Forest fires: Jokowi warns local officials

A peatland fire burning on the outskirts of Palangkaraya city, CentralKalimantan, last October. Local officials face the axe if they cannot control the spread of land and forest fires in their provinces.
A peatland fire burning on the outskirts of Palangkaraya city, CentralKalimantan, last October. Local officials face the axe if they cannot control the spread of land and forest fires in their provinces.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

President Joko Widodo yesterday vowed to sack local military and police chiefs who are unable to control the spread of land and forest fires in their provinces, to help ensure Indonesia will not see a repeat of last year's transboundary haze crisis.

Speaking to reporters at the presidential palace, he said he expected all levels of the military and police hierarchy in affected regions to get involved in efforts to contain fires.

All fires must be doused immediately, Mr Joko said, stressing that local military and police chiefs who manage to tackle the problem will get promoted.

"2015 was a lesson for all of us - how we struggled because fires spread to many locations, creating a high number of hot spots. The resulting haze had an extraordinary impact on the economy in the provinces," he said.

Last year's haze, which reached its peak in October, is believed to be the worst on record. Local farmers as well as plantation companies and their suppliers tend to use the illegal slash-and-burn method because it is cheaper than getting excavators to clear the land.

Last month, the government suspended the business licences of 16 companies, while three others saw their licences revoked for illegal land burning.

Mr Joko said Indonesia's laws must continue to be enforced against errant companies and individuals, by imposing administrative penalties as well as criminal sanctions.

"Let's keep working. Don't wait until the haze comes," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2016, with the headline 'Forest fires: Jokowi warns local officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe