Indonesia won't allow citizen accused of causing forest fires to be arraigned under Singapore laws: V-P Jusuf Kalla

Vice President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kalla speaks during the World Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur on June 1, 2016.
Vice President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kalla speaks during the World Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur on June 1, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA - Indonesia will not simply allow one of its citizens accused of causing the forest fires in 2015 to be "processed" under the laws of Singapore, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said on Sunday (June 12).

"If there is an offence, Singapore can take action but (the offence) occurred in Indonesia, that is the concern," said Mr Kalla on the sidelines of a community event in Jakarta.

Mr Kalla was referring to attempts by Singapore to act against companies responsible for causing the forest fires in Indonesia that led to last year's haze crisis.

Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) said last month that it had obtained a court warrant against an Indonesian company director after he failed to turn up for an interview despite being served a legal notice to explain his firm's measures to tackle fires on its concession land.

The NEA has said its actions were in line with the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014, which allows for prosecution of companies that cause the haze.

 
 

Some critics in Indonesia said the NEA's move was an attack on Indonesia's sovereignty.

Shortly after the NEA announcement, Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar reportedly said on May 14 that certain bilateral collaborations would be terminated and others subjected to a "substantial review".

Last week, however, Singapore renewed its haze assistance package to Indonesia, which it has been offering since 2005 to support the country's fire mitigation efforts.

"This is part of the Singapore Government's broader commitment to assist the Indonesian Government in its efforts to deal with the land and forest fires in the run-up to the traditional dry season from June to October," said Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) in a news release on June 7.

The haze assistance package includes, among others, a team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force to provide fire-fighting assessment and planning assistance to its Indonesian counterparts, a C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding operations and high-resolution satellite pictures of fires and the coordinates of the fire sites.

Indonesia has yet to indicate if it will be accepting Singapore's help, with Mr Kalla saying previously that his government has received many offers of assistance in 2015.

He said last week that Indonesia will accept help if it is really needed, but he reminded Indonesia's neighbours that tackling the forest fires are "not as easy as what our friends in Asean think".

"Don’t forget, I have always said, why the need for joint efforts? Because the clean air from the forests is enjoyed by everyone including those in Asia and Singapore. So if damage occurs, repair together,” he said.

Several other plantation firms in Indonesia are also under investigation by the Singapore authorities despite protests from some officials in Jakarta.

Singapore is prepared to prosecute any Indonesian firm behind the fires that led to the haze last year, Bloomberg reported last Friday (June 10).

The authorities in Singapore have ordered six suppliers of Asia Pulp and Paper, Indonesia's largest pulp and paper company, to provide information on how they plan to prevent fires on their land, said Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

"We are standing on high moral ground," he said. "We have the support of the international community. We are not doing anything criminal nor wrong. We are just asking for the companies and the directors to own up and be accountable for what they've done."

The six companies face fines of up to $100,000 a day for each day of fire, the minister added.