Call for Indonesian police to get tough on firms behind slash-and-burn

A charred forest near Rokan Hulu, a six-hour drive from Riau’s provincial capital Pekanbaru.
A charred forest near Rokan Hulu, a six-hour drive from Riau’s provincial capital Pekanbaru.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

Indonesia's police chief cites deterrent value in punishing those sparking wildfires, haze

Indonesia's top cop Tito Karnavian has urged regional police chiefs to get tough on companies suspected of using fire to clear land for cultivation. The four-star police general even offered to salute officers who successfully prosecute firms guilty of slash-and-burn activities.

The land-clearing method has been known to spark uncontrollable forest fires that cause widespread haze across South-east Asia.

Gen Tito, who visited Pontianak in West Kalimantan on Sunday, said companies that still use the illegal land-clearing method must be arrested and prosecuted, Tempo news reported yesterday.

These errant companies must be made to face the law as a deterrent to others, he said.

He also said that more needed to be done to identify small-time farmers who are allowed, under a legal provision, to slash and burn up to 2ha of forested land for cultivation.

"So those who practise slash-andburn, other than indigenous people who are allowed to do so, would be prosecuted," he said.

Millions in Indonesia and its neighbouring countries were affected by thick smoke from the fires that covered many parts of the region in the second half of last year.

To prevent a repeat of the crisis, President Joko Widodo has ordered the authorities to clamp down on errant farmers and companies, while beefing up fire-fighting resources in high-risk areas.

There have been fewer hot spots this year partly due to preventive measures put in place by the government, increased law enforcement, and more favourable weather conditions, said climate-change experts.

While more individuals and companies are being investigated and charged over using fire to clear land for plantations, critics say the numbers are still relatively low.

Indonesia has since revoked or suspended the land-clearing licences of 27 companies in connection with the land and forest fires that led to the haze crisis last year.

Earlier this month, sago plantation company National Sago Prima was ordered to pay record fines totalling 1.07 trillion rupiah (S$110 million) that will go into paying for the rehabilitation of some 3,000ha of burnt land in Riau province.

Yesterday, Riau provincial police said they have identified 85 suspects in connection with illegal land fires that caused the haze from January to August this year.

"The 85 suspects are being handled by 11 police precincts under the Riau police," provincial police spokesman Guntur Aryo Tejo told Antara news.

He added that the suspects were mainly linked to illegal land-clearing on more than 1,500ha of privately owned land.

On Sunday, Malaysia offered the use of a water-bomber to help douse fires in Sumatra. This came after haze from fires on the island hit parts of Kuala Lumpur last week.

"We are prepared to send our Bombardier aircraft to Sumatra to help put out the forest fires that have been responsible for the cross-border haze," Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Shahidan Kassim was quoted by local media as saying.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'Call to get tough on firms behind slash-and-burn'. Print Edition | Subscribe