Thursday, September 22, 2016

'M'sian firms involved in open burning in Indonesia should be charged here'

Hafiz Yatim     Published     Updated

Universiti Malaya associate professor Azmi Sharom has proposed that Malaysian companies said to be involved in open burning in Indonesia, be charged by the authorities here, to show the government is serious in curbing the problem.

Azmi was one of the panel members in the talk 'Hazy days ahead: legal rights under international and domestic law' at the International Malaysian Law Conference in Kuala Lumpur today.

He added, however some existing laws, such as the Courts of Judicature Act, may have to be amended for such action to be taken.

“The (haze) problem is causing a lot of hassle and health problems in the region. But the Indonesian authorities should not be burdened if the companies involved are Malaysian.”

The academician said to charge Malaysian companies, the authorities here would certainly need the cooperation from their counterparts in Indonesia.

Azmi said there needs to be extra-territorial solutions to counter the haze problems as it has become a regional problem.

Meanwhile, Federal Court judge, Justice Azahar Mohamed, pointed to the limitations of an existing country's law to counter the haze problem.

Pointing to the Trans-boundary Haze Pollution Act 2014, in which offenders in Indonesia can be punished under Singapore laws for causing haze, the judge said that Indonesia had protested its implementation.

Justice Azahar, who was formerly the head of prosecution in the Attorney General Chambers, noted that Malaysia is presently looking at similar legislation, as suggested by a cabinet minister.

He also said that if there are criminal offences to be instituted for causing haze, it can only be enforced through the public prosecutor.

Premature deaths

Another speaker, Etelle Higonnet, who is the campaign and legal director of Washington based firm Waxman Strategies, stressed the need for countries within the Asean region to work together to counter the haze problem, which is not only a regional issue, but also a global one.

Higonnet said a study conducted by the Harvard and Columbia Universities, which was released recently, showed that the haze crisis last year had caused 100,300 premature deaths in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

The breakdown listed the number of deaths in Indonesia as 91,600, followed by Malaysia (6,500) and Singapore (2,200).

The haze last year occurred between July and November, resulted in schools being closed in Malaysia and Singapore, and causing respiratory and other health problems to the people.

The finding was only limited to the impact of haze resulting in the release of PM2.5 particles in the South East Asian region, and not due to other harmful gases.
Higonnet also said that in 2006, there were an estimated 34,600 deaths in the three countries as a result of haze.
She said Malaysia's case of 6,500 premature deaths last year accounted for 4.29 percent of total deaths in the country last year.

The Waxman Strategies director also estimated that the haze problem also accounted for three percent of greenhouse emissions last year, and that deforestation has to stop.

Higonnet said the haze was not only affecting South East Asia, but the world.

However the Health Ministry has refuted the US study. Similar rebuttals have been made by the Singapore and Indonesian authorities this week.

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