(Tanjong, Saturday): Malaysians are extremely disappointed by the statement yesterday of the Information Minister and Chairman for the National Disaster Management and Relief Committee, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat that the government had never considered the matter of asking Indonesia for compensation for the raging Indonesian forest and plantation fires which are the primary cause of the national haze disaster affecting Malaysia and other ASEAN nations.
The contemptuous manner in which Mohamed Rahmat dismissed the issue of claiming compensation from Indonesia has compounded the people’s disappointment, especially as only a few days ago, the Minister for Science, Technology and Environment, Datuk Law Hieng Ding had kept open the possibility of Malaysia claiming compensation from the Indonesian Government.
While it is agreed that the immediate focus is to tackle the problem at source, which are the raging thousands of forest and plantation fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the Malaysian Government would be out of sync with the feelings and demands of Malaysians if it is not prepared to give serious consideration to the issue of claiming compensation from Indonesia for the mammoth losses caused to Malaysia in terms of damages to the environment, economy, tourist and the people’s health – both immediate and long-term.
Such a demand would make the Indonesian Government more responsible in future and take all possible pre-emptive measures, whether on its own or in unison with regional and international efforts, to ensure that there would be no recurrence of the raging thousands of forest and plantation fires from next year onwards to create perennial global environmental disasters in the region.
Such a claim to Indonesia for damage for the regional environmental disaster would serve notice to the world that every country must be responsible for the transboundary pollution emanating from within its borders and pay compensation for the damages to the environment, economy and health of neighbouring countries.
Malaysians who support the demand that Indonesia should pay compensation for the damages caused to Malaysia because of the national haze disaster – the worst in the nation’s history – should come forward to make the "Clean Air For All Children – Let the 1997 Haze be the last worst haze" mass signature campaign the most successful mass signature campaign in the nation’s history to reflect the deep-seated feelings of all Malaysians, regard of l race, religion, age, sex and territory.
This mass signature campaign has three major objectives: Firstly, to express the fundamental desire of Malaysians for clean air, particularly for our children and that the 1997 Haze would be the last worst haze, and would not be like the Nation’s Worst Haze of 1990, 1991 and 1994 which were followed by even worst haze in subsequent years.
Secondly, to send out a clear and unmistakable message to the government and all political parties, whether in government or opposition, that clean air and quality environment should not continue to be a peripheral or marginal issue but must become a national mainstream concern through the enactment and implementation of a Clean Air Policy and Action Plan.
Thirdly, to get Indonesia to be a responsible member of the international community by bearing full responsibility for the global environment disaster caused by the health and life-threatening haze by making compensation to neighbouring countries for the enormous damages caused as well as pledging that there would be no repetition of such environmental disasters in future.
This is why one of the six demands of the "Clean Air For Our Children – Let 1997 Haze be the last worst haze" reads: "That the Government conduct a costing of the damages which have been caused to the Malaysian economy and people by the haze and that a claim for compensation should be submitted to the Indonesian Government".
The other five demands of the mass signature campaign are:
The Government should respect the widespread and deep-seated feelings of Malaysians that Indonesia should compensate for the enormous damages it had caused to Malaysia as a result of the environmental disaster caused by the raging thousands of forest and plantation fires in Indonesia causing the regional haze to set a precedent in international relations about good neighbourly conduct. The Cabinet should set up a task force to look into all aspects of claiming compensation from Indonesia.
This mass signature campaign for clean air for our children and compensation from Indonesia is not a party political, racial or religious issues, but an issue which the fundamental human right of all Malaysians, and I hope all political parties, religious organisations, civic bodies, youth groups and all Malaysians could come forward to support this campaign.
When we announced the launching of the "Clean Air For Our Children – Let 1997 Haze be the last worst haze" mass signature campaign on Monday, we have announced an initial target of 100,000 signatures in less than a week to impress on Parliament when it reconvenes the gravity and urgency of the national haze disaster.
I have written to the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to ask him to agree to allow a debate on the national haze disaster to take precedence over all other parliamentary business to demonstrate the paramount concern of the country on worst air pollution in Malaysian history as the motion on the national haze disaster which I had submitted to Parliament does not comply with the 14-day notice requirement under the Parliamentary Standing Orders.
Alternatively, the Deputy Prime Minister himself should move a motion on the national haze disaster for debate by Parliament on Monday, in which case, I am prepared to withdraw my motion.
However, since the announcement of the mass signature campaign, the haze situation has improved considerably with heavy downpour all over the country. This, together with the time needed to get the mass signature campaign off-the-ground in various parts of the country, has made it unlikely that the initial target of 100,000 signatures in less than a week by Monday could be reached.
The public response from Malaysians of all races, age and sex has been very heart-warming, and I have no doubt that the initial target of 100,000 signatures could be reached, although the time-frame may have to be extended.
In fact, I am confident that the overall target of the mass signature campaign could eventually be many times the initial target of 100,000 signatures, but we will conduct a review of the "teething" problems of getting the mass signature campaign off-the-ground in various parts of the country first before deciding on the second target of the mass signature campaign.