Singapore – The Asean Transboundary Haze Pollution Control Agreement, a pact aimed at tackling haze problems in the region, could have become the grouping's showpiece of regional cooperation at its best. After all, the haze, caused by fires to clear land in Indonesia, has become an annual headache for neighbours Malaysiaand Singapore - offering all parties a clear incentive to make sure that the pact works. Yet, the landmark Asean agreement has yet to make an impact.
The haze pact, which took effect in November 2003, calls for a series of government-backed steps to combat the problem, such as the use of heat-sensing satellites and a crackdown on the irresponsible burning to clear land.
There are provisions for monitoring, technical cooperation, information exchange and simplified customs and immigration procedures for emergency response and disaster relief. It also calls for an Asean coordinating centre for activities under the pact to be established.
However, none of the measures envisaged by the pact could be implemented since Indonesian legislators have yet to ratify the agreement, reported Singapore's The Straits Times.
"At the moment, they (Indonesia) are more concerned with putting out the fires. But the question of how we can bring in Indonesia remains," Asean secretary-general Ong Keng Yong told the newspaper.
In Jakarta, an Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "There is no delay in the ratification process. We are now in the administrative process to ratify it."
Mr Dino, Pati Djalal, a presidential aide, said Indonesia is doing all it can to solve the current haze problem, which has led badly-hit Malaysia to briefly impose a state of haze emergency in two towns in Selangor.
"We are marshalling our resources, both at the national and provincial levels. Malaysia has also offered to help out and we are in serious talks to see how it can be done," he added.
Mr Ong said other Asean countries are willing to lend a helping hand if asked by Indonesia. "In this kind of situation, we cannot be too legalistic," he added.
In Malaysia, heavy rains in several states on Aug 14 and Aug 15 cleared the air of much of the haze that had shrouded the country since early this month. The state of haze emergency was also lifted in Kuala Selangor and Port Klang on Aug 13.
However, the authorities said it is too early to tell whether dry weather may return and with it the haze as there are still hotspots in Indonesia and even in Malaysiaitself.
* Goodbye haze, welcome rain (The Star, Aug 15)
* Testing times for Asean haze pact (The Straits Times, Aug 13)