Indonesia — In A major setback for Asean’s efforts to fight the haze in the region and what observers describe as a further blow to the grouping’s credibility Indonesian lawmakers have refused to endorse a Bill that will pave the way for Jakarta to ratify the grouping’s transboundary haze agreement.
The unanimous decision on Friday was taken at a parliamentary hearing just two months after the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, at which Indonesia had pledged to protect its forests and save the environment.
The Asean Transboundary Haze Agreement which calls for regional coordinating centre to help fight the fires came into force in 2003, with Indonesia the only member state yet to ratify it.
The main obstacle for ratification was illegal logging and fishing on Indonesia territory, with the country’s lawmakers calling for action within the pact to eradicate such activities, which were benefiting other Asean countries.
Mr Airlangga Hartarto, chairman of Indonesia’s Parliamentary Commission on Environment and Energy, said: “If we can cut the market for this illegal logging, then I think the haze issue will be reduced significantly.”
Mr Airlangga added that Indonesia was receptive to a “kind of cooperation at the working level … rather than an umbrella agreement with lots of bureaucracy and systems to be built”.
Mr Charles Chong, who chairs the Singapore Government Parliamentary Committee on the Environment, told Today he would raise the matter with his Indonesian counterparts, at a scheduled meeting in Jakarta on Monday between Asean MPs to discuss the Myanmar situation.
Responding to the reasons put up by the Indonesian legislators not to pass the bill for ratification, Mr Chong said: “If they link too many unrelated issues, then they will never get anywhere.”
In recent years, Singapore has been active in battling the haze, caused by forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo, that blankets the region every year. The worsening situation saw Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong writing to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2006, expressing his disappointment and urging Indonesia to deal with the problem effectively. Following this, environment ministers from Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and Indonesia launched initiatives to arrest the problem.
Mr Chong said the Indonesians’ apprehension towards a binding agreement “does not bode well” for Asean’s ambitions to become a rules-based association. “They must show some commitment. If there’s no commitment, I don’t think there is a chance of success.”
Describing the pact as a “baseline obligation” in the global fight against climate change, Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong concurred that the impasse was a further hit on Asean’s credibility.
“It’s quite disappointing. In the context of the Asean Charter, this raises serious questions about the sincerity and willingness to look out for other member states’ interests,” he said.
Environmentalists in Indonesia and Singapore were equally disappointed, although World Wildlife Foundation Indonesia director (climate and energy) Fitrian Ardiansyah felt the concerns of the Indonesia lawmakers were valid.
Mr Fitran told Channel NewsAsia: “We could do some sort of a staggered approach whereby Indonesia ratifies this agreement and then, by showing it is willing to commit, Indonesia can ask for further agreements on environmental issues such as illegal logging and illegal fishing.”
Still, he acknowledged that without Indonesia’s commitment, the agreement is as good as dead.
Singapore Environment Council executive director Howard Shaw said Indonesia would “risk marginalising itself” within Asean. “It is isolating itself in a changing global situation where we are looking at better environmental practices and ethics. In addition to the climate change, haze is something we feel year after year.”
Former NMP Zulkifli Baharudin pointed out that this was hardly the first time that the Indonesian Parliament had failed to adhere to Mr Yudhoyono’s public position. “It’s a reflection of the difficulty of the political structure in Indonesia,” he said.
While the Indonesian lawmakers were willing to discuss the issue further with its government, it is unlikely the agreement would be ratified during the current parliamentary term which is scheduled to end next year when the national elections are called.
Urging for good sense to prevail, Mr Chong said: “When there’s too much politicking, even very good intentions can’t move forward. Asean has made its position clear that it would help Indonesia combat the haze.”