DAP gives "no politicking" pledge on haze crisis but will not be deterred from speaking up about weaknesses and failures of government efforts in the best and highest interests of Malaysians


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Saturday):
National Disaster Relief Management Committee Chairman, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat yesterday accused DAP and UMNO Youth of politicising the haze crisis.

I cannot speak on behalf of UMNO Youth, but I want to give a solemn "no politicking" pledge on the haze crisis on behalf of the party. The DAP had never and will not "politicise" the national haze crisis but we will not be deterred from speaking up about the weaknesses and failures of the government efforts in facing the haze crisis in the best and highest interests of Malaysians.

In fact there is no "politics" in the national haze crisis whatsoever and the fact that Mohamed Rahmat can make such a preposterous accusation shows that the Information Minister appears to be afraid of his own shadows.

I know that Mohamed Rahmat had been quite unhappy with some of my comments about his handling of the haze situation, but these criticisms are made not in any partisan spirit but solely out of the welfare of Malaysians whose health and wellbeing are jeopardised by the worst air pollution in the nationís history.

For instance, I had questioned whether Mohamed Rahmat is the best person to be the Anti-Haze Supremo, who could command the absolute confidence of the people. I had done so not without reason.

On Wednesday, Mohamad Rahmat said that smokers should stop smoking when the Air Pollutant Index (API) reached 101.

In the past two weeks, the API reading for most of Klang Valley was over the unhealthy level of 101, even exceeding the hazardous level of 301. Is Mohamad Rahmat therefore going to decree a "no smoking" period in the Klang Valley until the API reading has reduced to healthy levels below 50?

A week ago, when the worst API readings were still in the "unhealthy" zone with KL and Gombak topping the list at 182, Klang 169, Nilai 162 and PJ 161, the Department of Environment sounded the national alarm by announcing that there would be hourly API reports through radio and television so that the people could take precautionary measures.

In the last week, the API readings had leapfrogged through the "very unhealthy" level between 201-300 and even exceeded the "hazardous" level between 301-500, with Kuching reaching the unprecedented level of 658 at 4 p.m. yesterday, but there has been no hourly API reports through radio and television. What is worse, at noon today, the DOE Homepage annoucing the daily API updates still gives the API reading two days ago, i.e. for Thursday, 18th September 1997 at 12 p.m., raising the question as to whether there is a sense of emergency among the the authorities.

Undoubtedly, however, what has created the greatest credibility gap is Mohamed Rahmatís back-pedalling from his announcement on Sunday that a state of emergency would be declared if the API exceeds 300, and its revision upwards to the API reading of 500 for any emergency to be declared.

Malaysians had been told that the API reading of 301-500 represents "hazardous" levels, and they are very shocked to learn yesterday that the API could even reach 658 for Kuching yesterday!

Previously, the government regarded the "unhealthy" level between 201 and 300 and the "hazardous" level between 301-500 of the API are sufficient to trigger off the following actions:

API Reading

Health Effect

Action Line

201-300

Very Unhealty

*Old Buses and taxis to stop operations
*Introduce discounted or free fare for public transport
*Cut down lighting, air-conditioning and unnecessary electrical equipments
*Major industries and power stations switch to lower sulphur content fuel oil and/or gas
*Cut down 50% of traffic volume entering city
*Cut down 50% fuel utilization
300-400

Hazardous

*Preparation of plan for reducing school hours
*Shortened or staggered working hours
*Introduce discounted or free fare for public transport
*Patients with respiratory problems advised to leave town
401-500

Hazardous

*Reduce cooking, eat ready food and fruits
*Plan for evacuation
*Declare emergency
*Evacuation

This was the first Anti-Haze Action Plan approved by the Cabinet only a month ago on August 20. Malaysians cannot be faulted for questioning the seriousness of the government in fighting the national haze problem, when they compare the details of the Action Plan with what the government had done in the past week, when the API shot through the "hazardous level" to a level which only two days ago, the government had not thought possible. i.e. 658 for Kuching.

Even now, Malaysians have still to be given full details of the Second National Anti-Haze Action Plan which the Cabinet had approved on Wednesday to replace the first action plan, which had never been implemented.

Yesterday, Mohamed Rahmat said Malaysians should be grateful that President Suharto had apologised for the haze caused by forest and peat fires in Indonesia.

If there is a national opinion poll, I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Malaysians would be of the view that while they appreciate the apology by President Suharto, they find it grossly inadequate in view of the worst national haze crisis in Malaysia, endangering the livelihood, health and even the lives of Malaysians.

Malaysia must make a strong representation for the Indonesian forest fires to be treated as an international problem. ASEAN must set an example to the world that where transboundary pollution problems like the Indonesian forest fires become a regional threat, ASEAN countries have the maturity and foresight to tackle it as a regional or international problem, rather having countries standing on traditional pride of national sovereignty.

While the Indonesian forest fires is the primary cause of the worst haze problem in Malaysia, the government must recognise that the high local air pollution level is a contributory factor, and that if the Clean Air Action Plan formulated by the Department of Environment had been approved by the Cabinet, the haze crisis would not be so acute as at present.

There should therefore be a two-pronged approach - to bring the Indonesian forest fires under control and to implement the Clean Air Action Plan which the DOE had spent RM10 million three years to formulate.

(20/9/97)


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