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Title: ASEAN leaders to be pressed on haze reforms at annual summit
Date: 30-Nov-2005
Category: Malaysia
Source/Author: AFP
Description: Southeast Asian leaders will be asked during the Summit on fighting annual smoke haze hazards by cutting red tape and committing more resources, a top official said


KUCHING, Malaysia (AFP) - Southeast Asian leaders will be asked at their December summit to fight the annual haze hazard by cutting red tape and committing more resources, a top official said.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretary-general Ong Keng Yong said ministers from the group had drawn up a submission to leaders urging them to make structural changes at the December 12-14 meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

"We basically ask the leaders to give more resources and more authority to the guys on the ground," Ong told AFP on the sidelines of an environment conference here.

He said regional nations needed to cut away bureaucratic red tape in decision-making and introduce structural changes to deal more effectively with the perennial haze problem.

"We can certainly better improve our handling of the issue," he said.

"Nobody disagrees with the disastrous consequences of transboundary air pollution -- haze -- but how do we create the structure to effectively implement our rules and regulations?"

Ong said that scarce resources on the ground to fight haze-causing fires and to enforce regulations against burning, plus long-winded government deliberations, were hampering efforts to resolve the crisis.

"Everybody knows the problem, everybody appreciates the difficulties of coordination and enforcement, but maybe lets try looking for a better structure to deal with it," Ong said.

He cited Indonesia, where many of the regions fires occur, and the difficulties of navigating the country's "labyrinthine" bureaucracy.

"You have many agencies and everyone has a say. Then, when the fire happens, the bureaucratic deliberation will take place and in the meantime the fire has to be taken care of."

The secretary-general said a recent ASEAN study showed that empowering local authorities to deal with the problem, rather than relying on far-off central governments, would prove much more effective.

Transboundary issues within the 10-member ASEAN are normally touchy subjects because they test the body's traditional principle of non-interference among each other's affairs.

ASEAN leaders regularly discuss the haze issue, but Ong said they had to set aside sensitivities and ideological debates about the environment to deal with haze in a more practical manner.

"We have been discussing it at the summit level in what we call a pleasant way," he said. "Leaders being what they are, they dont confront each other in the way that bureaucrats or even the ministers do."

Website (URL) http://www.haze-online.or.id/news.php/ID=20051201104206

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