News

Hit them where it hurts

It's new, it's fresh, but will it be sharp enough to slash the perennial haze problem?

On paper, the proposed law to punish those causing the haze looks good: Pinpoint the black sheep whose actions choke the air we breathe.

Tell them with satellite evidence, weather information and good ol' maps: "We know who you are. We know what you're doing. Stop."

If that has no effect, slap the culprits where it hurts most - their bottom line. Money talks.

The root cause of the haze is commercial, said Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

His Facebook post yesterday noted: "Errant companies have been clearing land by illegal burning because it is the cheapest way to do so."

Weak domestic laws have crippled investigation and enforcement in those countries. And we all pay the price - for grossly inflated N95 masks.

Send air quality monitoring equipment, fire fighters and cloud seeding aircraft? Been there, done that.

Executive director of the Singapore Environment Council Jose Raymond said: "(The proposed Bill) sends a clear message to our neighbours that we value our clear, blue skies and will do whatever we can to protect our rights to clean air, all year round."

But enforcement concerns abound, such as identifying who is criminally liable and determining their intent.

Nanyang Technological University Professor Ang Peng Hwa, founder of Facebook group Haze Elimination Action Team, said: "It is not enough to show that there was fire on the land owned by the companies - that would indicate responsibility in the loose sense of the word - but that the fire was deliberately set by the company or deliberately ignored."

What happens when there's a dispute over land ownership, he asked. Do you go after the mid-level entrepreneurs clearing land owned by the big companies or the latter?

How can the identified parties be brought to task when they're abroad?

At home, will pressuring Singapore companies that have close links with the wrongdoers change anything?

Serve notice on the management of those parties when they're in Singapore, some suggest.

But what if they never step foot on our soil in the first place?

Will the average man on the street affected by the haze really want to bring a civil suit against errant parties, as the proposed Bill suggests? I can think of 1,000 other ways people might want to spend their money.

The proposed law sends a clear signal that we don't condone such acts. Whether it will succeed in bringing those responsible to task remains hazy.

Share your views with Hui Theng at

kohht@sph.com.sg

COMMENT

Will the average man on the street affected by the haze really want to bring a civil suit against errant parties, as the proposed Bill suggests?

KOH HUI THENG

AIRQUALITY

ON THE SMOKE TRAIL

A proposed law will give the Government more bite to go after guilty parties that cause or contributed to the haze. Here's how it is likely to work:

HAZE HITS SINGAPORE

Satellite images and weather information show that smoke from the fire is heading towards Singapore.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) can ask the parties in writing to take pre-emptive steps to control/reduce transboundary haze. For example, when hotspots are detected, the latter has to get fire fighters to put out or control the blaze.

Over 24 hours, if the air quality worsens to levels where further action is required, NEA will investigate. Once the relevant party is identified, officers can serve notice on them to help with the investigations.

Court action will be taken if investigation finds that the party is responsible for causing and contributing to haze pollution in Singapore.

PENALTIES

If the party fails to provide the information NEA requests, upon serving of notice, he can be fined up to $5,000.

If caught falsifying, suppressing or destroying the information requested, he can be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed up to three months.

Those who obstruct or delay the officers from carrying out their duties can be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed up to three months. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and/or jailed up to three months.

If convicted of causing or contributing to the haze, the culprit can be fined up to $300,000.

A fine of up to $450,000 is likely if the party had ignored an earlier request from NEA to take necessary steps to prevent, reduce or control haze pollution in Singapore.

The public can give feedback on the proposed law until March 19.

Visit www.reach.gov.sg. or e-mail MEWR_THPBill@mewr.gov.sg