In a surprising move from the usually timid Singapore government, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugan slammed “shocking” statements from Indonesian officials over the haze crisis in the wake of its decision to close all schools and distribute protective face masks today.

In his Facebook statement, Shanmugan spoke out against Indonesian leaders who made light of the problem which has long strained relations among the neighbors, including Malaysia. He wrote, “How is it possible for senior people in government to issue such statements, without any regard for their people, or ours, and without any embarrassment, or sense of responsibility?”

Shanmugan did not identify the officials, but Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has made waves in recent weeks by repeating comments he made in March that Indonesia’s neighbours should be grateful for good air quality most of the year.

Warning that the Singapore government would not hesitate to take action against companies found to be contributing to the haze problem, Shanmugan continued. “The Singapore government takes the matter seriously. We stand ready to assist Indonesia in combatting the fires. Last year, we introduced legislation to allow us to prosecute companies found to be causing or contributing to the haze. And we will not hesitate to take such actions against those errant companies,”

Thick haze has clouded the country for about 3 weeks. This year’s smog is the worst such episode since mid-2013 even though the haze plagues the region every year during the burning-off season.

The Singapore government’s decision to close primary and secondary schools for a day is unprecedented, says English daily the Straits Times. This comes after the air quality index breached 300, which is considered “hazardous”.

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