Indonesia — The House unanimously refused on Thursday to endorse a bill that would see Indonesia ratify an ASEAN agreement to eradicate transboudary fire haze and smoke pollution.
The treaty binds signatory states to be proactive in tackling haze pollution from land and forest fires across their boundaries through strict regulations, heat-seeking satellites and better trained firefighters.
If Indonesia ratified the agreement, the government would have to amend many of its regulations on pollution by adding a clause on zero burning and controlled burning practices.
At a hearing with Forestry Minister M.S. Kaban and the House of Representatives commission VII overseeing environmental affairs, all factions rejected the bill.
Legislator Alvin Lie of the National Mandate Party (PAN) told the meeting ratification would only benefit other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and would undermine Indonesia’s interests. The agreement was signed in 2002 and came into effect a year later. The Philippines also chose not to ratify the agreement.
“Controlling haze pollution is as hard as controlling illegal logging, given the size of our country and its forests, and in the face of a limited number of local monitoring officials,” Alvin said. “While ASEAN members have pushed us to ratify the agreement, they did not take into consideration our demand to include provisions about transboundary illegal logging and illegal fishing, which have also been seriously plaguing our country.”
Indonesia has been a main source of forest fires often sending haze pollution to neighboring countries. The Forestry Ministry recorded some 121,622 hot spots in 2006 and 27,247 in 2007, mainly in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and reported a total of 59.2 million hectares of degraded forests.
Legislator Nizar Dahlan of the Democracy Pioneer Star faction, grouping minor parties in the House, said the country should ratify the bill only if the ASEAN members agreed to cooperate in combating illegal logging.
“Any measures to control haze pollution should actually include efforts to combat illegal logging because they are two sides of the same coin,” Nizar said. “We cannot control haze pollution if fellow countries do not formally agree to help us fight illegal logging.”
Nizar said the country should still strive to control haze pollution even without ratifying the agreement.
“I think we need not necessarily ratify the agreement because it is our responsibility to control fire haze. “Without the agreement, the government has proved they managed to reduce the number of hot spots by more than 70 percent in 2007,” he said.
Haze has been a chronic problem between Indonesia and its neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore since the severe smoke from Indonesia’s forest fires in 1997.
The two neighboring nations said the 1997 fires triggered breathing problems for more than 20 million people in the Southeast Asian region and the closure of major regional airports because of thick haze. Malaysia and Singapore have made serious complaints and demanded Indonesia take stern measures against illegal burning of forests.
Indonesia blamed plantation companies and local residents for setting fires to forests mostly in Sumatra. Many Malaysian companies operating in forests were also accused of contributing to smoke across the ASEAN region.