Indonesia: Firms responsible for 2015 fires go largely unpunished

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 14 Jun 16;

Despite wreaking environmental havoc and causing more than US$16 billion in economic losses, hundreds of companies behind last year’s massive peatland and forest fires across Sumatra and Kalimantan have still not been held accountable for their negligence.

Recently, the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) released a list of 531 companies, mostly agroforestry companies, on whose concessions in peatland areas fires were reported and who thus had an obligation to restore their concessions.

The list only constitutes companies with concessions in peatland areas, therefore the total number of companies on whose lands fires occurred must greatly exceed 531.

However, only three civil lawsuit cases are being heard in courts at the moment with five more lawsuits still in the process. Civil lawsuits are handled by the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s law enforcement directorate-general.

As for criminal lawsuits, only four cases are on trial at the moment, with the dossiers on six cases currently incomplete while the dossiers on three other cases have been completed. Criminal lawsuits are handled by the police.

“We hope that the companies on the BRG’s list are not only held accountable for restoring their concessions, but there needs to be law enforcement as well against them because they failed to make sure that their concessions weren’t burned,” law researcher Syahrul Fitra, from the NGO Auriga, told The Jakarta Post.

Syahrul said that while the 531 companies on the BRG’s list were responsible for the restoration of areas that had been damaged by years of peatland fires, without law enforcement there would be no guarantee that they would actually carry out the restoration work.

“I’m not sure they will carry out the restoration. Maybe there will be administrative punishments, but even the government decided to revoke administrative punishments recently,” Syahrul said.

He was referring to the government’s decision to slap administrative sanctions on 23 companies last year.

These companies had their land-clearing licenses either revoked or frozen for their failure to act to prevent last year’s land and forest fires, which led to the worst pollution in the region for almost two decades.

The firms facing punishment were mostly pulp wood and palm oil plantations operating on Sumatra and Kalimantan. As a result, three companies shut down operations altogether.

However, the government decided to unfreeze the licenses for 17 companies recently, reasoning that they had improved their fire-prevention management on the ground.

“After this, they will have to give their burned concessions to the government. The ministry’s sustainable forest management directorate-general is currently mapping the burned concessions that will be taken over by the government to be restored and managed,” the ministry’s law enforcement director-general, Rasio Ridho Sani, told the Post.

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) spokeswoman Khalisah Wahid said the sanction revocations would have no deterrent effect on the companies.

“It’s an extraordinary environmental crime with a large number of victims, even deaths and it keeps recurring,” Khalisah told the Post.

The government should not have taken over the burned concessions either as that shifted the responsibility for restoring the damage caused by the companies to the government, she said.

No comments:

Post a Comment