Anwar Ibrahim commended for his sensitivity to the national haze disaster and his agreement to suspend the Parliamentary Standing Orders on Monday to give top priority to a full and comprehensive debate

- Penang DAP State Convention
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Sunday): I was informed yesterday that the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has agreed to my suggestion that Parliament should suspend Standing Orders when the Dewan Rakyat reconvenes tomorrow to allow a full and comprehensive debate on the national haze disaster to take precedence over all other parliamentary business.

I commend Anwar Ibrahim for his sensitivity to the national haze disaster as r Parliament would be very remiss in its role, function and duty, apart from being irrelevant to the people’s needs, problems and aspirations, if MPs from all political parties, whether government or opposition, are unable to debate and focus on the national haze disaster on the very first day of Parliament, which has been described as a "global environmental disaster".

Under the original Parliamentary Order Paper for tomorrow which was circulated to MPs last week, there would have been no debate on the national haze disaster in the Dewan Rakyat tomorrow, and the first parliamentary business would have been the debate on three bills which had been presented for first reading in the previous meeting.

There are actually two motions on the national haze disaster in the Parliamentary Order Paper, but they were listed as No. 5 and No. 9 in the order of business. The fifth item of parliamentary business is a motion in the name of the DAP MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng, asking for compensation from the Indonesian government for the damages to the economy and the health of Malaysians as a result of the worst air pollution in Malaysia caused by the raging thousands of forest and plantation fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. The ninth item of parliamentary business is a motion in the name of the DAP MP for Kepong, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, asking for a full report on the ecological effects and causes of the national haze disaster.

However, as these two motions are private member’s motions, which must give way to official government business, and going by Malaysian parliamentary practice, they would only have the chance of appearing on the Parliamentary Order Paper for the record, but would have no chance of being debated at all.

Furthermore, these two motions had to be submitted at least 14 days before the Parliamentary meeting, which means around the third week of September.

Since then, the national haze disaster had worsened, not only with the declaration of a state of emergency in Sarawak which lasted 10 days, but also causing havoc on air, sea and land, closed down Malaysian airports, grounded flights, and is clearly responsible for the Garuda airbus jet crash in Medan on September 26, 1997, killing 234 people on board (and there are fears that five Malaysian youths from Penang and Kedah might also had been among the victims as they had told their families that they were going to Indonesia to work during the period of the fateful crash and are still missing), several collisions of ships in the Straits of Malacca and the rise in road accidents, including fatalities.

The haze is probably behind the fatal accident of Penang State Assemblyman for Sungai Bakap, Ooi Theng Bok, two weeks ago, which had necessitated a by-election to be held in Penang. Ooi, 44, sustained serious head injuries in an accident when his Proton Saga slammed into the rear of a trailerat the 156 km of the North-South Expressway (at the time it should more appropriately be called the North-South Hazeway) at 11.25 p.m. on 23rd September and was pronounced dead on arrival at the Sungai Bakap Hospital. I am told that the haze at the site of the accident that night was very thick and one of the worst in Penang.

Furthermore, the health of millions of Malaysians have been adversely affected by the haze, with hundreds of thousands in the month of September alone having to seek medical attention for haze-related ailments, like respiratory infection, asthma and conjunctivitis. But what is even more serious and worrying are the adverse long-term effects on the health of the Malaysian population, particularly children, some of which would only be manifested in a decade or two. These long-term effects include cancer, chronic lung disease, damage to the nervous system, kidneys and liver, effects on the lungs of growing children and aggravation of medical conditions among the aged.

Today’s press reported the finding of a joint study by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Universiti Putra Malaysia that constant exposure to air pollution affects the intelligence of schoolchildren.

It is for this reason that on Sept. 27, I gave notice to the Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, Tan Sri Mohamed Zahir Ismail a comprehensive motion on the national haze disaster, which among other things, called for a a Clean Air Action Plan to be submitted for adoption by the current meeting of Parliament to "demonstrate the nation’s seriousness and commitment in ensuring that clean air and water should be among the fundamental rights of all Malaysians."

My motion reads:

I also wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim proposing that the first item of parliamentary business when the Dewan Rakyat reconvenes tomorrow should be a full and comprehensive debate on the national haze disaster, and asking for government agreement to suspend the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders to allow such a motion to be debated.

In the meantime, in an attempt to make it doubly sure that Parliament tomorrow would have the opportunity to debate the national haze disaster, the DAP MP for Kepong, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, had also given notice under Standing Order 18 to move a motion of urgent, definite public importance immediately after question time tomorrow on the national haze disaster.

I am glad that Anwar has agreed that the first item of the parliamentary agenda tomorrow should be a full debate on the national haze disaster, although the debate would not be on my motion but over the Deputy Prime Minister’s motion, which is as follows:

I call on Members of Parliament to express the people’s concerns, unhappiness and fears about the national haze disaster in the debate on Anwar’s motion on the national haze disaster tomorrow, and to take a united stand, regardless of political party, to demand that the time has come to ensure that Malaysians are restored their fundamental right to clean air and that Indonesia must bear full responsibility for the enormous damages caused to Malaysian economy, tourism, environment and the health of 21 million Malaysians.

The Minister for Science, Technology and Environment, Datuk Law Hieng Ding, said in Sibu yesterday that Sarawak suffered RM100 million losses a day during the 10-day emergency as a result of the worst air pollution disaster in history last month.

This has confirmed my statement that the losses suffered by Malaysia as a result of the national haze disaster is not in terms of millions or tens of millions of ringgit, but in billions of ringgit – and there is no reason why the Malaysian Government should not submit a bill to the Indonesian Government demanding compensation.

One of the six demands of the "Clean Air For Our Children – Let 1997 Haze be the last worst haze" mass signature campaign is that Indonesia must pay compensation for the billions of ringgit of damage suffered by the Malaysian economy, tourism, environment and health of the people as a result of the haze disaster.

This demand that Indonesia compensate Malaysia because of the haze disaster has received good support from Malaysians of all races, whether Malays, Chinese and Indians, although this signature campaign had run into a lot of "teething" problems in the past few days.

The biggest problem is the heavy rain throughout the country in the past few days, which is good news in temporarily washing away the haze, but has dampened the mass signature campaign – making it not possible to achieve the initial target of 100,000 signatures in less than a week.

I definitely welcome more rain so that our skies are clearer and the air fresher, even if it is at the expense of considerable slow-down of the mass signature campaign.

I have no doubt, however, from the willing response and great concern of the people who were approached in the past few days to support the mass signature campaign that this 100,000 signature target could be reached. In fact, I am of the view that a higher target of the mass signature campaign could now be set. I would make this proposal to the "Clean Air For Our Children – Let the 1997 Haze be the last worst haze" mass signature campaign organising committee at its meeting on Tuesday to review the results of the first week of the campaign.

We will collect whatever signatures we could muster in the past five days and present them to Parliament tomorrow, and will continue with the mass signature campaign to reach more Malaysians with the message that clean air is a fundamental right of the people and that Indonesia must compensate Malaysia for the enormous losses suffered by the country as a result of the global environmental disaster caused by the Indonesian forest fires.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong