Haze war worsens as Indonesia halts joint projects with Singapore

Indonesia will undertake a unilateral review of several agreements with Singapore.

The tussle between Singapore and Indonesia over last year's crippling haze escalated with Jakarta saying it will halt cooperation with Singapore on environment, forestry and haze-related issues.

Indonesia's environment and forestry minister also said Jakarta will undertake a unilateral review of several agreements with Singapore on collaboration on haze related matters.

All procedures related to the bilateral collaboration on haze and forest fires have been put on hold, the minister said.

The move has come after Singapore tightened legal proceedings against Indonesian firms it accuses of causing last year's haze that engulfed the city state.

Singapore says at least six Indonesian agro-industrial companies are responsible for the haze that resulted from wide-scale slash and burn cultivation in the palm oil plantations.

Thick smoke from fires in the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo islands engulfed the city state for days on end last year.

"We are only going to inform Singapore, at a later stage, of the existing bilateral collaborations that are to be terminated as well as those planned collaborations which will not go ahead," Indonesia's environment minister Siti Nurbaya told foresthints.news.

She said all bilateral collaborations with Singapore will be under review and a decision will be taken if any of the agreements will have to be annulled. The review will be held directly under the minister's watch and all bilateral collaboration projects in the pipeline, including those concerning haze and forest fire-related issues, will be subjected to the process.

Singapore last week secured a court warrant against the top official of an Indonesian firm that it accused of having played a role in the haze that blanketed the country last year.

Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) had asked the director of the firm to appear for a questioning, and as he failed to turn up the agency obtained a court order against him, NEA said.

Indonesia's reaction came in the form of a protest lodged by the foreign ministry in Jakarta. However, Singapore denied it received any official protest from Indonesia's foreign ministry.

Singapore said in March it suffered losses of about S$700 million due to large-scale haze that enveloped the city state during 2015.

"We cannot have just one approach to address the problem. One of these approaches that we're trying to commit is the bilateral cooperation between Indonesia and Singapore," Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli had said.

The Indonesian minister reprimanded Singapore over its "comments" on the haze issue, saying Singapore should focus on its own role in addressing the issue.

"We have been consistent in sticking to our part of the bargain, especially by attempting to prevent the recurrence of land and forest fires and by consistently enforcing the law. So, my question is — what has the Singaporean Government done? I feel that they should focus on their own role," she said.

Here's a Reuters Factbox that gives a detailed account of the cost of Indonesia fires every year.