PM Lee, ministers up pressure on Indonesia to tackle haze

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a photograph of a hazy view from Istana on his Facebook page on Tuesday evening. (PM Lee's Facebook

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and several Cabinet members have increased the pressure on Indonesia to take control of the haze situation.

Uploading a photo of the hazy view from Istana on his Facebook page on Tuesday evening, PM Lee wrote “Farmers and plantation owners in Sumatra are burning crops to clear land in the dry season, and unfortunately the winds are blowing the smoke all the way to Singapore.”

Commenting on the photo he posted, he added that “the city in the distance is barely visible.”

PM Lee also said Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan have both called their Indonesian counterparts to register Singapore’s “serious concerns and offer our help to fight the fires.”

A joint statement released by both ministries on Tuesday highlighted to Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Marty Natalegawa and Indonesian Environment Minister Dr Balthasar Kambuaya that Singapore’s PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) reading “had breached 150” on Monday, and “had entered into the unhealthy zone.” They also “emphasized the urgency of the situation while also reaffirming Singapore’s commitment to help Indonesia fight the fires in Sumatra.”

According to the statement, Dr Balakrishnan also “requested that Indonesia share relevant information to improve monitoring of hotspots and land clearing activities.”

On a claim made by an Indonesian Forestry Ministry official on Monday that Malaysian and Singapore palm oil companies that had invested in Indonesia may be responsible for starting the fires in Riau, both ministers “asked Indonesia to share the names of errant companies involved in illegal burning”.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean also chimed in on Wednesday, with a Facebook post that said “The city is slowly disappearing as the haze thickens this morning.” He also expressed hope that “cooperation with our neighbour (Indonesia) will help to resolve this problem not just for now but the future.”

In an interview with The Straits Times on Tuesday, Dr Marty said he had had a good talk with Shanmugam and he hoped experts from both countries’ environment and forestry ministries could meet soon to “compare notes on what's happening and where, and what's being done."

Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng also weighed in on the issue.

She posted on Facebook on Tuesday, “Indonesia is being quite disingenuous to try shift the blame for the haze to other countries like Singapore and Malaysia”, adding that “it is up to Indonesia to prosecute commercial companies, regardless of ownership, which cause transboundary haze pollution.”

Meanwhile, PM Lee urged the people in Singapore to “stay indoors" whenever possible, especially for “children, seniors and those prone to respiratory problems.” He also encouraged the people to “monitor NEA’s website (or use their myEnv app) for the latest updates.”

Singapore's three-hour PSI reading dipped to 77 at 6am on Wednesday morning, which is in the moderate range, but as of 12pm, the reading shot up to 124, returning to the unhealthy range.

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