KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia has dropped a plan to draft a law aimed at stopping cross-border air pollution, its environment ministry said on Monday (Nov 6), citing difficulties in obtaining information for prosecutions.
Almost every dry season, smoke from fires to clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations in Indonesia blankets much of the region, leading to concern for public health as well as disruption to travel and tourism businesses.
Environment groups say countries should adopt laws to go after the plantation companies in foreign countries suspected of being responsible for the pollution.
Singapore passed such a law in 2014, aiming to hold those who cause haze both criminally and civilly liable, but Malaysia’s environment ministry said in a written reply to Parliament it would not go ahead with a law, citing difficulty in enforcing it.
“To enable the enforcement of a transboundary haze pollution bill, clear evidence that transboundary haze originates from neighbouring countries must be supported by sufficient data such as location maps, coordinates, landowner information and companies operating in the location of fires,” the ministry said.
Such information was difficult to get hold of as it involved matters of confidentiality, security and national sovereignty, the ministry said.
It said a diplomatic approach through negotiations was a better way to “collectively address” haze coming across borders.
Indonesia, facing regular criticism from its neighbours and environmental groups for failing to end the fires, promises action but the pollution returns almost every dry season.
Malaysia last month again called on Indonesia to stop the fires and it also called on the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), of which both it and Indonesia are members, to take up the issue.
The environmental group Greenpeace has campaigned for transboundary haze laws saying they are important as a deterrent and can help determine which companies start fires.
“Learning from Singapore’s experience, no one has been fined or sued yet but this does not mean the transboundary haze act has been ineffective as some company was investigated under the act for links to forest fires,” Mr Heng Kiah Chun, regional campaign strategist for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said in a statement. REUTERS