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  The Straits Times 13 Dec 06
Jakarta legislative roadblock clouds Asean haze agreement
Parliament sets up team to study pact, which could delay its ratification

IN JAKARTA - INDONESIA'S plans to ratify the Asean haze agreement have become caught in a parliamentary maze. Officials, however, are pledging that they will keep up the fight.

The agreement was submitted for ratification to Parliament earlier this year. But after months of delay, the legislature decided last week to set up a special committee to study the agreement, a move some believe could slow the ratification process.

The committee has been tasked with evaluating the agreement and recommending if it should be ratified. Members will be appointed next month when Parliament convenes after a one-month recess. The committee's report will be evaluated and debated by parliamentarians before it is approved.

The Asean anti-haze pact calls for member states to act to prevent and control burning that can pollute neighbouring countries. Signed in 2002, it has been ratified by all the Asean countries except Indonesia and the Philippines.

Further delay could pose a challenge for Jakarta to pool the much-needed resources to fight forest fires next year, when the dry season is forecasted to be much more severe than this year.

In a meeting last month in Cebu, Philippines, the five Asean countries present had agreed to set up an Asean fund to pool resources for the haze-fighting efforts, with both Indonesia and Singapore pledging US$50,000 (S$77,000) each to kick-start the fund. Indonesia has said it needs about 585 billion rupiah (S$100 million) next year alone for fire fighting and haze prevention.

Another key part of the accord is the establishment of haze centres as joint emergency units to tackle the annual problem. Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said the centres would be set up in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, and Pekanbaru, in Sumatra's Riau province.

They will be commanded by a 'nerve centre' that may be established in Singapore or Malaysia, where data from satellites can be relayed and analysed, he said. But such a centre cannot be set up until the agreement is ratified.

The haze problem has been causing growing concern in the region after South-east Asia suffered one of its worst haze periods in October and last month.

But legislator Alvin Lie of the National Mandate Party said some factions in Parliament were still reluctant to ratify the agreement and were calling for a more all-encompassing deal to cover other environmental issues.

'We agree that the haze is a serious problem, but it should not be tackled with this treaty,' he said.

He added that Indonesia should address other regional environmental issues, such as the sale of sand to Singapore or Malaysian businessmen profiting from timber logged illegally in Indonesia.

Government officials, meanwhile, are moving on other fronts to keep their commitment of tackling the haze issue within two years.

One such move would be to implement bilateral initiatives. Singapore's plan to assist Jambi province in preventing forest and land fires could be done through a bilateral mechanism, said Mr Hermono Sigit of the Environment Ministry's forest fires unit.

Jakarta will also host a haze conference next week to raise funds for the efforts to tackle forest fires, he said. At least 20 countries and donor organisations will be attending the event, he said.

Some of the money pledged at the conference will go for other projects that are planned to counter the haze - among them is one to irrigate highly combustible dry peat areas, the major cause of the fires.

There are also plans to introduce a system to enable police to confiscate land where burning occurs and to give cash incentives to small plantation holders to stop the slash-and-burn method that contributes to the haze. asmarani@sph.com.sg

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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