Indonesian inspectors blocked from Riau concession

An Indonesian official laying out a warning banner at a burned out plantation in Rokan Hulu, Riau, Indonesia on Sept 2, 2016.
An Indonesian official laying out a warning banner at a burned out plantation in Rokan Hulu, Riau, Indonesia on Sept 2, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

Govt officials wanting to check if canals are being built illegally on peatland stopped by guards

Indonesian police are investigating another plantation firm over allegations that it tried to obstruct government inspectors from carrying out their duties.

The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) said outsourced security guards on Monday stopped its officials from entering a pulp and paper concession in Riau province to check whether canals had been built illegally on peatland.

The team led by BRG chief Nazir Foead visited the concession licensed to Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (Rapp) in Pulau Padang following villagers' complaints in June that the firm had allegedly opened up peat areas to build canals, the agency said on Tuesday.

Rapp is the operating arm of Singapore-based Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd (April), one of the world's largest pulp and paper companies.

The BRG then sent a team to carry out "technical and social assessment" in June and also asked the firm to provide data, including the depth of its peatlands. The BRG had earlier found "indications of the existence of peatlands deeper than 5m in the concession area".

On Monday, the BRG again visited the site to "conduct a spot check to see the conditions first-hand", Mr Nazir said in a statement.

The team... visited the concession licensed to Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper in Pulau Padang following villagers' allegations in June that the firm had opened up peat areas to build canals.

In a video released by BRG on Tuesday, a security guard is seen asking to see a letter of permission, to which Mr Nazir replies: "This is an impromptu inspection... There's no need for a permit." But the team was denied entry.

The BRG had found the "opening of canals", which it said was against government regulations that strictly prohibit the construction of canals, which could result in peatlands becoming dry. Peatlands with a depth of at least 3m must also be protected, it added.

April said in an e-mail reply to The Straits Times that it "deeply regretted the misunderstanding".

"We are reviewing protocols to ensure that senior managers are contacted in such situations and will clarify the cause of the misunderstanding with the BRG as well as discuss the findings of their visit," said a spokesman.

The latest incident comes after palm oil firm Andika Permata Sawit Lestari (APSL) was accused of obstructing seven fire inspectors from investigating a forest fire case in Rokan Hulu last Friday. Workers believed to be hired by the firm had threatened to harm the officials.

APSL denied the allegations but Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said the firm must answer to the charges in court. She also said Rapp has been summoned to provide a clarification on the incident tomorrow.

National Police chief Tito Karnavian said yesterday both incidents will form "part of our investigation on the field".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline 'Inspectors blocked from Riau concession'. Print Edition | Subscribe