Forest fires: Jakarta panel wants names

Palm fruit being unloaded at an oil palm plantation in Peat Jaya, Jambi province in Sumatra, where fires have been burning. Mr Viva Yoga Mauladi, a deputy chairman of a parliamentary committee seeking to hold perpetrators behind illegal forest fires
Palm fruit being unloaded at an oil palm plantation in Peat Jaya, Jambi province in Sumatra, where fires have been burning. Mr Viva Yoga Mauladi, a deputy chairman of a parliamentary committee seeking to hold perpetrators behind illegal forest fires accountable, said 95 per cent of land and forest fires were caused by people who intentionally use fire to clear land.PHOTO: REUTERS

Parliamentary committee orders ministry to name companies whose concession lands were burned illegally

An Indonesian parliamentary committee yesterday ordered the country's Environment and Forestry Ministry to provide the names of plantation firms whose concession lands were burned illegally.

The list of names must reach the the committee in seven days as the high-powered legislative body bids to hold perpetrators behind illegal forest fires accountable.

Once it has the names, the Agriculture, Forestry, Food and Maritime Parliamentary Committee plans to summon the management of the companies to explain how the fires occurred and what was done to put them out, said committee chairman Edhy Prabowo, who was speaking at a parliamentary hearing yesterday.

Mr Viva Yoga Mauladi, a deputy chairman of the 49-strong committee, said a law to slap errant firms with civil and criminal penalties already exists. And it is their duty to ensure the prosecution process is initiated against the companies.

"The committee will also coordinate with the police and the Attorney-General's Office to ensure there is a deterrent effect," he said.

Mr Viva added that 95 per cent of the land and forest fires were caused by people who intentionally use fire to clear land.

Earlier in the hearing, Professor Herry Purnomo, who teaches forestry at Bogor Agriculture Institute, proposed that "forensic audits" be conducted on plantation companies to establish if any of them had used outlawed slash-and-burn techniques to clear land.

"Experts can find traces if a company committed an act of burning when clearing land within three years back," he said.

Separately, environmentalists and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Malaysia yesterday called on Indonesia to allow maps of land concessions to be made public as they are "crucial" in helping to identify the exact location of fires burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

In August, the Indonesian government said concession maps are classified information and it is a breach of law to disclose them even on a government-to-government basis.

The concession maps are "absolutely crucial… if you want to prevent fires and also if you want to attribute the blame properly", said RSPO emission reduction working group co-chair Faisal Parish, speaking on the sidelines of the CSR Asia Summit 2015 held in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Environmentalist Dharsono Hartono, who is conserving some 100,00ha of peatland in Central Kalimantan under The Katingan Project, said without the maps, it is difficult to pinpoint where the hot spots are or where they started.

According to Mr Parish, most RSPO firms have made their concession maps available at an international level at the World Resources Institute (WRI) forest tracking site. WRI is a global research group.

Sime Darby Holdings, one of the world's largest palm oil producers, said it is in the midst of producing concession maps on its plantations in Liberia and Papua New Guinea for RSPO and international NGOs, but not the ones in Malaysia and Indonesia. "We have yet to clarify the situation whether or not these maps of our concessions in Indonesia and Malaysia can be made public to RSPO or NGOs," said Mr Simon Lord, Sime Darby's executive vice-president for group sustainability and quality management.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2015, with the headline 'Forest fires: Jakarta panel wants names'. Print Edition | Subscribe