KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia is proposing to amend an act to allow the government to seize control of land where big fires are discovered, as part of its long-term efforts to curb haze from slash-and-burn forest clearing techniques usually linked to palm oil plantations.
The palm oil sector in top producers Indonesia and Malaysia has been facing criticism for deforestation and its land-clearing methods that send vast plumes of smoke across Southeast Asia every year. Indonesia has already taken measures to reduce the industry's environmental impact, with the latest being a moratorium on new palm oil concessions.
Malaysia is also set to get tough on forest fires with its proposal to amend the country's Environmental Protection Act, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the country's natural resources and environment minister, said on Wednesday.
Under the amendment, "it will not matter if the land is owned by smallholders or plantation giants, as long as there is a substantial fire the government will take control of the land," Wan Junaidi said at a press conference.
The amendment, however, is not likely to be made in time to curb fires this year, Wan Junaidi added, without providing any further details on it.
"The haze situation this year is potentially worse as Malaysia is already facing moderate haze due to local fires, and the coming monsoon winds will only bring in more haze from Indonesia," he said.
Malaysia and Indonesia produce about 90 percent of global palm oil, used in everything from cooking oil and soaps to chocolate and cosmetics.
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan, writing by Emily Chow; Editing by Himani Sarkar)