Why isn’t Malaysia doing anything to arrest annual haze dilemma despite sitting in Asean chair?

Why isn’t Malaysia doing anything to arrest annual haze dilemma despite sitting in Asean chair? 

Motorists wearing mask on a hazy day at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, September 14, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy MayMotorists wearing mask on a hazy day at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, September 14, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy MayKUALA LUMPUR, Oct 1 — As sitting chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) this year, the perception is that Malaysia should be able to flex its muscle and pressure Indonesia to resolve the growing spate of open burning that is choking its neighbours.
But regional analysts contacted by Malay Mail Online said the reality is different, citing the Asean practice of non-interference.
They believe that the most Malaysia can do right now would be to push for more regular meetings with other Southeast Asian countries on the haze problem, and look towards other organisations like the European Union (EU) and how they address matters involving transboundary pollution.
"Actually, there is not much Malaysia can do as chair. Indonesia has just recently continued to delay the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Malaysia and Indonesia to cooperate over haze matters.
“This shows that Malaysia in the Chair's seat does not actually change any of the relationship dynamic of the two countries over the haze… however, whether more pressure can be placed on Indonesia during the meetings, this is unlikely," Dr Helena Varkkey, senior lecturer at Universiti Malaya's Department of International and Strategic Studies told Malay Mail Online in an email interview.
"The original tenets of Asean still stand — non-interference above all. Even with Indonesia ratifying the legally-binding Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze in 2014, nothing much has actually changed because the agreement does not come with any enforcement or punishment mechanisms," she explained.
Helena also pointed out that several companies implicated so far in haze-producing fires in Indonesia were Malaysian companies, saying that the government should "lead by example" by coming down on the owners of these companies first.
The academic said that Malaysia and Asean could learn from the how the EU managed its own acid rain problem in Europe- where it ratified legally binding conventions to manage the issue, which came along with enforcement mechanisms.
"Asean has gone far from their early days, as now they have legally binding agreements, but Asean still needs to go one step further to also have the mechanisms in place to ensure that ratifying states bear real responsibility to enforce their commitments," she said.
Dr Ooi Kee Beng, deputy director of the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) Yusof Ishak Institute said that the haze issue revealed a weakness on the part of the Indonesian central government's ability to address the matter as well as Asean's weakness.
"The basic truth about Asean is that it is the collective expression of the agendas of ten countries, the domestic politics of many of which are in a divisive phase. The haze reveals the weakness of the Indonesian central government; and this is directly reflected as an Asean weakness.
"What Asean’s member states rely on are each other’s understanding of each their feeble situation domestically and globally, exerting pressure on each other is therefore a difficult thing to do, for fear of generating unwanted responses," he told Malay Mail Online in an email interview.
Ooi said Singapore's recent action in issuing preventive measure notices on four Indonesian companies deemed responsible for the latest bout of haze seems to be the "international legal limit."
"What Malaysia as chair can do is to highlight the issue, and offer region-wide – and not only Malaysian – assistance. The situation is so bad today that it may be time for Asean as an organisation to show that it has ability – or at least the ambition – to handle controversial and sensitive issues in a mature fashion.
The analyst was doubtful that Malaysia would be able to use the year-end's Asean Economic Committee to confront Indonesia over the haze issue.
William Case, a professor at the Southeast Asia Research Center of the City University of Hong Kong said that the Indonesia was taking steps to prevent the open burning of forests, but it lacked the "institutional and technical capacity" to fully do so.
"Seasonal conditions, livelihood issues, and economic interests are all much stronger, foiling the government’s efforts at every turn. Meanwhile, the costs in environmental, health, and political terms are enormous," he told Malay Mail Online in an email interview.
Many parts of Malaysia along its west coast and Borneo state of Sarawak has been shrouded in haze for several weeks after large open burning were reported in Indonesia, prompting its government as well as the Singaporean government to take legal action against the some eight plantation companies responsible for the blaze, Bloomberg reported this week.
Indonesia is investigating 100 companies but has so far frozen or revoked licenses for four plantation companies, Bloomberg reported, adding that the government will also investigate Singaporean and Malaysian companies there.
Haze levels plunged to “very unhealthy” levels on Sunday as Shah Alam recorded a reading of 281 on the Air Pollutant Index (API) while Port Klang hit the 252 mark.
Air conditions improved slightly yesterday, moving down the scale to just “unhealthy” in most areas across the peninsula, though 30 spots in the central states recorded “moderate” readings on the API.
Balok Baru in Pahang had an API reading of 143 while two Malaccan towns Bukit Rambai and Bandaraya Melaka were in the 130 range; Pasir Gudang and Larkin Lama in the southern state of Johor bordering Singapore also fell in the same “unhealthy” category as at 11pm last night.
The coastal Selangor town of Banting was the only place in the central region to have a reading beyond 100. Batu Muda in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Port Klang, Petaling Jaya and Shah Alam all dropped below the 100-mark following short spells of rain earlier in the evening.
If it so difficult to get Indonesia to prevent annual large scale open burning and if they are unwilling to sign the Memorandum of Understanding between Malaysia and Indonesia to cooperate over haze matters, then get Indonesia out of the Asean community or disband or dismantle ASEAN - let each nation be on its OWN!


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