Holding the palm oil barons to account? Good luck lah

June 22, 2013

“I can understand how our government seems to believe they can get this resolved by the book. Issue a writ of summons. Haul them to court. Get a judgement and the haze is history.

Not so simple, I am afraid.

As I said, there is really one reliable way to put an end to the haze – that is to be as big as them and to have a presence wherever they go.

All this talk of naming and shaming, moral suasion etc etc will not make the slightest dent to what will have to transpire this year, next year and probably for the foreseeable future.


“In my mind, it makes perfect sense as a small country to leverage on a juggernaut like Temasek to pursue plantations vigorously – especially oil palm. As in the foreseeable future, this will be the major cash crop that both Malaysia and Indonesia have earmarked for growth.

But I want to be clear, it is not only oil palm. As that sort of industry usually requires a large foot print. But it may also apply to how trans migration is affecting our neighbors and how they might be using lands that are proximate to us as well. So there is a whole entire dimension that I am talking about.

My point is, it’s never a clever idea to just buy into the bovine belief – you don’t interfere with the affairs of your neighbor – in my considered opinion, it makes far more sense to be kaypoh and project the image that you are not a kaypoh.

This is strategic…..strategic…….strategic.

Let us look at the facts. The demand for palm oil will not go down. Expect more land to be cleared and those that are not cleared will also been seasonally lighted up. As that’s the cheapest way to fertilize the land- demand for palm oil can only go up and up. Both India and China are becoming more affluent. Buying power has increased exponentially in those two major nodes, a broad based middle class is starting to emerge.

In my analysis, it was very shortsighted for the planners not to see all this coming – look here, I am not indulging in a spot of Schadenfreude! I am not knocking the government for the sake of knocking it! But I believe all this would have been quite easily foreseen to have allowed us to interdict earlier, providing we had a strategy, that would have allowed us to modulate the outcome, had Singapore bothered with the idea strategically acquiring equity in the regional palm oil business.

Instead Temasek prefers to buy kindergartens in Australia and GIC has a fetish for buying condominiums that no one wants to stay in, in the US – so you tell me, what is the strategic value of those acquisitions? How can they possibly produce a payout where you can say, this or that adds to the wealth of a nation?

I don’t understand if institutions such as GIC exist to protect and defend the economic well being and future of Singaporeans – why then not use some of that money to go into a business that has the highest impact on our economic well being – many people say the haze cost Singapore a couple of millions only a day.

But how can that be? The cost has to run into the billions – just think about the loss in productivity due to workers having to take medical leave, what about taxi drivers and people who turn the wheel of life by running around – how many people do you think will be strolling along in the soup of the haze – what about the medical cost of treating those who have lung ailments? What about tourism and everyone who depends on that industry?

So don’t insult my intelligence my telling me that the haze is just a glitch or a seasonal bummer like the occasional hail storm that dings your car or breaks a couple of windows – this is quite a serious thing. As every year it happens.

The way I see it, it makes no sense for firms such as GIC to go and plonk money in a Swiss bank when compared to the strategic payout of going into the plantations business in such a big way where they can even influence the direction and pace of where agribusiness should go.

I put this all down to bad planning and laziness. As really the haze problem has been around for 15 years and if you think about it – why are our ministers still running around like white laced virgins who are seeking justice as others have outraged their modesty? No wonder people are calling them children.

As this is what a child will do. He will not see a problem for what it is – the child simply cannot see it all.”

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