Malaysia — It is too early to commend the prime minister and the cabinet for their recent decision to release the Air Pollutant Index (API). It is unacceptable that the government withheld this information in the first place. When released, it was already obvious that the air in the Klang Valley was a health hazard.
First, a matter so important to the public should not have been placed under any secrecy laws. The reason behind secrecy laws is to protect public interest, not hide information vital for the public to make informed decisions about their daily lives. Such information should be easily available to anyone at anytime.
Second, it would be better if we knew the trends in the air quality and the cause and the impact of the haze in order for us to make better decisions. It is our right to know the average API in the Klang Valley even without the threat of the forest fires.
Many are aware that we cannot solely blame the Indonesians for the haze; the Klang Valley was not exactly pollution-free to begin with. How much do local industries and vehicles contribute to pollution on a daily basis?
Third, we do not lack experience. The haze has hit us before, and we set up task forces and regional agreements to combat it. Why did the government react only when the API breached the 500 mark this time?
Logic would say that alerts should have been issued when the API began steadily increasing, weeks ago. Did we not have the knowledge to act? What benchmarks are the authorities adopting when it comes to air quality in the country?
It is clear that the government is not guided by the power of knowledge and information. In order to be effective, the government must possess scientific and reliable information that is regularly collected and monitored.
They should also be required to publish the reports or studies regularly and make them available to anyone who is interested. This would help the authorities make better plans to prevent or address these haze attacks, and not resort to emergency plans like enforcing ban on open burning.
The government should also have insisted on the use of masks for employees working outdoors such as policemen, construction workers, security guards and toll-booth operators.
In essence, the prime minister should insist that all departments and authorities working on the haze give him sound and intelligent advice.
Maybe, a first step would be to consider introducing legislation on freedom of information. On the one hand, this will guarantee the peoples right to know, but importantly, it would also force the government departments to take the issues seriously and act accordingly.