'Jakarta law forbids disclosing info on plantation concessions'

Indonesia cannot disclose any plantation concession information even on a government-to-government basis as doing so would breach the law, a top environment official reiterated yesterday.

"Disclosing whose concession a certain hot spot is in would amount to disclosing a concession map," Dr Nur Masripatin, director-general of climate change at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, told The Straits Times.

"That is classified information. The government cannot do that," said Dr Nur, who is in charge of overseeing efforts to contain forest and land fire and reports to Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

Asean previously agreed to create a regional haze-monitoring system, with a computer system developed by Singapore that uses satellite images and hot-spot data to pinpoint fires that lead to haze.

Last year, Indonesia finally ratified the 2002 Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, and Singapore passed a transboundary haze law that can convict individuals or companies that cause haze.

Progress on the haze-monitoring system has been slow as it awaits the concession maps from Indonesia and Malaysia to identify which companies are responsible for the land plots where fires occur.

One problem is that these companies generally do not share concession boundary data and the Indonesian government has struggled to create accurate concession maps.

Another issue is that Indonesian laws ban the government from sharing concession maps, according to Indonesian officials.

Dr Nur's comments echoed those of her minister, who, in a Batam Pos article on Aug 10, said Indonesia cannot accept other countries prosecuting its people.

In that article, Ms Siti Nurbaya was quoted as saying: "Clearly, we reject their request. Because the country must protect its citizens and people. Would we allow our people to be judged by another country?"

Ms Siti Nurbaya suggested instead a channel between countries with inter- country consensus.

On her country's position, she said: "I said that Indonesia has its own laws, especially laws about the transparency of public information. Not all information can be disclosed, what more be passed on to another country."

Ms Siti Nurbaya's comments are perceived to have deviated from a recent agreement among Asean environment ministers to share information on a government-to-government basis so as to help identify plantation companies responsible for causing haze.

But Dr Nur said the ministers' meeting late last month did not say or agree that the Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) countries would have to disclose any information related to the concession maps. However, she argued that Indonesia was not backtracking on its commitments, saying that the ministers had agreed to share information related to hot spots.

"It is not mandatory. We are encouraged to share information on hot spots, which could be hot spots where we have verified on the ground that (there is indeed fire). The MSC will work and come up with a format on how information can be shared," she said.

When asked how a hot spot is identified if there is no information on the concession or where it is located, she said: "We could use coordinates. We will have a format on how information can be shared."

Dr Nur stressed that Indonesia is committed to imposing deterrent sentences on those responsible for illegal burning. "Each time there is fire, we look into it and see if there is any law being breached. We will then prosecute," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline ''Jakarta law forbids disclosing info on plantation concessions''. Print Edition | Subscribe