Yesterday, Information Minister Datuk Mohamad Rahmat, who is National Disaster Relief Management Committee chairman, announced that the Cabinet had approved a fresh national action plan to combat the haze with stringent measures that will come into force once the Air Pollutant Index (API) hits the 250 mark.
He said the Cabinet decided that the disaster relief committee will ensure that measures are adopted when the API hits 250. If the API hits 300, the committee will take over the task of handling the haze situation from the Department of Environment (DOE). A state of emergency will be declared by the Prime Minister when the index touches 500.
Mohamad Rahmat also said yesterday that smokers should stop smoking when the index reached 101, which means that there should virtually be no smoking in the entire Klang Valley, as for nearly two weeks, the API readings in most of the areas in Klang Valley have exceeded 101.
Yesterday for instance, the API reading for KL at 5 p.m. was 152, Gombak 133, Petaling Jaya 121, Klang 126 with Shah Alam at 97. The highest API readings for the Klang Valley was registered on Tuesday morning (Sept. 16, 8 a.m) when the index for KL was 302, Gombak 344, PJ 206, Shah Alam 146 and Klang 164.
Is the National Disaster Relief Committee under Mohamad Rahmat enforcing an "no smoking" edict in the Klang Valley?
On Monday, Mohamad Rahmat had announced after the first meeting of the National Disaster Relief Committee that once the API reached 250, everyone should stop smoking. One foreign publication noted that Mohamad Rahmatís announcement did not stop him from having a cigarette between the task-force meeting and the news conference. This was when the API reached one of its highest peaks Ė with KL hitting 247, Gombak 298 and PJ 220.
In fact, a local newspaper reported that after Mohamadís announcement and explanation that "those who have asthmatic patients or sernior citizens at home should stop smoking", he was asked whether he would quit smoking, and Mohamad "said in jest", "I do not have any old people at home".
Malaysia urgently needs an Anti-Haze Supremo who can command the confidence of the people about the governmentís seriousness in mobilising local sections of the population as well as motivating regional co-operation to address the worst haze problem in the region.
There is now controversy about the reliability of the API readings, and the authorities concerned should give a full clarification of this index.
The people should also be told as to what is the difference between the earlier anti-haze action plan approved by the Cabinet on August 20 and the action plan approved yesterday, and what assurances that the second action plan would be implemented when the country is faced with the worsening of the haze situation with the API persistently exceeding 250 as happened a few days ago.