Indonesia: President Jokowi should take action against forest fire perpetrators

Otniel Tamindael Antara 19 Nov 14;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Forest fires and haze on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan continue to create trouble for Indonesia despite the tightening of law enforcement.

The annual disaster that is caused by the burning of farmland and forest clearance has not only become a domestic issue but has also tarnished Indonesias image among its neighboring countries.

Last year, the environment ministry had identified some 14 companies suspected of starting peat and forest fires. However, to date, the government has yet to reveal the names of those companies.

Therefore, some environmental organizations and local community groups have urged President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to take up law enforcement processes and initiate action against the plantation companies responsible for starting peat and forest fires on Sumatra island.

"We hope the central government and the KPK will take up law enforcement operations against the perpetrators of forest fires in Sumatra," Indonesian Forum for Environments (Walhis) chief campaigner for forest and plantation Zenzy Suhadi stated here on Monday.

He noted that the local governments law enforcement against the companies, which intentionally burnt forest and peatland areas for plantation purpose, was nothing more than a business negotiation.

Zenzy said Walhi no longer trusted the law enforcement carried out by the provincial government as it has been alleged that the perpetrators are protected.

He remarked that Walhi has also urged the KPK to monitor the governments budget allocation for the management of haze problem caused by forest fires.

He emphasized there has been a strong indication that the recurring forest fires every year are set off intentionally to ensure the steady flow of funds worth billions of rupiah that the government releases to address the haze problem.

"We hope the provincial governments of the regions where forest fires occur will offer wider access to public information on the issue," Zenzy remarked.

He pointed out that the futile law enforcement against the erring companies indicated that a mafia was controlling the licensing processes.

He alleged massive structural corruption in the natural resources sector in South Sumatras local government bodies.

"We hope that the President will directly observe the forests and peatlands engulfed in flames in a number of regions in Sumatra," Zenzy remarked.

He added that if Jokowi personally visited the fire-affected locations, he would know how strong the blazes had been in various parts of Indonesia.

"If Jokowi visits the sites, then concrete measures will be taken to comprehensively end the ecological disaster," he went on.

Repeated peat and forest fires in Sumatra and elsewhere require President Jokowi to make a "blusukan", an impromptu visit, to the fire-hit locations there and gather firsthand information about the actual problems in the region.

Clearing land for agriculture purpose in Palembang and Riau is considered one of the major direct causes for extensive fires in areas with deep peat soil, releasing high volumes of carbon and contributing to climate changes. However, several efforts to address this problem have been ineffective so far.

"Therefore, it is necessary for President Jokowi to make a blusukan to the fire-hit locations and find a way to overcome the problem," Wimar Witoelar, the founder of Perspektif Baru Foundation, stated here recently.

He pointed out that the Indonesian Forum for Environment, Perspectif Baru Foundation, Greenpeace Indonesia, and Riau Universitys Disaster Study Center have urged President Jokowi to make a blusukan to the forest fire locations in Sumatra.

Wilmar noted that Jokowis blusukan is deemed necessary considering the high incidence of peat and forest fires there during the past 17 years and that no fundamental solution has been reached yet, despite the presidency changing hands several times.

"We are ready to request Jokowi to make a blusukan and obtain firsthand information about the real on-field conditions," Wilmar affirmed.

In the meantime, Greenpeace Indonesia Chief Longgena Ginting remarked that Indonesia had become the worlds largest carbon emitter thanks to peatland and forest fires and was also considered as a contributor to climate change.

"This ecological disaster has been happening for 17 years and without any real solution in sight; therefore, efforts to address peat and forest fires should be top priority for the Jokowi governments first 100 days," Ginting stated.

In view of this, he has urged the government to immediately revoke all industrial timber plantation (HTI) licenses issued in peat areas to prevent forest fires and haze during the dry season.

According to him, tens of thousands of people suffer from respiratory ailments caused by haze and pollutants discharged into the atmosphere during forest fires.

"Peat and forest fires always occur in the peat forests of industrial timber plantations and in large-scale oil palm plantations. These result in thick haze that affects the health and activities of local communities," Ginting remarked.

He noted that during the dry season, the owners of industrial timber plantations and oil palm plantations create new areas by burning peat forests.

"We see forest fires in peat lands every year due to the governments inaction and lack of decisiveness with regard to revoking the business licenses of plantation companies, which also harm the environment," Ginting remarked.

He further stated that the task of clearing forests was usually assigned to the farmers and workers of companies and this had left the plantation owners untouched by law.

"If the Jokowi government is serious about tackling peat and forest fires, it must first revoke the permits issued and then desist from issuing more permits to plantation companies. The government should also crackdown on companies that harm plantations," he reinstated.

Minister Siti drops in on Riau to check haze problem
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 19 Nov 14;

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya conducted an impromptu visit, or blusukan, in Riau on Tuesday to get an insight into the forest fires and haze that have plagued the province, amid efforts to prevent the disasters from recurring.

During a visit to the Riau Haze Disaster Command Station at the Roesmin Nurjadin Airbase in Pekanbaru, Siti held a dialog with academics, conservationists and a number of regional heads, promising that the government would resolve the haze issue.

“We must avoid mismanagement. Development should be carried out by managing natural resources properly, maintaining sustainability and the rights of future generations,” Siti said.

“Forest and land fires must be regarded as crises, otherwise they will persist,” she added.

She also emphasized that law enforcement against violating companies would be strict and consistent.

Assessment by the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) found that 17 companies, comprising 12 industrial forest concessions (HTI) companies and five plantation companies were recalcitrant and had triggered fires in their concession areas after failing to comply with the policies that govern the prevention of land and forest destruction.

“The field audit showed the government was serious about requiring the business sector to comply with the rules. Supervision must be heightened and every line mobilized in the field,” said Siti.

Meanwhile, Riau University Disaster Study Center (PSB) director Haris Gunawan said the government must formulate a thorough and comprehensive solution to the haze issue, which has dogged Riau for 17 years.

“I’m not denying that efforts have been made, but there needs to be a new strategy to resolve the haze issue comprehensively. We need to think outside the box,” said Haris.

He explained that the root of the problem of forest fires in Riau was dry peatland as a result of massive and uncontrolled canalization. Based on research conducted by the PSB, peatland fires in Riau have reached the innermost layer of peat, meaning that the spread of fire is not visible from the surface.

“Dry peat is very difficult to douse when it burns. In Rokan Hilir regency, land was burning in February and March, then in April and May there was extended torrential rain. Yet when we arrived in May, the peatland area was still emitting smoke,” said Haris.

Consequently, he urged that forest fires be put out now, while Riau is in the rainy season. Moreover, 46 percent of Riau’s 8.7 million hectares of territory is peatland area.

The haze is considered by many to be an irresolvable plague that will recur every year despite all efforts.

“It must be ended. We have new hope. President Joko Widodo must be brought to Riau. He should act as a symbol of the spirit to resolve the haze disaster and help Riau find a final solution,” said Haris.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Riau chapter director Riko Kurniawan said the forest fires were attributable to the poor management of natural resources.

“The existing regulations actually protect peatland, but in reality peat can dry up because of exploitation. Peatland is actually wet and difficult to burn, so if peat’s burning now, this must be investigated,” said Riko.

Greenpeace Indonesia activist Teguh Surya complained that the government only acted when haze occurred, and that prevention efforts would stop when it rained.

“We hope the current government will resolve the haze issue. Haze will stop when the right solution is achieved,” said Teguh