Malaysia: The haze – capitalism’s gift to mankind

Last week a heavy cloud of pollution engulfed parts of Malaysia.

The Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) carried the following article and press statement on their web-site at: www.parti-sosialis.org (opens in new window)

The haze – capitalism’s gift to mankind

Today must be the day after tomorrow. According to the newspapers, the Air Pollutant Index levels range from ‘unhealthy’ to ‘emergency’ (100 to 531) in most of the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The smog, carbon monoxide, ozone etc. levels in the air are so bad that the BN (National Front) government has been forced to declare an emergency in two areas.

Suddenly though the governments of both Malaysia and Indonesia look very helpless and tongue-tied. This time they are unable to just blame peat fires lit up by the scorching heat of the sun for the haze. They have been forced to admit that open burning on a massive scale by big plantation companies and timber loggers is a major contributor to the dirty and dangerous air.

Yet, despite having identified the culprits, both governments have shown no urgency in bringing them to book. The lightning-swift action taken by the BN government in demolishing the innocuous Sky Kingdom in Trengganu has not been replicated now when the health, life and livelihood of millions of people are at stake. Not a squeak from all the ‘Yes’ Ministers waiting in line to echo the boss. No mafia-style capture of the offenders.

The Indonesian and Malaysian governments are instead steering quite clear of this uncomfortable subject. They are instead shielding the culprits. The Malaysian Prime Minister has asked people of all faiths to pray for the haze to leave us. The Indonesian Prime Minister pleads for more time. This is not a time for praying and waiting. This is not a natural disaster. This is an environmental disaster caused by the insatiable greed of capitalists for profits above all else. And they are being aided and abetted by both governments.

This barbaric slash and burn attitude of plantation companies and timber loggers is not alien to the capitalist system of production. Profits at any cost, at the expense of the super-exploitation of workers, environmental degradation and human misery, is the driving motive of the capitalist. Indeed if he were to slacken on that, given the intense competition of the system, he will go bust. The governments of Indonesia and Malaysia are not innocent parties in this assault on the environment. They work hand-in-glove, or even own the very companies that are fouling up the air. For example, the Malaysian government through its holding companies holds 70% of the shares in Guthrie and sizable shares in Golden Hope and other transnational Malaysian plantation companies, which have interests in Indonesia. It is not hard then to understand why action against the culprits has been so sluggish and ineffective.

The haze is a very real warning of what the near future holds if we leave the management of the world in the hands of the capitalist class. It is also a reminder that despite all its remarkable inventions, capitalism has no magic wand in its armoury to wave away the haze.

The haze is a reminder that the working class should take over the management of the world and do what is good for all of mankind. We can produce enough to sustain all of us without stressing the environment if production is based on the needs of the majority rather than the greed of a few. The socialist system, which is based on such a rationale of production, is the only way to save our world. Otherwise the grim predictions of the movie, ‘The Day After Tomorrow”, which shows the polar ice caps melting as a result of global warming, can be expected to come true.

Press statement: 11 August 2005

Haze – PSM calls for additional measures

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) would like to firstly applaud the Government for being transparent in making public the API (Air Pollution Index) readings.

The move would definitely improve the peoples’ vigilance in fighting for a better environment. We call upon the Government to make the API reading available at all times, even after the current haze crisis, as it would be an important indicator of our quality of life.

Besides the move undertaken by the Government, PSM calls for additional immediate steps to be taken:

  • All workers who engage in outdoor work such as on the construction sites, plantations and other outdoor sectors should immediately be given paid leave. The Government cannot wait for the index to reach 500 before enforcing this because it is clear that the current air index is already very unhealthy and hazardous. Any API reading above 100 is already considered unhealthy.
  • All Employers should immediately make available approved surgical masks which should be supplied to all workers free of charge especially to those who work in-door areas which do not provide air-condition environment. The Government should also assist in ensuring sufficient supply and make available information.
  • All private hospitals should be directed to accept all patients without extra charge who suffer from symptoms consistent with haze-related sickness.
  • The Government should within 2 weeks come out with concrete plans on how to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide from automobiles as well as from factories.
  • There should be continuous and current updates of the situation at all times made available to the public. There should also be a clear line of command from the Government to reduce confusion and rumours.

It is an irony. While the Government shows so much determination in increasing sales of Proton (cars) which would inevitably increase the air pollution in our cities, similar determination is hardly shown in safeguarding the environment.

There is also a tendency to blame the current crisis on Indonesia per-se. Such actions would only create unnecessary tensions between the people of the two countries, besides promoting narrow nationalistic and jingoistic positions. The environment crisis which we face today is not solely caused by the fires in Indonesia but it is also a product of capitalist-engineered development policy both in Indonesia and Malaysia which puts forward profit above the well being of the people.

Until and unless we recognise and come to terms with these dangers posed by the capitalist system, until then we would continue to suffer these environmental crises – locally and globally.

Only through a collective socialist system, which puts peoples’ interests above profit, can we save our future and our children’s future. It is a choice which we have to make.

Released by: S.Arutchelvan, Secretary General, Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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