Indonesia identifies eight companies which may be involved in starting forest fires

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 21 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Indonesia has identified eight companies which may be involved in starting the forest fires in Sumatra, and it expects to name the companies within the next few days.

Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya revealed this to reporters after meeting his counterpart from Singapore, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in Jakarta on Friday. Dr Kambuaya said investigations are still ongoing and he was not able to elaborate further where these companies are from.

Dr Balakrishnan expressed his appreciation to his Indonesian counterpart that enforcement actions have been taken.

Dr Balakrishnan met Dr Kambuaya to hand a letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Dr Balakrishnan also welcomed Indonesia's commitment that further action will be taken on the ground to put out the fires within the next two days. This may include activating water bombs.

He said Indonesia has agreed to bring forward the meeting of ASEAN Ministers of Environment to address this issue of haze on a more systematic and progressive basis.

- CNA/ac

Balakrishnan delivers PM Lee’s letter on haze to Indonesia
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 21 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan has personally delivered a letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the haze problem to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The minister had travelled to Jakarta as Prime Minister Lee's Special Envoy and met Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya to deliver the letter, said a statement from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore wanted to convey in a personal and direct way how serious and urgent the current haze situation is.

He said: "The communication we've had over the past few days, the telephone calls, the letters that have been sent, the meetings that was held yesterday (Thursday) at the officials' level, all these interactions have registered with them. I was very glad therefore when I met them, they said sorry for the situation that had unfolded this way and he (Dr Kambuaya) agreed with our point that there is a necessity for immediate action on the ground."

Prime Minister Lee noted in the letter that he and President Yudhoyono had agreed to cooperate to combat transboundary pollution at their recent Leaders' Retreat in Singapore in April.

He conveyed his grave concern at the impact the severe haze was having on Singapore and Singaporeans, urging Indonesia to take timely and concrete actions to solve the problem.

Prime Minister Lee offered Singapore's help to put out the fires in Sumatra, including an aircraft for cloud seeding, satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates to identify the culprits involved in the illegal burning.

He also encouraged Indonesia to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Dr Kambuaya acknowledged Singapore's concerns and informed Dr Balakrishnan of the measures Indonesia had taken to combat the fires in Sumatra.

This included water bombing and investigating plantation companies involved in illegal burning activities.

Dr Kambuaya also agreed to convene the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze earlier than the original date in August.

Dr Kambuaya promised to consider Singapore's offer of assistance and explore how both countries could follow up on the suggestions in Prime Minister Lee's letter.

"I would characterise the meeting as frank, constructive, (which) showed some early signs of potential progress," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"We (now) have to see over the next few days whether this translates into effective actions or not on the ground. We want to see concrete attempts to put the fires out, we want to see publication of suspect companies behind these fires and I'm sure we then can make progress on the other medium to long term issues," he added.

Dr Balakrishnan said bilateral relations between the two countries remain strong and that both countries are committed to work together to resolve the real, serious and urgent problem.

- CNA/jc

‘We can’t wait for the rain or wind to rescue us’
Today Online 22 Jun 13;

JAKARTA — As the Indonesian government despatches military planes to douse the raging forest fires and investigates plantation companies involved in illegal burning activities, Singapore’s Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday met his counterpart to discuss the haze problem and hand-deliver a letter by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

A statement from Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Dr Balakrishnan travelled to Jakarta as Mr Lee’s Special Envoy to personally deliver the letter, in which Mr Lee noted that he and Mr Yudhoyono had agreed to cooperate to combat transboundary pollution at their Leaders’ Retreat in Singapore in April.

The MFA said Mr Lee also “conveyed his grave concern at the impact the severe haze was having on Singapore and Singaporeans and urged Indonesia to take timely and concrete actions to solve the problem”.

Mr Lee offered Singapore’s help to put out the fires in Sumatra, including an aircraft for cloud seeding, as well as satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates to identify the culprits involved in the illegal burning. He also encouraged Indonesia to ratify the Association of South-east Asian Nations Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Writing on Facebook, Dr Balakrishnan said he held a “frank constructive meeting” with Indonesian Minister for Environment Balthasar Kambuaya. He said: “I told him that our three-hour PSI had reached 401 today and that millions of Singaporeans, Malaysians and Indonesians were badly affected by the haze. We needed immediate definitive action on the ground. This was a man-made disaster and men had to fix it. We could not wait for the rain or wind to rescue us.”

Dr Balakrishnan said Mr Balthasar told him that Indonesia “appreciated the seriousness of the situation”. He also urged Mr Balthasar to expedite Indonesia’s investigations — which had used satellite maps provided by Singapore — into the errant companies, identify these firms publicly and to prosecute them.

Mr Balthasar agreed to convene the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze earlier than the original date in August. He also promised to consider Singapore’s offer of assistance and explore how both countries could follow up on the suggestions in Mr Lee’s letter.

Yesterday, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong responded to Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Agung Laksono’s jibe that Singaporeans were “behaving like a child”.

Writing on Facebook, Mr Goh said: “The Singapore Child is being suffocated. How can he not scream?”

He added: “Former Malaysian PM Abdullah Badawi used to say that Malaysians and Singaporeans are like neighbours living in a pair of semi-detached houses. What each does will affect the other. So we have to be considerate in our behaviour like not putting on the TV too loudly or burning our garden refuse openly if the smoke will enter our neighbour’s house.”

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry General Secretary Hadi Daryanto told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that Indonesia could not guarantee that necessary measures taken to combat the fires would be effective without a miracle in the form of a heavy downpour. Its meteorological service predicted a downpour next Friday.

“We have considered creating artificial rain to put out the fires, but that would take two weeks. So we’ve decided to leave it in the hands of nature. And let’s just pray for that,” Mr Hadi was quoted as saying. “If there is no downpour, then the haze could last for weeks, or even months, as we try to generate artificial rain.”

Indonesia investigating eight firms
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta
Straits Times 22 Jun 13;

INDONESIA is investigating eight firms for causing fires that led to the haze, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said at a meeting here with his Singapore counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan.

Those culpable will be named today, he told reporters later.

He did not name the firms, but Indonesian officials working with non-governmental groups separately identified 17 pulp and paper and 15 palm oil companies on whose land fires had been burning over the past nine days.

The majority of the hot spots in Riau province is inside concessions affiliated to Royal Golden Eagle, of which April Group - with an office in Singapore - is part, and Sinar Mas Forestry, which supplies to Asia Pulp and Paper, presidential delivery unit chief Kuntoro Mangkusubroto told a briefing yesterday. April Group said yesterday that the firm and its third-party suppliers practise a strict "no-burn" policy.

There are also fires on the land of firms affiliated with Malaysia's Sime Darby and Singapore-listed Wilmar and First Resources.

"The information on concession licences was gathered from publicly available sources and confirmed against satellite images of hot spots," said Mr Samadhi Nirarta, the presidential unit's deputy on moratorium monitoring.

Dr Balakrishnan, who travelled to Jakarta yesterday as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's special envoy, welcomed his counterpart's update on enforcement.

"We have got to join the dots and get that trail of accountability back to the companies and the stakeholders who are responsible for this disaster," he told Singapore media. "If we don't do that, there will not be sufficient deterrent on the ground."

On Thursday, PM Lee said his Government will act against Singapore companies found responsible for the fires.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan met Professor Balthasar to deliver Mr Lee's letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono conveying his grave concern at the impact the haze was having, and urging Indonesia to take timely and concrete action to solve the problem.

Mr Lee also offered Singapore's help to put out the fires, including an aircraft for cloud seeding and satellite pictures and hot- spot coordinates to identify the culprits behind them.

No fires on land co-owned by Temasek
Alvin Foo Straits Times 22 Jun 13;

A TEAM sent by Temasek Holdings to check on Sumatran plantations it co-owns with United States commodities giant Cargill has confirmed there are no fires or hot spots on its land.

The Singapore investment agency said yesterday that the joint venture's plantations are at South Sumatra near Palembang, about 500km south of Singapore. The spots causing the haze are in Riau province, central Sumatra, less than 300km west of Singapore.

Temasek has 30 per cent of the joint venture CTP Holdings, with Cargill owning the rest. Earlier this week, the US firm had issued maps showing that the hot spots were not within its plantations.

CTP has a no-burn policy and clears land by mechanical means, said Temasek, with the whole process overseen by its staff. It also has emergency equipment and water tanks on standby, as well as fire patrol and security teams to monitor potential hot spots near boundaries and prevent fires spreading onto its property.

A Temasek spokesman said: "As a matter of good governance, Temasek expects the boards and management of its investee companies to oversee their operations according to sound commercial principles, including compliance with laws, regulations and recognised industry practices."

Plantation stocks shrug off haze blame
Wilmar, Indofood outdo STI in mixed showing
Goh Eng Yeow Senior Correspondent Straits Times 22 Jun 13;

IT IS not surprising to see accusatory fingers pointed at giant, listed plantation firms amid the worst haze crisis to envelop Singapore and other parts of the region.

With the blame game in full swing, they make easy targets. But if the mixed performance of their shares this week offers any guide, it is that the controversy is very much a storm in a teacup.

Wilmar International rose 3.83 per cent for the week, while Indofood Agri Resources was up 1 per cent, both outperforming the Straits Times Index (STI), which fell 1.17 per cent.

The underperformers were Golden Agri-Resources, down 3.5 per cent, and First Resources with a 1.1per cent fall.

The accusations started flying on Monday, when Indonesian forestry official Hadi Daryanto claimed that it is not only local farmers who use the slash-and-burn method to clear land, "but also employees of oil-palm producers, including Singaporean and Malaysian companies".

Palm-oil producers make obvious suspects. They own vast plantations in Indonesia - the world's largest producer of palm oil - and are among the biggest companies by market value here. Wilmar and Golden Agri-Resources are also part of the STI.

Palm oil is a very important commodity: It is in many of the goods on our supermarket shelves, including cooking oil, soap and shampoo, and has an annual traded value of US$50billion (S$64billion).

When calls were made in Indonesia to release the names of the haze culprits, the big plantation firms - Wilmar, Golden Agri-Resources, Indofood Agri and First Resources - were quick to stress their "zero-burning" policies in clearing land for planting. They also noted that they worked with the local government to monitor and tackle any fires that occurred on or near their vast estates.

Some also added that they monitor contractors and sub-contractors to ensure that they comply with the no-burn policy as well.

They are also likely to be kept on their toes through vigilance by important customers like food giant Nestle and consumer products maker Unilever, which face strong pressure from environmental groups such as Greenpeace to ensure that their supplies of palm oil come from sustainable sources.

But if the major plantation firms are innocent, who is responsible for the fires causing the haze?

To answer that question, one has to question the whereabouts of Mr Rusli Zainal, the governor of Riau, the province across the Strait of Malacca from Singapore where the worst of the forest fires are raging.

Surely, he should be spearheading the drive to put out fires that are causing so much grief, not just to his own people, but also those in Singapore and Malaysia.

But according to The Jakarta Post, Mr Rusli was detained earlier this month by the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission as a suspect in a graft case involving the illegal exploitation of forests by logging companies.

That action alone speaks volumes about the difficulties of fighting the haze in Indonesia.

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