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by Lim Guan Eng
): DAP wishes the Chinese community a Happy Mid-Autumn Lantern Festival. However this important cultural event marking a reunion of families to enjoy the full moon in Malaysia has been disrupted by the severe haze that has enveloped Malaysia and threatened the health of 26 million Malaysians. The severe haze blanketing Malaysia has now reached unhealthy levels in both Peninsular and East Malaysia.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should demand that Indonesia fully implement the ASEAN Regional Haze Action Plan (RHAP) or else call an emergency meeting of ASEAN countries to demand compliance by Indonesia to check haze and prevent it from becoming a tragic annual disaster for Malaysians.
DAP regrets that Indonesia is allowed to blatantly flout its international obligations to ASEAN by permitting illegal and uncontrolled forest fires to be lit by irresponsible logging and plantation companies. DAP express disappointment that nothing concrete was achieved during the latest ASEAN summit to ensure that there is no repeat of the tragic annual haze crisis. Indonesia must accept full responsibility for their failure to fulfill their international obligations to ASEAN and Malaysia under the ASEAN Co-operation Plan on Transboundary Pollution to prevent haze caused by the illegal burning of forests.
Worse such failure to enforce and monitor illegal forest fires were compounded by the failure to seek international assistance to help put out such fires. That is why DAP insists that Indonesia pay for its mistakes as well as negligence in seeking international help by making adequate compensation for the health damage, economic losses and sufferings endured by 26 million Malaysians.
ASEAN Environment Ministers had in June 1995 agreed on an ASEAN Co-operation Plan on Transboundary Pollution. The Co-operation Plan contains broad policies and strategies to deal with transboundary pollution. ASEAN Environment Ministers had agreed on a RHAP, which sets out co-operative measures needed amongst ASEAN member countries to address the problem of smoke haze in the region arising from land and forest fires.
The RHAP had 3 primary objectives namely:-
1. to prevent land and forest fires through better management policies and enforcement;
2. to establish operational mechanisms to monitor land and forest fires; and
3. to strengthen regional land and forest fire-fighting capability and other mitigating measures.
Failure To Comply And Develop Preventive Measures And Its National Action Plan
Amongst preventive measures taken by ASEAN countries include the need to strengthen national policies and strategies to prevent and mitigate land and forest fires. To effect this, ASEAN countries are to develop National Plans that serves to prevent and mitigate land and forest fires. These National Plans are supposed to be completed by March 1998 and contain the following aspects:-
a) Policies to curb activities that may lead to land and forest fires and control emissions from mobile and stationary sources, including the prohibition of open burning and the strict control of slash-and-burn practices during the dry period.
b) Strategies to curb activities that may lead to land and forest fires and control emissions from mobile and stationary sources, including the following:
o formulation of air quality management legislation to prohibit open burning;
o strict enforcement of laws and legislation;
o implementation of air quality monitoring and reporting regimes, and setting up surveillance on local sources of emissions, both mobile and stationary;
o establishment of national task force/committee to develop strategies and response plans to deal with fires and smoke haze; and
o utilisation of information technology to provide haze-related information to relevant agencies to prevent and control spread of fire, and to enhance public awareness on the haze situation.
c) Guidelines and support services to discourage activities which can lead to land and forest fires.
d) Operating procedures for the early mobilisation of resources to prevent the spread of fires.
Clearly Indonesia’s failure to comply and develop on its National Plans as required by the RHAP, has shown it not to be a reliable partner for ASEAN solidarity. Even though Indonesia is a poor country, it has a responsibility towards preventing forest fires that causes damaging haze. If Indonesia is unable to do cope with forest fires, it has both an international treaty obligation as well as a moral and ethical duty to seek immediate help from other international countries.
National interests requires our Prime Minister to fight for the health of all Malaysians by demanding that Indonesia fulfills its obligations immediately. This is also a good opportunity for Pak Lah to demonstrate his difference from former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad whose notable foreign policy failure was not daring to stand up to Indonesia.