Jakarta to take 40 haze fire cases to court: Police chief

Indonesian motorists and pedestrians travelling under a blanket of haze in Palembang, Sumatra on Sept 29, 2015.
Indonesian motorists and pedestrians travelling under a blanket of haze in Palembang, Sumatra on Sept 29, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

Indonesia's police chief Badrodin Haiti has assured Asean ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur of his country's commitment to solve the haze problem caused by illegal forest fires in two of its provinces.

Though the issue is not on the agenda of the 10th Asean Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC), General Badrodin said the Indonesian authorities were making headway in bringing those who flouted forestry, plantation and environmental laws to book.

About 210 cases of forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra were being investigated, and 40 were ready to be taken to court soon, he added.

"Usually, foreign investors use nominees, not their own names but the names of Indonesians," he told reporters when explaining the difficulty in bringing perpetrators to court.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi confirmed the haze issue was raised at the ministers' meeting and that Indonesia's delegation promised that stern legal action would be taken, including freezing the assets and revoking the land concession permits of errant companies.

HITTING FIRMS' BOTTOM LINE

It's not just a monetary issue, not just the penalty you can impose on them. Countries around Europe, the US and some parts of Asia are already acceding to the fact that we want to source from companies that are environmentally responsible. By taking such action, we hope we will send a good signal to these companies to take it seriously, because it will affect their bottom line.

SINGAPORE'S SECOND MINISTER FOR HOME AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS MASAGOS ZULKIFLI, speaking on the sidelines of the AMMTC. He takes charge as Environment and Water Resources Minister tomorrow.

"We appreciate their commitment and we hope it is translated into actions," Datuk Seri Zahid, who is also Home Minister, told reporters after chairing the morning session.

Indonesia has suspended the permits of three plantation companies and revoked the forestry concession of another company.

Last week, Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) initiated legal action against five Indonesian companies it believes are among the culprits behind the fires.

One of the companies is Asia Pulp & Paper, which was ordered by the NEA to provide information on its Singapore and Indonesian subsidiaries, as well as measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions.

Under Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, a local or foreign company can be fined up to $100,000 a day, capped at $2 million, for causing unhealthy levels of haze pollution.

Singapore's Second Minister for Home and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, speaking on the sidelines of the AMMTC, said that even if some punishments were not enforceable overseas, the reputation of companies was at stake when exporting to markets that are sensitive to environmental responsibility.

"It's not just a monetary issue, not just the penalty you can impose on them. Countries around Europe, the US and some parts of Asia are already acceding to the fact that we want to source from companies that are environmentally responsible. By taking such action, we hope we will send a good signal to these companies to take it seriously, because it will affect their bottom line," said Mr Masagos, who will take charge as Environment and Water Resources Minister tomorrow.

Yesterday, the AMMTC was due to sign on two KL Declarations that would add smuggling of wildlife, timber and people as priority areas for transnational crime.

But sources said the formalising of the agreement was postponed as Thai officials needed to get clearance from Bangkok.

Thailand had also held out as a temporary shelter when Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to bring in thousands of boat people stranded off their shared coasts along the Andaman Sea earlier this year, in a humanitarian crisis that prompted several rounds of emergency Asean meetings.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2015, with the headline 'Jakarta to take 40 haze fire cases to court: Police chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe