A recent workshop that brought together Indonesian NGOs, government officials and provincial leaders was organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) together with Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia. The workshop focused on the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, with the aim of engaging stakeholders in Indonesia in better understanding and determining practical implementation of the ASEAN Agreement, should it be ratified by Indonesia.
The majority of participants came from Indonesian NGOs and civil society groups based in Indonesia who are working on fire-prevention, community approaches to haze prevention and forest conservation issues. Members of parliament (in this case DPD or Regional Representative) and local/provincial officials from affected areas such as Riau and Jambi also provided their perspectives. In addition, NGOs from Singapore and Malaysia were present to add a regional perspective to haze prevention and to demonstrate solidarity by Indonesia’s neighbours in tackling the issue.
The keynote address by Indonesian Minister of Forestry MS Kaban was read by his Special Adviser on Environment Sutiono Wibowo. In his speech, the Minister suggested that the problem of illegal logging was tied to whether Indonesia would ratify the ASEAN haze agreement, as several ASEAN countries had not satisfactorily resolved the illegal logging issue. He also warned that 27 out of 32 articles in the agreement are obligations to the signatory which would mean that Indonesia has to be ready for such additional obligations.
This argument however, did not seem to be supported by the Ministry of Environment who, according to the Head of Division for Agreement and Ratification Analysis Tris Mardiyati, had made concerted efforts to reach out and communicate the content of the agreement to stakeholders and the public. The Ministry of Environment is in favor of the agreement and has passed the bill to be ratified by the House of Representatives (DPR). Local governments from affected areas Riau and Jambi Province present at the meeting said that they would support ratification of agreement, although they asked for more information to be made accessible to them - for example translation of the text to Bahasa Indonesia. The differing views between central and local officials was illustrative of a certain level of miscommunication and lack of clarity between central and local government agencies that most participants present agreed was a key issue to be resolved.
Most NGO participants present clearly agreed that the agreement should be ratified, especially since it would make funding and support more available and accessible from other ASEAN countries to address the haze problem. However, they also were clear that the haze agreement was not a panacea – and that whether or not it was signed, many practical actions on the ground that were already taking place should be acknowledged and supported, while other efforts needed to be deepened and strengthened. Many NGOs present described direct practical solutions on the ground in affected provinces that were in place to address the haze including community fire prevention schemes and public information programmes among others.
Executive Director of Centre for Environmental Law (ICEL) Rino Subagyo, was in favour of ratifying the ASEAN agreement. According to him, ratifying the agreement would signal a sharing of burden and common responsibilities among ASEAN countries particularly in funding, information and experts. This solidarity would be important to show Indonesia, and Indonesians, especially those who bore the brunt of the haze pollution, that they were not alone in finding solutions to the problem.Malaysian NGOs in response, added some legal comparisons in dealing with the fires. They said Malaysia, Singaporeand other ASEAN countries are definitely committed to support Indonesiato tackle the problems and will definitely pursue cooperation rather than blame each other. This was evident already in the contributions that had been pledged by ASEAN countries to the ASEAN Haze Fund.
Simon Tay of Singapore Institute of International Affairs expressed his puzzlement why Indonesian members of parliament seemed to lack seriousness in tackling the haze problem. After all it is Indonesians, those who live close to the fires who suffer the most from the fires and haze and not Singaporeans or Malaysians, he said.