Indonesia revises regulations on managing forest fires

All stakeholders - from local administrators to companies that own the concessions - were summoned to the forestry ministry on Tuesday (May 24) to be briefed on the revisions.
Sujadi Siswo Channel NewsAsia 24 May 16;

JAKARTA: The ministerial regulations on the management of forest fires have been reviewed following last year’s transboundary haze disaster that cost the Indonesian economy billions of dollars and affected millions of people in Indonesia and parts of Southeast Asia.

All stakeholders - from local administrators to companies that own the concessions - were summoned to the forestry ministry on Tuesday (May 24) to be briefed on the revisions.

A major part of the revisions revolves around placing greater responsibility on plantation companies to detect and prevent fires.

“In this Ministerial Regulation No. 32, we have made it compulsory for companies to involve communities in fire prevention programmes,” said Raffles Panjaitan, director of forest fire prevention at the ministry. “It was compulsory before, but their capacity was not increased. There's better technology now. We can use satellite technology. There's also CCTV using thermal camera. Previously, monitoring was done from a fire tower."

These revised regulations give authorities a firmer hand in dealing with errant companies and individuals.

More coordinated forest patrols have also been launched in more than 500 villages in fire-prone Sumatra and Kalimantan. With these provisions in place, Jakarta wants to demonstrate that it is able to tackle forest fires on its own.

“We hope there’s mutual respect between governments,” said the ministry's secretary-general, Bambang Hedroyono. “We have done many things with the same intention (that) there’ll be no more smoke and fire. And that is what we want to show. We are working very hard in the concession and non-concession areas.”

There has been unhappiness in some quarters in Jakarta over Singapore’s move to initiate legal action against Indonesian companies that allegedly caused last year’s haze. Some Indonesian officials see it as harassment.

It is also said to have triggered Jakarta's review of its collaboration with Singapore on preventing forest fires in Sumatra. A ministry official said the review will be completed in about a week’s time.

With the revised ministerial regulations now in place, Jakarta may have less reason to join forces with its neighbour to tackle forest fires.

- CNA/ek


Indonesia refuses palm oil permits in anti-haze push
Plantations on Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo have expanded as demand for palm oil has skyrocketed, but the growth has been blamed for annual forest fires.
Channel NewsAsia 25 May 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia has rejected applications from scores of companies for new palm oil operations, an official said on Wednesday (May 25), as it cracks down on an industry whose expansion has been blamed for fuelling haze-belching forest fires.

Almost one million hectares (2.5 million acres) of land were spared from conversion to palm oil plantations due to the decision, said San Afri Awang, a senior official from the environment and forestry ministry.

"We want to save our forests - development should continue but we can't let it destroy our environment," he told reporters in Jakarta, after announcing that applications from 61 companies had been rejected.

It came after the government this month announced it would stop granting new land for palm oil plantations in the world's top producer of the edible vegetable oil, a key ingredient in everyday goods, from biscuits to shampoo and make-up.

President Joko Widodo called for planters to increase their yields by using better seeds, rather than expanding into new areas.

Plantations on Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo have expanded as demand for palm oil has skyrocketed, but the growth has been blamed for annual forest fires that occur during the dry season due to illegal slash-and-burn land clearance.

The 2015 blazes were the worst for years and cloaked swathes of Southeast Asia in toxic smog, causing tens of thousands to fall ill and leading to flight cancellations and school closures.

Awang refused to give any details about which companies had their applications rejected, or to say whether they were for new plantations or expansions to existing plantations.

Kiki Taufik, Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner, welcomed the move but cautioned the government must ensure that local authorities enforce the decision.

"Often these companies are rejected by the central government but then they start lobbying the regional government," he said.

Implementation of laws is difficult due to heavy decentralisation of power across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, with rules set in Jakarta often flouted by local administrations.

- AFP/ec

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