5 issues that were raised at the emergency debate on the haze problem

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 22nd of October 2015

5 issues that were raised at the emergency debate on the haze problem

These were the 5 issues which I raised at yesterday’s emergency debate on the haze problem. But because of time restrictions, the Minister failed to respond to most of the issues raised.

1) The status of Malaysia’s version of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act

The Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) had announced earlier that Malaysia would enact our own version of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act that would be an improved version of Singapore’s bill which was passed in 2014.

I asked the Minister whether our version of the bill would improve on some of the weaknesses of the Singapore version such as setting a maximum fine of SD$2 million for companies that were found to be responsible for the haze. This amount is very low given that the companies in question often have billions of dollars of revenue.

Interestingly, the Minister, during his reply, was still insistent that Singapore’s laws only allowed it to go after companies that were registered or had subsidiaries in Singapore even after I pointed out that Singapore had sent notices to 4 Indonesia companies that were implicated in causing the haze problem. (Update: Till today, Singapore had sent 6 notices out, 5 of which were to Indonesia companies and only one – Asia Pulp and Paper – which has an office in Singapore.[1] I have not found any evidence that any of the 5 Indonesia companies listed have offices in Singapore). The Minister did not give any indication as to when Malaysia’s version of this bill will be tabled in parliament.

2) Actions taken against Malaysian companies with subsidiaries that were convicted of opening burning in Malaysia

I pointed out a specific example of a Malaysian company with a subsidiary in Indonesia that had been convicted of allowing an irresponsible party to do open burning within its property. A plantation manager working for PT Adei Plantation and Industry, a subsidiary of Kuala Lumpur Kepong, a company which is listed on the KL stock exchange, was convicted of negligence in failing to prevent irresponsible parties from setting forest fires in an estate belonging to the company in September 2014. The plantation manager was to serve 1 year in prison. At the same time, a director of the company was ordered to pay a fine and serve 5 months in prison.[2] I asked the Minister whether there is or will be any action taken against the company in question and again, the Minister failed to answer this question.

On a larger point, the government should also consider setting standards for Malaysian companies with operations in Indonesia, so that best practices of plantation and land management can be implemented to minimize the possibility of open burning occurring within the area of their property.

3) Measurement of PM10 and PM2.5 levels by the Department of Environment

Many people, including some MPs from both sides of the aisle, have been asking why Malaysia cannot follow Singapore in measuring PM2.5 pollution levels which measures smaller particulate matters, rather than relying only on the PM10 pollution levels.

I pointed out to the Minister that Malaysia already has 5 monitoring stations which have the necessary equipment to measure PM2.5 levels. These stations are located in Putrajaya, Banting, Cheras, Langkawi and Kuching. In fact, according to this report in the Star in 2012, these stations were equipped to measure PM2.5 levels since December 2011![3] (Update: According to this Bernama report, there are currently 12 stations with the equipment to measure PM2.5 levels.)[4]

I suggested to the Minister that he should ask DOE to release the PM2.5 levels at the stations, given the seriousness of the haze problem we are currently facing. Again, no answer was forthcoming.

4) 3 hourly API readings to be announced in addition to the 24 hourly API readings

I suggested to the Minister that we should follow Singapore in announcing the 3 hourly API readings in addition to the 24 hourly API readings which we currently have. This is to allow a more accurate picture of the latest haze situation rather than to refer only to the average reading for the past 24 hours. For example, the hourly API readings for the previous day may have been less than 100 for the previous day but may have breached 200 in the past few hours. The API reading would still be less than 100 since it shows the average pollution readings for the past 24 hours. This is why many people are skeptical of the API readings without realizing that it is actually a 24 hour average. It would be very easy for DOE to release the 3 hour API reading in conjunction with the 24 hour average. This is what is being done by Singapore. A more up to date reading would give a more accurate picture of the latest haze situation and would help, for example, the Ministry of Education to make better decisions on whether to close schools or not for the following day. Again, no reply from the Minister.

5) Latest update on the contract to monitor air quality

I raised the point that the measurement of air quality at the 52 measuring stations in the country had been contracted out to a private company called Alam Sekitar Malaysia Sdn Bhd or ASMA.[5] The 20 year contract (starting from 1995) was up for renewal this year. The Public Private Partnership (PPP) Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department (also known as UKAS) published the tender for this contract in September 2014.[6] I asked the Minister for the latest update on the status of this contract and what conditions were put in for this contract. I also raised the point of whether such a contract should be given to a private company as opposed to developing in house expertise within the ministry to measure air quality which, one would think, should be one of the basic expertises for the Department of Environment.

Again, no answer was given.

I will try to ask the Minister to respond to these issues during the budget debate.

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang

[1] http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/nea-sends-notice-to-4/2149996.html and http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/nea-asks-a-6th-company-pt-bumi-andalas-permai-to-take-measures-to-mitigate

[2] http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/09/11/malaysian-firm-fined-executives-get-prison-role-forest-fires.html

[3] http://www.thestar.com.my/Lifestyle/Features/2012/11/06/Clearing-the-air/

[4] http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/10/08/doe-automatic-air-quality-monitoring-stations-work-around-the-clock/

[5] http://www.enviromalaysia.com.my/index.html

[6] http://www.ukas.gov.my/en/arkib-sebutharga-dan-tender?p_p_id=archivetenderportlet_WAR_tenderportlet&p_p_lifecycle=0&p_p_state=normal&p_p_mode=view&p_p_col_id=column-17&p_p_col_count=1&_archivetenderportlet_WAR_tenderportlet_keywords=&_archivetenderportlet_WAR_tenderportlet_advancedSearch=false&_archivetenderportlet_WAR_tenderportlet_andOperator=true&_archivetenderportlet_WAR_tenderportlet_delta=75