Singapore Braces for Worsening “Haze” as Indonesia Fails to Halt Slash-and-Burn Clearances

Singapore Braces for Worsening “Haze” as Indonesia Fails to Halt Slash-and-Burn Clearances

By Rujun Shen on 03:43 pm May 22, 2014

  1.  The Lion City is approaching its yearly “haze” season, when smoke from forest clearing in Indonesia chokes the air, with this year likely to be worse than 2013′s record pollution thanks to lack of action in Jakarta and an expected El Nino weather pattern.

The prosperous city-state, which prides itself on its clean air, was shrouded in heavy smog from slash-and-burn clearances on the neighboring Indonesian island of Sumatra last June which sent its air pollution index to a record high.

One year on, and an election-distracted government in Indonesia has still not ratified the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) 2002 Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, and fires continue to burn in Sumatra.

That is despite outrage in Singapore as well as environmental groups putting pressure on Jakarta. Fires are used to clear land on plantations and can burn for weeks because of peat deposits below the surface.

There is also a growing likelihood of an El Nino weather pattern this year, meaning Singapore, as well as parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, could be set for months of intense haze with a knock-on effect on health and business, especially tourism.

A strong El Nino, marked by a warming of the surface of the Pacific, can cause severe drought in Australia, Southeast Asia and India, while drenching other parts of the world such as the US Midwest and Brazil in rain.

“If we get four to six months of dry period in Southeast Asia starting from June, we could be in for a very difficult period, if companies’ and people’s behaviour do not change,” Singapore Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told a conference.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, Singapore is taking matters into its own hands by proposing a new law that aims to punish individuals and companies outside its borders that are responsible for polluting its air.

That’s expected to be tabled in parliament later this year.

Legal experts hail the bill as a bold move, but question how it will be implemented.

Finding who is responsible for the haze is hard given the lack of evidence like maps showing who owns the land where fires are burning.

Both Indonesia and Malaysia have refused to share clear and updated land use and concession maps so far.

Bringing a prosecution in Singapore courts will be even tougher.

“The basic evidential inquiry needed to resolve the problem — i.e. to find out who is setting fires to whose land — cannot even be conducted,” said Alan Tan, professor at the Faculty of Law and Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore. “Let alone the more complex tasks of actually prosecuting perpetrators or managing land use conflicts for the longer term.”

Two of the world’s largest palm oil companies — Wilmar International Ltd and Golden Agri-Resources — have been applauded for committing to no deforestation policies after criticism in the past.

Alongside the palm oil industry, paper and pulp companies have also been blamed for haze.

Indonesia’s Riau province declared a state of emergency in February as haze from raging forest fires disrupted flights and marine navigation and tens of thousands fell sick with respiratory problems. The airport in the provincial capital closed for more than three weeks.

“The task force the president sent to the field was able to quench the fire but not solve the fundamental problem,” Heru Prasetyo, head of Indonesia’s REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), told Reuters.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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