Indonesia: Police yet to ascertain foreign companies` involvement in forest fires

Antara 17 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The National Police (Polri) has yet to ascertain the involvement of foreign companies in setting forest and land fires that have occurred in several regions in Indonesia.

"We have yet to mention the names of the foreign companies involved in setting forest and land fires. We are still investigating," National Police Chief Badrodin Haiti remarked here on Thursday.

The police has received the names of the suspects and companies in connection with the cases.

"The police is still investigating the involvement of directors and commissioners in the company as part of its efforts to ascertain the complicity of the foreign companies.

"The owner of the company could be involved in forest and land fires. But, claims should be backed by legal facts," he emphasized.

According to the law, a person involved in setting forest fires can be sentenced to a minimum three years and maximum 10 years in prison.

Earlier, President Joko Widodo had ordered that stringent actions must be taken against the perpetrators of forest fires, which caused haze, disrupted normal life, and affected public health.

"The president has ordered that firm legal action should be taken against the perpetrators of forest fires, irrespective of whether they are individuals or corporations, so that it serves as a deterrent in future," Willem Rampangilei, the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), stated at a press conference here on Wednesday after attending a limited meeting with the president.

He noted that Haiti, who had also attended the meeting, supported this stance, affirming that a law enforcement task force assigned to deal with forest and land fires had tackled 18 reported cases and named 140 suspects, including seven corporations. He remarked that 17 corporations were involved in the fire incidents.

Badrodin noted that the seven arrested suspects, who were only identified by their initials, were JLT from PT PMH in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra; P from PT RPP in South Sumatra; S from PT RPS in South Sumatra; FK from PT LIH in Riau; S from PT GAP in Sampit, Central Kalimantan; GRN from PT MBA in Kapuas; and WD was arrested from PT ASP in Central Kalimantan.

The police chief stated that more people could be arrested as investigations were still ongoing.

"This is the result of the presidents order to take firm action to prevent any recurrence of such fires next year," he emphasized.

General Haiti suggested to the government, which is the regulator, to blacklist companies that had allegedly caused the fires. This would make it possible to reject their applications for permits.(*)

House asks for budget revision to combat haze
Dandy Koswaraputra, 17 Sep 15;

The House of Representatives urged the Indonesian government to review next year's state budget to get extra funds, up to Rp 10 trillion (US$714 million), in order to combat forest fires.

House member Herman Khaeron said that the state budget for the Environment and Forestry Ministry was quite insignificant, Rp 6.7 trillion in 2015, and decreasing to Rp 6.3 trillion in the 2016 state budget.

“We need extra funding, at least Rp 10 trillion, to cope with forest fire disasters alone,” Herman told on Thursday.

He said the funds aimed to build infrastructure and public awareness through holding training sessions in which local people fully understood how to handle such disasters instead of deploying military or police troops to extinguish forest fires.

“I regret that the government does not seem proactive in preparing for the situation,” Herman asserted, adding that he appreciates the forestry ministry's efforts to provide fire extinguishing equipment.

According to Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, around 52,000 hectares of land in Sumatra were ravaged by fire, while 138,000 ha in Kalimantan were scorched.

Herman added that with such mediocre preparation, Indonesia suffered financial losses every year caused by the endless forest fires.

Herry Purnomo, a scientist at CIFOR and professor at Bogor Agricultural University, said that Indonesia would likely suffer $4 billion in losses this year, relating to agriculture production, destruction of forests, health, transportation, tourism and other economic endeavors.

A 2013 World Bank report shows the total financial loss from forest fires in Riau province at Rp 20 trillion ($1.4 billion).

Herry added that Malaysia and Singapore, as smog-affected countries, should be more responsible in dealing with forest fires by issuing regulations and law enforcement for their citizens’ companies operating in Indonesia.

“About 50 percent of palm oil companies operating in Indonesia are owned by Malaysians and Singaporeans," Herry asserted.

According to Herry, Indonesia has at least 11 million hectares of oil palm plantation spread across the islands, from Sumatra to Papua.

A number of palm oil companies clear land by burning it in order to reduce production costs, Herry said.

“Lets make a comparison between the cost of mechanized [land clearing] and burning. The first one costs Rp 2 million [$150] per ha and the second one is only $7 per ha,” he said.

Herry added that swidden agriculture had been practiced by farmers in many places in Indonesia for generations and was now adopted by the industry as the best method for cost cutting.

“So, the swidden method has become a policy and common practice for many plantation companies,” he added.

Forest fires and smog have therefore become an annual problem for Indonesians, due to improper practices of plantation companies, Herry said.

Smoke-belching blazes, an annual problem in Southeast Asia during the dry season, have intensified in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo over the past two weeks, sending a cloud of acrid haze across the region. (DK) (++++)

Lawmakers support government’s action on forest-fire offenders
Dandy Koswaraputra, 17 Sep 15;

Indonesian lawmakers said on Thursday that the House of Representative would support President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s move to punish those responsible for starting forest fires.

“Since the previous government was in office, we have been supporting the government in any effort to stop forest burning,” House member Herman Khaeron told

The President has asked police to bring those responsible for the forest fires before the courts and revoke their company licenses.

“[Attempts to bring] them to court have been happening over the past two years,” Herman said, suggesting it was about time that efforts were intensified.

National Police Chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti said on Wednesday that the police had ramped up their prosecution of firms responsible for the rampaging fires, The Jakarta Post reported.

Badrodin said that police investigators had named at least seven companies and 133 individual suspected of using fires to clear land in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Police have released the acronyms of the seven companies at which the suspects worked, and they are: PT BMH, PT RPP, and PT RPS in South Sumatra; PT LIH in Riau; and PT GAP, PT MBA and PT ASP in Central Kalimantan, the Post reported.

Some of the suspects were charged under Article 108 of the 2014 Plantation Law and could face a maximum 10-year prison sentence and fines of up to Rp10 billion (US$692,000).

Responding to the allegations, one of the suspected companies, Bumi Mekar Hijau (BHM), denied any wrongdoing, saying that none of BHM’s executive had been arrested by Indonesian police.

“The Indonesian police investigators are conducting an investigation into [our] company and we have cooperated well,” Kristianto, BHM legal representative stated in a text message received by on Thursday.

Kristianto added that from the start, BHM had implemented a “zero burning” policy and helped the government of Indonesia to preserve the environment.

“The company also expresses a deep concern over this fire disaster and is actively cooperating with the government of Indonesia to help control the forest fires,” Kristianto said.

According to Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, around 52,000 hectares of land in Sumatra have been ravaged by fire, and 138,000 ha in Kalimantan.

Smoke-belching blazes, an annual problem in Southeast Asia during the dry season, have intensified in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo over the past three weeks, sending a cloud of acrid haze across the region. (DK)

Police should pursue perpetrators of forest fires: President
Antara 17 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo has urged the police to continue with its law enforcement efforts to arrest the perpetrators of forest fires.

"The police should continue to pursue the perpetrators. The national police chief has announced the names of the suspects who have allegedly started forest fires in Indonesia," President Widodo stated here on Thursday.

The president pointed out that two types of forest fires are affecting six provinces and the neighboring countries.

"Fires that occurred in peatland areas can be difficult to extinguish as they may continue to burn underground for long periods of time," he stated.

Secondly, several companies deliberately set fire to hundreds of hectares of land area.

Earlier, the Indonesian police expressed its commitment to thoroughly investigate all errant companies that burnt down forests leading to haze, which has affected various regions in the country.

"The police is committed to conducting investigations against the perpetrators. This investigation will not be partial, rather it will be a thorough one," Brigadier General Yazid Fanani, the director of special crimes at the National Polices Crime Investigation Department, stated.

He expressed hope that the investigation would result in the ministries or the concerned state institutions either imposing administrative sanctions against companies found guilty or revoking their permits.

He explained that as of now, sanctions could only be imposed after obtaining a court ruling.

"An administrative sanction, in this case the revocation of the permit, may only be imposed after obtaining a court ruling," he pointed out.

He affirmed that the police are now handling 131 cases of fires being set in forest and land areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Of the total, 28 are still under preliminary probe, 79 are under investigation, while 24 cases have been confirmed.

The cases are related to fires in Riau (Sumatra), South Sumatra, Jambi (Sumatra), and West and South Kalimantan.

He remarked that 126 people have been named suspects in connection with the cases, while a company known as PT Bumi Mekar Hijau has also been named a suspect in the case of a fire in South Sumatra.

Two other companies -- PT Tempirai Palm Resources and PT Waimusi Agro Indah -- which operate in South Sumatra, are also under investigation.(*)

Government to revoke licenses of companies found burning land
Antara 16 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government will revoke the licenses of plantation companies that have set fires to clear land, which has led to haze engulfing several parts of the country, a senior minister stated here on Wednesday.

"We met the president just now to discuss the haze problem and the plans to blacklist owners, boards of directors, and commissioners of companies (found burning land) and revoke their licenses," Coordinating Minister for Political, Security, and Legal Affairs Luhut Panjaitan noted after meeting the president at the State Palace.

Luhut, however, did not disclose the names of the directors, commissioners, owners, and companies whose permits would be revoked.

"I would not disclose it. It will be done by the national police chief. There are several companies, and they (police) are still identifying them. Perhaps, in the next few days, the information will be made public," he pointed out.

Luhut emphasized that the permits had been issued in the past decade to convert 4.8 million hectares of peatland into palm oil plantations.

"So, if fires occur in the allocated land, the permits of the companies managing the land will be revoked, and the land will be restored to its original function," he remarked.

Regarding the haze crisis, Luhut claimed that the government had already implemented measures, including sending three thousand soldiers to help overcome the fires and is also conducting cloud seeding operations to create artificial rain.

"It seems that some results have been achieved. But, I have said that the fires will not stop until November this year. It will be in January, next year, when the situation is expected to return to normal again according to the forecast of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG)," he noted.

He expressed hope that the haze problem would be handled in a more systematic manner next year.

"The situation now is really bad because of the El Nino phenomenon. However, next year, we hope the preparations will be more systematic," he added.

To ensure that the problem does not recur, he affirmed that the preparations to conduct aerial water bombing would be better than this year.

"We have 25 aircraft and helicopters that will be better prepared," he added.(*)

Manager detained, suspected of causing fires in Pelalawan
Rizal Harahap, 18 Sep 15;

Investigators from the Riau Police special crime investigation unit detained PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo (LIH) general manager Frans Katihokang after questioning him in relation to land burning for around six hours at Riau Police headquarters on Thursday.

Frans is believed to be the person most responsible for the burning down of 533 hectares of land included in the land use title (HGU) of an oil palm plantation company in Pangkalan Gondai village, Langgam district, Pelalawan regency.

Frans is the first suspect from a corporation that authorities have arrested in connection to land and forest fires in Riau this year.

Riau Police prosecutors arrested Frans at the employee boarding house of PT Mutiara Agam, subsidiary of PT LIH, in Tanjung Mutiara district, Agam regency, West Sumatra, on Wednesday. The following day they took the 48-year-old man to Riau Police headquarters and asked him 62 questions relating to his alleged negligence having caused the burning down of hundreds of hectares of PT LIH plantation land and surrounding peatland on July 27.

Frans, who wore a mask as investigators escorted him to the detention cell, refused to answer questions from journalists. “We detained him after investigating him intensively. The detention is to protect the suspect so that he is not influenced by witnesses in the case,” said Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Guntur Aryo Tejo.

He said that before naming Frans a suspect, police had investigated dozens of witnesses, including two LIH managers and village officials. They also obtained information from expert witnesses from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture and the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

Guntur said that investigators had conducted a case expose on Sept.15 and concluded that Frans should be named an individual suspect for the burning of LIH land. “In line with his position, the suspect is the most responsible person for what has happened,” said Guntur.

The police charged Frans under Article 98 (1) and Article 99 (1) of Law No.32/2009 on environment protection and management. “If found guilty, he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a Rp 10 billion [US$700,000] fine,” said the police’s special crime investigation unit deputy chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Ari Rahman.

Apart from LIH, he said, around 10 plantation companies in Riau were suspected of either having been involved in, or negligent in handling, land fires in their concession areas. He refused to give details about those companies but shared that “most of them are operating in Indragiri Hulu and Indragiri Hilir regencies”. (ebf)(++++)

Tough task for firefighters battling peatland blazes
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Sep 15;

Indonesian firefighters in Sumatra and Kalimantan have their work cut out for them in battling fires on peatland across the two regions, which have been the source of the haze in recent weeks.

Trying to contain such fires is not unlike playing "whack-a-mole". The fires smoulder under dry peatland and can surface anywhere to trigger another blaze.

Over half of the raging fires in Pekanbaru in Indonesia's Riau province and elsewhere, causing the haze in Singapore and other towns in West Malaysia, are on peatland.

Peatlands, which are usually waterlogged and formed over thousands of years, consist mainly of decomposed vegetation, making it carbon-rich and highly flammable during the dry season.

When burned, peatlands produce copious amounts of smoke, thus releasing a high level of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The yearly haze problem is the result of slash-and-burn agricultural practices carried out largely by farmers, because it is the fastest and cheapest way of clearing plantations for pulp, oil palm and other crops.

Ironically, planting crops on peatland is not easy or cheap owing to moisture, a lack of nutrients and its high acid content. Peatland is thus not fertile. It is also prone to pests and harmful bacteria that live in the moist sponge-like soil.

- See more at: