Best of our wild blogs: 22 Dec 15

Dairy Farm Nature Park is full of Herps!
Herpetological Society of Singapore

Circle of Ants
Saving MacRitchie

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Public advised not to consume water directly from Pulau Ubin's taps, wells

All food outlets at Pulau Ubin must use bottled water, PUB water from mainland Singapore, or boiled well water when preparing food and drinks for sale, says the authorities.
Channel NewsAsia 21 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: The authorities on Monday (Dec 21) advised the public not to consume water directly from wells and taps in Pulau Ubin, after the water quality on the island was found to have deteriorated.

All food establishments at Pulau Ubin will not be allowed to use water directly from wells and taps, said the National Environment Agency, PUB, Singapore Land Authority and NParks in a joint news release. The food outlets must use bottled water, PUB water from mainland Singapore or well water that has been boiled, when preparing food and drinks for sale.

The authorities added they have issued advisories to residents on the island to boil water from the wells for at least one minute continuously before using it. Residents have also been advised to use bottled water or PUB water from the mainland for consumption or related uses, such as for brushing teeth and washing crockery. Many of Pulau Ubin’s residents use well water for their daily needs, said the authorities.

There are also signs placed at public restrooms to remind the public not to consume water from the taps as it is from wells. More signs will be put up on the island to inform visitors not to consume water directly from the taps, said the authorities.

The Government has been exploring the use of on-site water treatment units that will be suitable for Pulau Ubin, to improve access to potable water, said a spokesperson. "More details will be shared when ready," the spokesperson added. "In the meantime, we would like to advise the public to refrain from drinking directly from taps and wells on Pulau Ubin."

- CNA/hs

Well and tap water from Ubin ‘not safe for drinking’
Today Online 21 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — Water drawn from the wells of Pulau Ubin must now be boiled continuously for at least a minute before it can be used to prepare food and drinks for sale.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) issued an advisory on this requirement today (Dec 21), after finding that the quality of water from the island’s wells — used by food sellers — has deteriorated.

Besides boiling water from the well, these sellers are also told to use bottled water or tap water from mainland Singapore.

In the joint media statement by NEA, national water agency PUB, the Singapore Land Authority and National Parks Board, it was not stated when it was first discovered that water quality had dropped, only that the finding was “recent”.

The agencies also did not say what contaminants were found in the water, or the number of wells from which water samples had been taken.

The deterioration of water quality could be due to contamination by animal or human waste, or by surface runoff from contaminated soil, the authorities said.

Residents of Pulau Ubin have been advised to boil well water for at least a minute before consuming, or using it to brush their teeth or wash the dishes. If not, they may use bottled water or PUB water from the mainland.

The public is also advised not to drink water from the taps on the island, because it is drawn from the wells and is not potable without further treatment. Signs have been placed in public restrooms on the island and more will be put up to inform visitors, the authorities said.

Ubin resident Chu Yok Choon, 70, said staff members from various government agencies were on the island yesterday morning to distribute flyers and to explain the water situation to residents.

Mr Chu said the 38 residents there typically boil their water as a precaution, although he knows of no resident who has fallen ill from drinking well water. He has lived on Ubin all his life and sells canned drinks at his bicycle shop.

Another resident, a provision shop-owner who wanted to be known only as Madam Ng, said she will now have to use boiled or bottled water to wash spoons used by customers who buy fresh coconut juice from her.

Apart from that, the 66-year-old said she would probably still use tap water to wash vegetables and other food for her own consumption, because the food would eventually be cooked.

The exact number of wells on Ubin is not known, but those familiar with the island say each household would have at least one well.

Wells that are used daily are maintained better than disused wells. Residents would cover the top of the wells, and most of them use pumps to get the water to their homes.

Plans are being made to improve access to potable water on the rustic island and more details will be shared when ready, the authorities said.

A spokesperson told TODAY: “Over the past few years, the Government has been exploring the use of on-site water treatment units that will be suitable for Ubin … In the meantime, we would like to advise the public to refrain from drinking directly from taps and wells on Pulau Ubin.”

In March last year, an advisory was issued to licensees of retail food establishments to take similar precautions, after some water samples taken from their taps were found to be “unsatisfactory”.

Public advised not to drink water directly from Pulau Ubin wells and taps

AsiaOne 21 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE - The quality of well water from used by retail food establishments at Pulau Ubin has deteriorated, the National Environmental Agency (NEA), PUB, Singapore Land Authority (SLA), and National Parks Board (NParks) said in a press statement on Monday (Dec 21).

As such, all retail food establishments at Pulau Ubin are advised to use bottled water, PUB water from the mainland, or boil the water drawn from the wells for at least one minute continuously before using it for preparation of food and drinks for sale.

The agencies had previously issued an advisory in 2014 to licensees, to adopt similar precautionary measures, following detection of some unsatisfactory water samples obtained from their taps.

According to the press statement, many of the island's residents use well water for their daily needs. There are also advisory signs put up in the public restrooms reminding the public not to consume the water from the taps, as the water is drawn from wells and is thus not potable without further treatment.

Alert over well water used on Ubin
Linette Lai, Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Dec 15;

Water quality in wells used by eateries in Pulau Ubin has deteriorated, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has found.

This could be because of contamination by human or animal waste, or surface run-off from contaminated soil, said a spokesman.

In a joint statement yesterday, the NEA, national water agency PUB, Singapore Land Authority and National Parks Board said that all retail food outlets in Pulau Ubin are now required to boil well water continuously for at least a minute before using it to prepare food or drinks for sale.

Alternatively, they can use bottled water or PUB water from the mainland. The island of 38 residents is believed to have fewer than 10 eateries.

The four agencies said a similar advisory was issued as a precaution in March last year, when unsatisfactory water samples were taken from some taps.

They did not say if anyone had recently fallen ill because of drinking contaminated water.

Public toilets on the island already carry signs reminding the public not to consume the water from the taps, as the water is drawn from wells and is not potable without further treatment.

More signs will be put up to inform visitors of this, the four agencies said.

Residents of Pulau Ubin have also been advised to take similar precautions with well water used for daily needs, including brushing teeth or washing crockery.

But residents that The Straits Times spoke to remained unfazed, saying that they have been using well water without problems for many years. They had not heard about the contaminated water before advisories were given out to them yesterday.

Housewife Ong Siew Ong, 72, said: "I have lived here for more than 60 years, and we have always used well water."

Village chief Chu Yok Choon, 70, said: "I have never used water from the mainland. The whole island uses well water. Of course, we boil it before drinking."

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Illegal pet advertisements rife on online platforms: ACRES

STACEY LIM Today Online 21 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — Illegal pet advertisements are rife on online platforms, a six-month undercover operation conducted by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) has found.

Over six months, from June to the middle of this month, ACRES found more than 150 advertisements for exotic animals such as tiger cubs and an axolotl — a type of salamander — on websites such as Gumtree Singapore and Locanto Classifieds.

Among 17 sellers randomly contacted by ACRES, 14 responded. They had bred the animals at home or smuggled them in by air, or via the land checkpoints, revealed ACRES at a media conference today (Dec 21).

Responding to tip-offs from the public, ACRES had also staked out illegal wildlife transactions arising from 156 illegal pet online advertisements. Joint sting operations with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) netted animals such as sugar gliders and an Asian Leopard Cat.

This is the first time ACRES has conducted an operation against such advertisements. ACRES director of advocacy Mr Tan En, 30, said: “When the members of the public see these advertisements, they might think it is legal and acceptable to keep these animals as pets.”

Gumtree had the highest number of illegal pet advertisements on its platform, with 100 such advertisements. This was followed by 33 on Locanto Classifieds, 14 on SPH Online Classifieds, six on Carousell, two on Classifieds, and one on ChaosAds.

ACRES has reached out to Carousell and SPH Online Classifieds to look at how to stop such advertisements from being placed.

When contacted by ACRES, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) immediately removed the illegal pet advertisements from their platform.

Head of SPH’s Corporate Communications Ms Chin Soo Fang said: “Such ads are not allowed and it is unfortunate that some have slipped through our vetting.

“We will step up vigilance and work with ACRES to stop the online illegal wildlife trade.”

Carousell also removed these advertisements, and approached the AVA for help on curbing the placement of these advertisements on their platform. A spokesperson from Carousell said the company removes listings of illegal wildlife on its marketplace systematically through “a content moderation process”.

“Our community members are encouraged to flag products and users who don’t abide by our guidelines, and they are also able to write in to us if a matter requires urgent attention so that our team can take appropriate action.”

ACRES is still trying to engage Locanto and Gumtree on the matter.

In addition to strengthening the content management of online advertising platforms, ACRES proposed the use of wildlife sniffer dogs to detect live animals in vehicles arriving at the Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints, and at the baggage retrieval areas in Changi Airport terminals.

Smugglers are more likely to exhibit “nervous behaviours” when the dogs are placed at security checks, said Ms Noelle Seet, who heads the ACRES Animal Investigation Unit, at the media conference.

“Otherwise you notice a lot of people do smuggle things in, and they just pass through (these checks). It may not be 100 per cent effective, but it can act as a deterrent,” she added.

The public is also encouraged to inform ACRES and AVA of illegal pet advertisements, whether online, in shops, or by individual.

According to the AVA, about 60 illegal animals were seized in 2013.

Under Chapter 92A of the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, anyone caught posting an advertisement or offering for sale scheduled species that are imported without a permit can be fined S$50,000 for each scheduled species up to S$500,000, or jailed for up to two years, or both.

Surge in online ads for sale of illegal animals as pets in Singapore: ACRES
ACRES discovered that Gumtree had the most illegal animals advertisements posted online. There were a total of 100 such ads on the website, it found.
Olivia Quay Channel NewsAsia 21 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: A six-month investigation by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society’s (ACRES) Animal Crime Investigation Unit showed that there has been a surge in online advertisements for the sale of illegal animals as pets in Singapore.

ACRES kept track of six online advertising platforms from June to December this year, and discovered that Gumtree had the most illegal animals advertisements posted online. There were a total of 100 such advertisements on its website, ACRES said on Monday (Dec 21). The advertisements featured animals including ball pythons, leopard geckos, tiger cubs and tarantulas.

An advertisement for a tiger cub. (Image: ACRES)

To verify the authenticity of these advertisements, ACRES then engaged 17 random sellers. Of those, 14 were proved to be genuine, while the remaining three did not respond, it said.

Through these interactions, it was also found out that the illegal pets were either home-bred locally, or often smuggled into Singapore via the Johor-Singapore causeways, as well as by air. Based on tip-offs, ACRES also staked out these online dealings and performed joint-stings with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

"Most of the animals that we find are reptiles - star tortoises... the iguanas, the pig-nosed turtles," said ACRES' Director for Advocacy Tan En. "We don't have a licence to keep mammals. We work closely with some of our vets. We had a case recently where a monkey was transferred back to Malaysia. But in the meantime, most of the time we work with the zoo as well."

ACRES is attempting to stop the online advertising by working with advertising platform owners to restrict the placement of illegal pet advertisements.

Since its investigation, ACRES has contacted Carousell about strengthening the site's content moderation process. ACRES added that when informed of these illegal pet advertisements, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) removed them from its Classifieds platform. ACRES also said it attempted to contact Locanto, but has not received a reply. It has not gotten in touch with Gumtree with its findings.

To curtail smuggling of live animals, ACRES proposed the use of wildlife sniffer dogs to detect live animals in vehicles or baggage, as they can detect contraband faster and more accurately than the manual checking of luggage and vehicles, even with the use of X-ray machines.

ACRES said animals are smuggled into Singapore within a few days of the purchase order via the Causeway, and it is also likely that the animals are brought in through the airport.

"It's usually in suitcases - they put the animals in bottles, in PVC pipes. And as you can imagine, a lot of them die along the way, because of the lack of water and food," said Mr Tan.

ACRES also encouraged the public to remain vigilant and inform ACRES and AVA of such advertisements - whether online, in shops or by individuals.

- CNA/xk

Surge in illegal pet advertisements online
ACRES finds 156 online ads selling illegal pets in undercover investigation
NATASHA MEAH New Paper 22 Dec 15;

Looking for an exotic pet?

"Healthy Tiger Cubs and Cheetahs Available", read one of the advertisements posted online last week.

The advertisement was taken down after it got the attention of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) Animal Crime Investigation Unit.

It is just one of many online ads selling endangered and exotic animals like pygmy marmoset monkeys, sugar gliders, aldabra tortoise and ball pythons, among others.

To stop the illegal pet trade online, Acres conducted an undercover operation from June to Dec 15.

Acres wanted to investigate the use of online advertising platforms by wildlife traffickers. Such advertisements are illegal.

They found 156 illegal pet advertisements online over the six months.

To verify the authenticity of the advertisers, they contacted 17 sellers, of which 14 proved to be selling endangered species.

Three sellers did not respond.

They also staked out dealings made with illegal pet advertisers. The joint sting operations with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) resulted in the seizure of animals such as sugar gliders and an Asian leopard cat.

On average, the Asian leopard cat is similar in overall size and shape to the domestic cat, but can grow up to 56cm in length, with a 27cm-long tail.

Acres released the results of their investigation yesterday.

One of the undercover volunteer investigators told The New Paper: "As I had no experience in investigative work, I was given a simple assignment. It was straightforward surveillance in a case of alleged animal cruelty."

Sarah, not her real name, declined to disclose any of her recent experiences as it could lead to some sellers realising that she is not a real buyer.

One of her first stings involved a long-tailed macaque. Acres was tipped off about a household that was keeping the animal in their two-storey landed home.

Sarah said: "They had a very huge porch and a large garden but the macaque was kept in a steel cage about 1.5m in height.

"We went down as a team and saw the animal in the cage through gaps in the wall. We then called AVA, who took it away."

The owners claimed the monkey was abandoned.

But Sarah said: "(Macaque) mothers are usually very protective of them so it's unlikely that it would be abandoned.

"It also hurt me to see the macaque pacing back and forth in its cage. Even though it was a reasonable weight and size and appeared to be well-fed, there was no space for it.

"In their natural habitat, they would be in their troupes swinging from tree to tree."

Recalling one experience during the investigation into online ads, Sarah said: "We asked one of the sellers 'Hey what about a slow loris? Is that for sale?' as they are one of the most endangered species.

"At first they said there was no stock but a few days later they contacted us saying their hunters found a group of them in the forest and if we placed an order now they would go get it for us.

"Does this mean that every time we click on an ad and place an order they are going to trap animals in the forest? So who is the one pressing the trigger? Is it the buyer, the middleman who is the seller, or the hunter?"

Where did they come from?

Investigations into the online illegal pet trade in Singapore by the Acres Animal Crime Investigation Unit found that the animals were either bred locally or smuggled into Singapore by air or by road.

Young animals were smuggled in as they were smaller and easier to conceal, and touted to be less dangerous than adult animals.

Common methods include smugglers strapping birds onto their bodies or stuffing the baby animals into suitcases.

Acres made a few recommendations to the AVA to curtail the smuggling of live animals via the land checkpoints and by air, including the use of wildlife sniffer dogs.

Acres uncovers 156 online ads selling illegal pets
An undercover investigation by wildlife rescue group Acres (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) into the online illegal pet trade found 156 advertisements touting exotic animals as pets.
My Paper AsiaOne 22 Dec 15;

The six-month investigation involved monitoring six online platforms - Gumtree, Locanto Classifieds Singapore, ST701, Carousell, and ChaosAds.

A total of 100 advertisements were found on Gumtree, 33 on Locanto Classifieds Singapore and 14 on ST701.

Carousell had six such advertisements while had two and ChaosAds had one.

Acres contacted 17 sellers who had multiple advertisements, of which 14 responded and confirmed they were selling such animals. The remaining three did not respond.

The findings were revealed by Acres yesterday.

The investigation culminated in joint sting operations with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) where animals such as sugar gliders and an Asian leopard cat were seized.

Acres also made a few recommendations to AVA to curtail the smuggling of live animals via the land checkpoints and by air, including the use of wildlife sniffer dogs.

"We strongly urge anyone who comes across the sale of wild animals to immediately contact Acres," said Tan En, director of advocacy at Acres.

In response to the advertisements found on their online platform ST701, Singapore Press Holdings said: "Such ads are not allowed and it is unfortunate that some have slipped through our vetting. We will step up vigilance and work with Acres to stop the online illegal wildlife trade."

Carousell said it has been removing listings of illegal wildlife on its platform and will work with AVA and Acres to prevent wildlife trading via its online platform.

Exotic animals sold illegally as pets
Samantha Boh, The Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Dec 15;

Exotic animals like tiger cubs and monkeys are being sold online as pets, an undercover investigation has found.

A six-month probe into the online illegal pet trade here by wildlife rescue group Acres (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) found 156 listings for the sale of exotic animals as pets.

"You may think it may not be happening in Singapore. But our investigations show... there is a thriving market in Singapore," said Ms Noelle Seet, head of Acres' Animal Crime Investigation Unit, yesterday.

Acres monitored six online platforms between June and Dec 15. The platforms are Gumtree Singapore, Locanto Classifieds Singapore, ST701, Carousell, Classifieds (Singapore) and ChaosAds (Singapore).

A total of 100 ads were found on Gumtree, 33 on Locanto Classifieds Singapore, and 14 on ST701. Carousell had six such ads, had two and ChaosAds had one.

One post listed the sale of pygmy marmoset monkeys, touting them to be tamed and "well socialised with kids and other pets".

Out of 17 sellers contacted by Acres randomly, 14 confirmed that they were selling such animals. The other three did not respond.

In addition, following tip-offs, Acres also held joint sting operations this month and last month with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), where animals such as sugar gliders - small squirrel-like mammals - and an Asian leopard cat were seized.

Investigations found that the animals were often smuggled into Singapore by air or via the Johor-Singapore causeways.

Acres has thus proposed to the AVA to have wildlife sniffer dogs at causeway checkpoints and Changi Airport terminals to curtail the smuggling of live animals. It made a similar proposition in 2011.

Acres is also working with SPH Online Classifieds, which runs ST701, and Carousell to tighten their controls on illegal pet ads. Both ST701 and Carousell have said they will step up vigilance to stop wildlife trading via online platforms.The other four online platforms have yet to comment, said Acres.

Its investigation unit has received 27 reports about online sale listings of exotic animals since it was started in March this year.

It is illegal to keep, trap or kill wild animals here without a licence. Those found guilty under the Wild Animals and Birds Act face a maximum fine of $1,000 per animal.

Those found guilty of smuggling endangered species and their parts and products can be fined up to $50,000 per specimen - up to a total of $500,000 - and/or jailed up to two years under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act.

In October, two Russians were given 15 months' jail for smuggling 206 turtles estimated to be worth $90,000 through Singapore.

Anyone with information on the sale of illegal wildlife as pets can contact Acres on 9783-7782 or

5 reports of illegal pets received this year, says AVA
Samantha Boh, Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Dec 15;

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) revealed yesterday that it has received just five reports of illegal pets so far this year.

It came a day after wildlife rescue group Acres (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) told how an undercover six-month probe found 156 listings advertising exotic animals as pets online. They included ball pythons, monkeys and tiger cubs.

The AVA said it has been monitoring the illegal sale of animals online since 2008 and four of the reported cases this year involved such listings.Past reports about illegal pets have also been few with just two made last year, three in 2013 and 10 in 2012. Online ads made up two of the 2013 cases and eight of those in 2012.

The AVA said it works with marketplace websites, such as Carousell, to investigate suspected cases of possession and sales of illegal wildlife.

Ms Noelle Seet, head of Acres' Animal Crime Investigation Unit, did not comment on the AVA figures but said: "Now with greater awareness about the illegal online wildlife trade, we hope that more people will step up to report to AVA and Acres, so the net can be cast wider and tighter around wildlife traffickers."

Acres has received 27 reports about online sale listings of illegal pets since March this year.

AVA figures show the number of cases involving the possession or sale of illegal wildlife has doubled from 10 last year to 20 as of Monday. This comes after a drop from 19 cases in 2013 and 2012.

The number of instances of illegal import, export or transhipment detected at Singapore's borders fell from 13 last year to six as of Monday. Since 2013, the AVA has prosecuted nine individuals involved in the illegal import or transit of parts of wildlife species, including rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory. Offenders were fined up to $10,000 and jailed for up to 16 months.

Acres has proposed tackling the problem by using wildlife sniffer dogs at border checkpoints. The AVA spokesman said the method has been considered but was found to be "less cost- effective" than current methods like routine and random checks.

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Indonesia: Govt to develop palm oil industrial zones

Khoirul Amin, The Jakarta Post 21 Dec 15;

The government has been reviewing three industrial areas to be designated palm oil industrial zones in a bid to strengthen the downstream industry in the world’s largest palm oil producer, the Industry Ministry’s director general for agro-industry, Panggah Susanto, has said.

“We’re preparing three palm oil industrial zones as parts of green economic zones. We’ve selected the three areas for the development of the palm oil downstream industry. They are the industrial zones of Sei Mangkei [North Sumatra], Dumai [Riau] and Pupuk Kaltim [East Kalimantan],” he said.

Panggah explained that the three industrial zones were aimed at producing various palm oil products, such as olein and stearin — both of which are commonly used for cooking oil, margarine and shortening.

He added that the ministry expected partnerships with both state-owned enterprises and private companies to develop the palm oil industrial zones.

The Sei Mangkei industrial zone is currently managed by state-run plantation firm PT Perkebunan Nasional (PTPN) III, the Dumai industrial zone by private agribusiness giant Wilmar Group and the Pupuk Kaltim industrial estate by state fertilizer company PT Pupuk Kaltim.

Imam Haryono, the Industry Ministry’s director general for industrial estate development, said that the three industrial zones were chosen based on the availability of gas to support production and the accessibility to international shipping.

“The chosen industrial zones will surely get many benefits. There will be many investors coming in,” he said.

The designations of the palm oil industrial zones were based on an agreement reached through the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) that was recently established by Indonesia and Malaysia, which together account for 85 percent of the global palm oil market.

Panggah said that the Indonesian Industry Ministry had been appointed to chair the development of the palm oil zones. “The two countries are also currently harmonizing the standards of their respective palm oil products,” he said.

Palm oil products of both Indonesia and Malaysia have recently faced difficulties entering into some developed markets, such as Singapore and the EU, because of stringent requirements related to environmental protection.

Recent forest fires that have happened in Indonesia were allegedly caused by slash-and-burn practices involving both Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil companies, as well as local farmers.

The CPOPC, which was initiated by Indonesia and Malaysia in early October, is aimed at finding solutions for various problems facing the palm oil industry.

The council is also set to expand its membership by including some other palm oil producing countries. Separately, Industry Minister Saleh Husin said that his ministry would remain committed to developing Indonesia’s downstream industry to create added value for the country’s export commodities.

Institute for Development on Economics and Finance (Indef) executive director Enny Sri Hartati argued that developing the downstream industry was important to boost the country’s exports, which had so far heavily relied on raw natural resources.

Indonesia’s exports slumped by 14.32 percent year-on-year to $138.42 billion in the January to November period of this year, hugely because of a slump in commodity prices, including that of crude palm oil (CPO).

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Indonesia: Forest fire sanctions -- Govt makes public names of companies

Antara 21 Dec 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government has made public the names of companies on which it had imposed sanctions for having caused forest fires some months ago.

The announcement was made by Coordinating Minister for Political, Security and Legal Affairs, Luhut Panjaitan at a press conference here on Monday. He was accompanied by Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya and national police chief General Badrodin Haiti.

However, only the initials representing the names of these companies were made public.

Forestry and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya said licenses of three companies were revoked. In Riau province, HSLs forest concession (HPH) was revoked while in Jambi province, DHLs environment permit and in West Kalimantan, MAS environment permit was revoked.

Sixteen other companies have had their permits frozen, including BMH in South Sumatra, SWI in South Sumatra, SRL in Riau, PBP in Jambi and BMJ in West Kalimantan. These firms forest product wood exploitation business permits (IUPHHK) were put on a freeze.

In Central Kalimantan, IFP, TKM and KH and DML in East Kalimantan have had their business permits revoked.

With regard to the plantations, the government froze the company licenses of SPW and HE in Central Kalimantan, WAJ, TRR and RPP in South Sumatra, LIH in Riau and BACP in North Kalimantan.

National police chief General Badrodin Haiti said the dossiers regarding the cases of three corporate suspects have been submitted to the prosecutors office. These are plantation company PHT in South Kalimantan and plantation companies ASP and MA in Central Kalimantan.

Meanwhile, the process of submitting the dossiers in case of two plantation companies in Riau and two plantation companies in West Kalimantan is underway.

Coordinating Minister Luhut Panjaitan said the action would not stop at these steps and "we will continue the investigation."

He said the government has designed a standard operating procedure to deal with forest fires to reduce these and their impact to a minimum level.

"We were caught off guard. We thought that the El Nino impact would be at level two, but later it became known that it was most severe. We admitted that our coordination while dealing with the problem was not so good," he said.(*)

Company licenses to be revoked over Indonesia haze
BBC News 22 Dec 15;

More than 50 Indonesian companies are being punished for their role in causing the haze that blanketed South East Asia earlier this year.
The forest fires that caused the haze are the result of illegal slash-and-burn practices.

The fires are used to clear land for palm oil and pulp wood plantations.

For the first time the government is revoking as well as freezing the licences of companies found responsible.

The pollution caused by the fires has occurred for years, but was particularly bad in 2015.

The government has not named the firms, but released the initials and general location of 30 of the 56 companies who are being punished
Only one of the companies was confirmed to be foreign-owned. Another is a supplier to one of the world's biggest paper and pulp producers Asia Pulp & Paper (APP).

Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said other companies would be punished for not putting out blazes that reached their areas, the BBC's Rebecca Henschke reports from Jakarta.

Ms Nurbaya told a news conference that more companies were under investigation.

It is illegal in Indonesia to clear more than two hectares of land by what is known as slash-and-burn methods.

The government said in October that people caught flouting the law would face up to 10 years in jail.

But local farmers have said convictions are unlikely.

Many experts believe fires are likely to start up again when the rainy season ends in March.

President Joko Widodo recently told the BBC that it might take at least three years before the situation is under control.

In a quarterly report the World Bank said Indonesia's forest fires and subsequent haze this year have cost the country "more than twice" the amount spent on reconstruction efforts after the 2004 Aceh tsunami.

The bank said the cost amounted to 1.9% of Indonesia's gross domestic product (GDP), adding that regional and global costs would be much higher.
The fires have had a devastating impact on children and wildlife - including Indonesia's rare orang-utans.

Haze fires: Jakarta gives initials of 16 'culprit' firms
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Dec 15;

Motorists drive across the Tumbang Nusa bridge, shrouded in haze, some 20 km on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, in Central Kalimantan, on October 29, 2015.

Indonesia yesterday released the initials of 16 plantation companies that it said were responsible for illegal fires that caused this year's transboundary haze crisis.

The companies - most of them pulp wood plantations operating on concession land in Sumatra and Kalimantan - have had their business licences suspended, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told reporters at a media briefing yesterday evening.

The government is mulling over whether to initiate legal proceedings against them for breaching environmental laws, she said. The firms include BMH and SWI, which have concessions in South Sumatra.

The suspensions would be lifted if, within the next two years, the companies show that they have made significant progress in efforts to prevent future fires, Ms Siti said.

"The rights of use for the portion of land that has been burnt must be returned to the state," she added.

Checks on data available at the Environment and Forestry Ministry show that BMH is Bumi Mekar Hijau and SWI is Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industry.

BMH is a supplier to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) in Indonesia. BMH, SWI and APP have the same parent company, the Sinar Mas Group.

The government also revoked the licences of three firms, including one with the initials MAS, which has pulp wood concessions in West Kalimantan, and HSL, which has pulp wood concessions in Riau.

Checks show that MAS is Mega Alam Sentosa, another Sinar Mas company.

Asked for his response yesterday on the government's move to suspend Sinar Mas companies, its managing director, Mr Gandi Sulistyanto, said in a text message to The Straits Times: "We follow the existing regulations and legislation. Legal certainty and business sustainability are the platform."

This year's haze will go down as the worst on record, surpassing even the 1997 and 2013 crises.

The Indonesian government has pledged to get tough on firms that many believe used illegal slash- and-burn techniques to clear land.

"We are tightening the standard operating procedure, hoping the previous fire episode will not recur," Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters.

Indonesia has said it is probing more than 100 firms over forest fires. In September, the permits of three - PT Tempirai Palm Resources, PT Waringin Agro Jaya and PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo - were revoked after they were found guilty of setting fire to land and forest areas.

Indonesia punishes firms over deadly forest fires
AFP Yahoo News 22 Dec 15;

Jakarta (AFP) - Indonesia is punishing more than 20 companies in an unprecedented move for starting deadly forest fires that killed 19 people, a government official said Tuesday.

Three companies have been shut down permanently after having their licences revoked over their role in the blazes that choked vast expanses of southeast Asia with acrid haze and cost Indonesia $16 billion.

It is the first time the government has revoked company licences over forest fires, an annual occurrence caused by slash-and-burn land clearance.

The environment ministry also froze the operations of 14 companies and said they face closure if they do not meet the government’s demands over fire prevention.

Several other companies have been given a strong warning and will be put under close supervision.

"We have sanctioned 23 companies in total, ranging from administrative sanctions to license revocation, while 33 others are still in the process, they could have their licenses revoked too if they are found guilty," environment ministry official Kemal Amas told AFP.

View galleryThree companies have been shut down permanently by …
Three companies have been shut down permanently by Indonesia after having their licences revoked ove …
The ministry has been investigating 276 companies in total since the fires broke out in September.

"We need firmer law enforcement so that this catastrophe does not repeat itself, it’s been going on for 18 years but nobody has learnt their lesson," Amas said.

Amas said the ministry was also working hard to restore the forests and farmland destroyed in the fires.

Activists welcomed the government’s new commitment to punish firms.

The Indonesian Forum for Environment said it was unheard of for the government to revoke licences, as many companies previously avoided facing trial.

"The minister has the courage to not only freeze the companies' operation but also chase the owners in a civil case, this is great and this must be guarded carefully," Kurniawan told AFP.

"In the past some people were named suspects, but for them to actually lose their licenses, this is the first time," he said.

More than half a million people suffered acute respiratory infections in Indonesia because of the haze, while many in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia also fell ill.

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Making ASEAN haze-free by 2020

Today Online 22 Dec 15;

At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Environment Ministers Meeting in October, the 10 member nations agreed to develop a roadmap towards a haze-free ASEAN by 2020. Each country is supposed to come up with its National Plan of Action.

Since then, Indonesia, where forest fires caused parts of the region to be shrouded in toxic haze this year, has made some important commitments. These include the review of a much-criticised law that still allows farmers to burn up to 2ha of land and the banning of all development on peatland, which is wetland made up of decayed vegetation and organic matter.

Peatlands are vital carbon sinks, and it is also heartening that Jakarta has pledged to start a new peatland restoration agency as well as to mandate green financing by banks by 2018.

Nevertheless, some questions remain. First, who will foot the bill? Around S$5.1 billion will be needed for the restoration of 2 million ha of peatlands. Indonesia has said that it would seek international funding, including at the recent Paris climate change summit. But it is unclear how much support Indonesia can garner from international partners.

Second, will companies causing the peatland degradation take responsibility for restoration projects?

Third, how will Indonesia ensure the enforcement of its laws?

Indonesia does not have a good track record of keeping its conservation areas free from fire. In fact, 30 per cent of fire hotspots detected this year occurred in conservation areas.

The new peatland restoration agency controlled directly by Indonesian President Joko Widodo offers hope for effective law enforcement and project execution. However, a coordinated effort among various stakeholders is still needed for issues like financial contributions, monitoring and surveillance systems, landscape planning, and actual work on the ground.

This is supposed to be the role of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control, led by Indonesia. Unfortunately, it has not yet begun operations even though ASEAN agreed to its formation in 2013.


Many of the palm oil and pulp plantations in Indonesia have links to Singapore, whether through ownership, investment or trade. If Singapore investors and companies can ensure a haze-free supply chain, the impact can be tremendous.

What will it take for this to happen? It requires various stakeholders in Singapore, including ordinary people, to play their part.

This year, Singapore has taken baby steps toward this goal. In the public sector, the government has pledged to implement green procurement. In the private sector, the Association of Banks in Singapore has issued guidelines for responsible financing. Major supermarkets have pulled products from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) which is potentially linked to the haze, after the Singapore Environment Council suspended the issuing of the Singapore Green Label for APP’s products.

Non-government groups World Wild Fund for Nature, People’s Movement to Stop Haze and Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) also launched the “We Breathe What We Buy” campaign to promote sustainable palm oil.

These isolated efforts, however, are insufficient. There needs to be better coordination among stakeholders in Singapore. For example, groups campaigning to raise consumer awareness of companies linked to forest fires need to work more closely with those in charge of the Green Labelling scheme to create greater understanding of the definition of haze-free products. This will help consumers make better-informed choices.

Similar coordination is needed between finance sector and non-government groups, to turn generic guidelines into implementable haze-free policies, in order to prevent loans to potentially haze-causing companies and activities. A “haze-free” supply chain requires clear commitments on fire prevention and suppression from plantation and trader companies, as well as a robust mechanism to evaluate the effectiveness of these commitments.

Companies should pledge to conserve peat swamp, to restore degraded peatlands, and to work with the local community on other fire-prevention measures, as well as a fire detection-and-suppression system.

This should be tracked on a common platform. SIIA has launched an online mapping platform to track the fires in Indonesia’s concessions. These Singapore-registered firms should share their maps and ground projects on SIIA’s online platform, Haze Tracker.

At the end of the day, to achieve a haze-free ASEAN by 2020, the region will need coordinated action plans with strict deadlines.

This means all fire-prevention measures have to be properly implemented on the ground by 2019. This will require strong enforcement of regulations region-wide latest by 2018, covering not only what happens on the ground in Indonesia but also companies linked to the supply chain.


Chris Cheng is director of research at People’s Movement to Stop Haze.

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After COP21 climate talk, Govts and industries not doing enough: Panellists

Panellists from Perspectives say the switch from fossil fuels to smart-energy is not being done fast enough to counter climate change.
Samantha Yap Channel NewsAsia 21 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: On Dec 12, governments around the world celebrated a climate change deal.

After the annual two-week COP21 (Conference Of Parties) summit in Paris, France, negotiators from nearly 200 countries signed on a legal agreement that is partly legally binding and partly voluntary to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2°C.

While an agreement has been reached, the hard part now begins – putting it into action.

And energy experts on Channel NewsAsia's Perspectives say the goals are unattainable if current government policies towards fossil fuels and clean energy remain the way they are.

From an over-abundance in subsidies to the fossil fuel and oil industries, to a lack of policies that enable clean energy technologies to go into markets, governments and incumbent energy providers are simply not doing enough to meet climate change goals, said the panellists.

Prof Phil Taylor, Director of the Institute for Sustainability and Professor of Electrical Power Systems at Newcastle University (UK) said: "What we have to realise is that energy markets worldwide are dominated by a small number of very large companies and those present incumbents are making significant profits, so there isn't really a big driver to make the change that we need. Incremental change isn't going to be good enough.

“We've been taking too long and too slow and we're not really seeing leadership from our governments to take us where we need to get to. It's not happening fast enough.”

During a live recording of Channel NewsAsia’s Perspectives on Nov 16 at the Siemens Center in Singapore, Prof Taylor was joined by Dr Armin Bruck, CEO of Siemens Singapore; Mr Matthew Peloso, Founder and Director of Sun Electric; and Mr Sohail Hasnie, Principal Energy Specialist at the Asian Development Bank.


According to Mr Hasnie, policy makers and regulators are behind the times because many are not keeping up to date with clean energy technologies that are available.

"A lot of efficiency decisions do not get made because even the policy makers are not really aware of the technological changes. It is very important that we build the capacity (of knowledge and understanding) of policy makers and their advisers,” said Mr Hasnie.

According to Mr Hasnie, even average policy makers are not aware of the 80 per cent price reduction in solar energy over the last six years.

“If you ask the average policy makers about what is rooftop solar, they will say, 'When we last checked it was expensive.’

"Problem is when they last checked it was 10 years back.”

Mr Hasnie added that current government subsidies to the oil and fossil fuel markets do not encourage change.

“We give lots of subsidies globally, almost close to half a trillion dollars. So fossil fuels have been moving but clean energy is not getting enough support.”


Panellists also took questions from the audience and suggested changes to kick-start a departure from our reliance on fossil fuels.

Mr Peloso called for a more open energy market that gives consumers a choice by allowing Beta and existing low-carbon technologies to go in.

“Governments need to liberalise energy markets. That means more energy customers can have a diverse range. So those people who do want to access sustainable solutions or different pricing schemes, they can access that. That’s very important. People need to come in, look, participate and see what technologies are suitable for them and for their needs,” said Mr Peloso.

Mr Bruck called for a defined set of rules to be established in markets and for old systems to be upgraded so users can have the choices that Mr Peloso suggested.

Said Mr Bruck: “The infrastructure change to a smart-grid scenario, which is happening here and there, needs to happen. But we need a policy update because without a rule book, nobody knows where we stand and what happens. This will encourage lots of user-specific energy services to suit lifestyle needs.”

For new technology to come in, Prof Taylor encouraged governments and policy makers to be brave, and to take leadership to allow new entrants to challenge the incumbents while not hampering economic growth.

“It’s a big challenge but the technologies are there. We need disruptive change so governments need to intervene. And we need to be honest about the level of subsidies they give to fossil fuels at the moment, which is in the trillions of dollars worldwide.

“We need to subsidise renewable and clean technologies as importantly as fossil fuels to stimulate the growth of low-carbon technologies. We need to make sure we can invest pre-emptively in the infrastructure that will enable that low-carbon transition.”

Mr Hasnie said change ultimately lies in governments to stop financing fossil fuels and evaluate their contrasting attitudes to fossil fuels and clean energy.

Said Mr Hasnie: “The consumers do not know that out of their pockets they are providing huge subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. The issue is that the playing field is completely distorted. What the oil and fossil fuel industries are doing is status quo, because they’re getting handouts.”

Mr Hasnie suggested that by allowing cities to thrive on new technologies, attitudes to oil and fossil fuels will change.

“It is important that governments wake up because technology is changing every day, renewable energy is available, and storage is becoming very cheap.

“The car on the street now is riding on a subsidised fossil fuel because the choice is not as great now, but in 20 years, when electric cars are established, you might see cities say, ‘If you have a tailpipe, do not enter my city because my children have a right to clean air.'”

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