Friday, June 21, 2013

A test for S’pore: Not being hazy about the haze

21 June 2013

Devadas Krishnadas

Singapore is facing a multi-dimensional crisis due to the haze. The crisis has an environmental origin but it is manifesting itself upon several planes – health is the most obvious.

However, given the acute and protracted nature of the phenomenon, we will soon see the effects on social, economic and political dimensions as well. How will we, as a nation, cope with the haze? What needs to be done?

First, the nature of the challenge must be recognised by the political, corporate and social leaders. The haze poses structural and persistent risks to Singaporeans and the Singaporean economy. It is likely to disrupt to economic, educational and social routines and for a protracted period of time, measured in months, not weeks or days.

Second, the Government must recognise that its responsibility is first and foremost to the well-being of its people and not the important but ultimately secondary consideration of maintaining good international relations.

If required, we can afford to tear and repair the bilateral relationship with Indonesia, but what we cannot expect is to tear and repair the relationship of trust between our leaders and Singaporeans. That has much more divisive and insidious consequences.

Singapore has to get tough with Indonesia to ensure that the effective action is taken at the origin of the problem. What good is a long working relationship if it is of little help when we need it most? Financial sanctions and diplomatic action at international forums such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United Nations should be considered, should our entreaties to the Indonesian government be met with further recalcitrance or petulance as evident by comments by certain Indonesian politicians.


Third, the Government needs to get ahead of the crisis and not play catch up. It should mechanise to deal with the anticipated economic and social fall-out from the haze. The economy, already performing only marginally, may need buttressing. Social cohesion will need reinforcing through active leadership at the ground level.

It is time for Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders to be seen and not hidden by the haze, in rallying the people and helping to make adjustments or provide assistance at the local level. In this respect, it is important for Government and opposition leaders alike to go beyond partisanship and be leaders not of party but of people – come together and work for the common good.

Fourth, this is a test for Singapore society. This crisis shows us that as much as we have differences, our lot is fundamentally a common one.

The haze does not recognise political or wealth boundaries. We are in this together and because of which, how we come out of it will be less a measure of our external actions as our internal ones. How do we empathise with each other? How much are we willing to do for each other?

Can we get along well enough so that at the person to person, family to family, neighbour to neighbour level, we make accommodations so we can adapt to survive? To put it bluntly, we cannot ‘wayang’ our way through this – it is going to require genuine and sincere social inclusiveness and cohesion from the individual level up for us to tough this out till clearer days.

We can use the haze crisis to leave Singapore better, but only if we want to be the best for Singapore.


Devadas Krishnadas is the Founder and Director of Future-Moves, and the Editor of IPS Commons. This article first appeared at

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