It’s back and meaner than before. 401 PSI earlier, the highest ever and I wished I nicked my SAF gas mask in the last ICT.
PM Lee Hsien Loong has called a press conference as a follow up to the earlier significant press conference by Vivian that night when PSI crossed the 200 milestone. The government has given assurances on safety and healthcare for Singaporeans but nothing concrete yet on the measures. As the situation is still unfolding and might be prolonged as the dry season in Indonesia from about June to September has just started i.e. the government is adopting a wait and watch attitude first. Which is fine for now but by next week, about one week after PSI breached 200, the government should reveal something firm.
Since 1997, Singapore has given on and off satellite imagery in a spot and splash to the Indonesians to help them prioritise and put out the fires that cause the regional haze. Malaysia even sent firefighters there before to help put out the blaze as Malaysia is also a fellow sufferer from the slash and burn practices of commercial companies in Indonesia, clearing the forests for commercial use. The Indonesians think these efforts are merely token. There is a limit to what we can do to pressure Indonesia to be a responsible neighbour although the haze is a regional problem and needs stronger regional cooperation despite the culprit being solely Indonesia. Such is the game of international politics and sovereignty where buy-in is not always easy.
What the Indonesians want is money because money is the best resource to put out the fires as this annual deforestation can’t be prevented according to them. The Indonesians have gone a step further and said that the companies behind the illegal slash and burn are Singapore companies. Despite denials and calls for proof, Indonesians would insist on this narrative of Singapore’s environmental karma. TOC asked also the right questions whether Singapore companies were complicit in the haze but if the findings are a No, they should back down and what is an Indonesian culprit shouldn’t be spun into the government being the culprit instead. Furthermore, on the type of assistance for the bigger neighbour, given the nature of Indonesia’s political system and bureaucracy, a blank check handout from local taxpayers to Indonesia might not be the best way to help put out the blaze and haze.
Indonesian minister Agung Laksono described Singaporeans as whining children over a little smoke in the air. Thankfully, the government did not want to respond to this name-callng akin to that Red Dot description of the antagonistic Habibie years. This is the worst haze ever for all of us and there will be health and economic repercussions albeit some sectors would benefit e.g. healthcare services and medical supplies from respiratory problems treatment to sale of masks to air purifiers to lozenges.
The realpolitik is that Indonesia would not do anything seriously about tackling the haze. The abang in ASEAN has gotten away with it since 1997, despite the 2002 ASEAN agreement to deal with the regional problem. An ASEAN agreement that Indonesia has not ratified and another failure of ASEAN solidarity since the management of East Timor and Myanmar. The only way big Indonesia would ratify and do something constructive about the regional haze problem is when by a fluke of nature, the monsoon winds blow the haze to Jarkata and make people like Agung Laksono suck on it.