Indonesia: Govt mulls over harsher sanctions for perpetrators of forest fires

The Jakarta Post 25 Aug 15;

The Environment and Forestry Ministry is considering levying harsher administrative punishments to increase the deterrent effect on companies that cause forest fires.

“Administrative sanctions, such as revoking and freezing concession permits, are the possible alternatives that we are now considering. It is hard [to implement new policy because of legal and practical challenges], but we have to be able to stop [the forest fires from starting],” Minister Siti Nurbaya said Monday at the ministry’s office.

The ministry said there was no strong legal basis to revoke or freeze permits and the consequences of revoking a permit brought practical challenges so the policy should be made carefully.

“So for example, we revoke a permit of 10,000 hectares of land: Who’s going to watch it after that? The area will be open to access and be prone to illegal use by many parties. We have limited manpower to watch over the area,” the ministry’s spokesperson Eka W. Soegiri told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

The ministry’s director general for law enforcement, Rasio Ridho Sani, said it is hoped that the administrative sanctions would deter those who make fires in the forests, alongside the legal sanctions that had been applied so far.

Recently, the Rokan Hilir District Court in Riau sentenced the assistant of a plantation head with PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa (JJP), Kosman Vitoni Imanuel Siboro, to two years in prison, as well as a fine of Rp 1 billion (US$71,942) or three more months internment, for burning 120 hectares of land to open a palm oil plantation in June 2013.

Siboro was convicted of violating Article 98 and 116 of Law No. 32/2009 on environment protection and management. Article 98 stipulates the punishment for individuals who intentionally damage the environment, while Article 116 stipulates that in the case of any crimes done for, by or in the name of a corporation, the plaintiff can sue the corporation and/or its leaders.

The ministry has also filed criminal lawsuit against PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa over the same case with the Rokan Hilir Court.

Separately, a civil lawsuit has also been filed with the North Jakarta District Court against the company, demanding Rp 119.88 billion in fines for damaging the environment and Rp 371.12 billion for the recovery of the area. Both trials are now in process.

In a bigger case, it filed civil lawsuits with the Palembang Court District in South Sumatra against PT Bumi Mekar Hijau for allegedly causing fires in 20,000 hectares of land in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra.

It demanded fines of Rp 2.6 trillion for damaging the environment and Rp 5.2 trillion for its recovery.

“This case gets most of our attention. If we win this, we can save the state Rp 7 trillion,” Rasio said.

PT Bumi Mekar Hijau is a subsidiary of Asia Pulp and Paper. It has concessions of 250,370 hectares of land in Ogan Komering Ilir. Based on data from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), most of the hot spots in the province are on the company’s concessions.

Besides bringing cases to court, the current Environment and Forestry Ministry has also made a breakthrough in law enforcement.

“After cases of land and forest fires, we set an investigation line [similar to police line, but issued from the ministry] on the land so nobody could use the land before the case closed. Before, the government did not do this so the land could still be used although the case was not settled yet,” Rasio told the Post.

The ministry has been actively suing plantation companies for forest fires since 2013. The cheapness of the practice of slashing and burning to open forest areas has made it difficult for the companies to stop the practice.

Haze continues to emerge from the regions even now. (rbk)