Singapore threatens legal action against local firms blamed for smog from Sumatra

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 6:31am

Singapore said yesterday that it would pursue local firms found to be involved in starting forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, as Greenpeace said the blazes were on palm oil plantations owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies.

Smog has engulfed the city state, with air pollution reaching a record high on Friday, although the level had dropped to "moderate" by yesterday afternoon.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said Singapore would investigate possible legal action against domestic companies responsible for the fires.

"I have asked the attorney general to consider what is it that we can do in Singapore if such companies can be proved to have contributed in some way [to the fires] ... We will do everything we can do," he said.

"We will offer no succour or refuge if the actions of the companies have indeed been illegal in Indonesia and impacted on Singapore," Shanmugam said.

He pressed Indonesia to provide evidence.

"We would have to depend on Indonesia to give us the evidence ... Indonesian investigation authorities need to be on the ground, I cannot send my police officers in there to investigate," he said.

Environmental group Greenpeace said: "Nasa hotspot data in Sumatra over the past 10 days has revealed hundreds of fire hotspots in palm oil concessions that are owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies."

Shanmugam said he would raise the regional smog problem at this week's Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meeting.

The city state would pursue the matter at other forums if the Asean foreign ministers' meeting in Brunei produced no "concrete results".

In a separate interview with local media, Shanmugam, who is also Singapore's law minister, said Singapore would "take all steps even if it means that our neighbours are upset".

Indonesia last week sought to shift some of the blame for the raging forest fires onto Malaysian and Singaporean palm oil companies that have invested in Indonesia.

On Friday, Indonesia's environment minister said it was investigating eight firms for causing the fires, including Jakarta-based Sinar Mas and Asia Pacific Resources International.

Singapore's smog index reached an all-time record level of 401 on Friday, and was above 300 early yesterday but had dropped to 85 by the afternoon.