long time to ratify the agreement, Dr Kambuaya said, "We took time to ratify it because Indonesia has multi (political) parties. We have to discuss with everyone to make sure our Parliament will agree to ratify it.

"I want to say that even though we have not ratified (the agreement), we have already implemented and put on the ground, some of the points in the agreement," he said.

On the eight companies identified as being responsible for torching forests in Riau and Jambi, resulting in the haze, he said investigations were underway and the authorities reveal the culprit as soon as possible.

Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, who commended Indonesia's commitment, said Asean countries needed a better early warning system and to be prepared to anticipate future fires.

He said this was to enable immediate mitigation action before the fires went out of control.

To another question, Palanivel said the implementation of the system would be done by countries individually.

On the alleged involvement of Malaysian companies in forest burning, he noted that all Malaysian companies adhered to zero-burning in Indonesia.

"Sime Darby has explained that it wants to discuss with the Indonesian and provincial governments to give back the land (owned by Sime Darby) to the farmers, and help train them so they do not resort to open burning," he explained.

During the meeting, the ministers had agreed to recommend adopting the haze monitoring system, with digitised land-use maps and concession maps on fire-prone areas that cause transboundary haze.

Commenting on the matter, Palanivel said the concession map would be shared on a government-to-government basis only, subject to the Asean Leaders' approval at the Asean Leaders' Summit in October this year.

Elaborating, Dr Kambuaya said the Indonesian Government had regulations that the concession map would not be made public document.

Disagreeing with the idea, Singaporean Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said he would prefer that concession map data be disclosed to the public for more transparency.

"Some governments express reservation, citing a variety of legal matters, so we take a break (during the meeting) to discuss bilaterally and multilaterally, and reach a compromise that the data will only be shared government-to-government, and not with the public," he noted.

For Dr Vivian, the concession map is the key missing ingredient to solve haze problems, as with the map, errant companies could be identified and action taken against them.

"That is why, we are keen to use other approaches, such as consumer representatives and non-governmental organisations to put pressure on the companies. Responsible companies should be rewarded, while companies which do wrong should be punished," he said.

During the four-hour meeting, Indonesia expressed appreciation towards Malaysia and Singapore for continued efforts in bilateral collaboration and noted that such collaboration to address transboundary haze issues was necessary.

The meeting also agreed to launch haze monitoring system during the Asean Leaders' Summit, which will be held at Brunei Darussalam.

 

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