Indonesia Announces Action Against Fire Setters

Lenita Sulthani
151221_ID_FIRES_ACTION_620.jpg From left to right, National Police Chief Badrodin Haiti, Coordinating Minister for Politics, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, and National Disaster Management Agency chief Willem Rampangilei give a press conference on companies involved in setting forest fires, Dec. 21, 2015.

The Indonesian government announced Monday it had acted against 23 companies that, officials said, were involved in burning forest and peatland in the country.

Government officials identified the companies by acronyms only, despite a promise by President Joko Widodo to reveal by year’s end the names of companies implicated in the environmental disaster.

“It is our responsibility to inform the public that legal actions have been taken, including withdrawal of licenses,” Coordinating Minister for Politics, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan told a press conference at his ministry late Monday.

“Licenses have been revoked from three companies. Sixteen have had their licenses suspended and four companies are subject to government-imposed sanctions,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya told reporters.

The sanctions include seizing a company’s land for up to two years and reviewing its licenses.

The fires, set to clear land for economic activity, burned 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) between June and October and cost Indonesia an estimated U.S. $16.1 billion, the World Bank said last week in its latest Indonesia Economic Quarterly report.

That sum is more than twice the cost of the reconstruction of Aceh following the 2004 tsunami, the World Bank said.

Smoke from the fires choked nearby countries for weeks, including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, and sent Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions soaring.

Foreign and domestic

Companies using fire to clear land for economic activity are both domestic and foreign, and include firms with significant shareholders in Malaysia, Australia and China, officials said Monday.

Willem Rampangilei, head of the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), said that one of the companies whose license had been suspended was PT BMH, a subsidiary of Sinar Mas that operates in South Sumatra. Sinar Mas is one of the largest conglomerates in Indonesia.

At the same press conference, National Police chief Badrodin Haiti said his forces were pursuing 301 cases of forest arson committed by individuals and corporations, and three had already been referred to the attorney general’s office.

“Of the three cases that have been submitted to the attorney general, there is a company whose shares are owned by China, PT ASP, a company located in Central Kalimantan. Two others are local companies: PT BA and PT BH,” he said.

The two government ministers, Luhut and Siti, pledged to coordinate efforts and increase oversight so the fires are not repeated on the same scale next year.

In September and October, during the peak of this year’s fires, Indonesia’s daily greenhouse gas emissions exceeded daily emissions from the entire U.S. economy on 26 days, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington D.C.-based environmental group. Indonesia’s fires have plagued the region since the late 1990s.


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