Weak law enforcement against pulpwood and palm oil firms responsible for fires in the biggest areas in their concessions between 2015 and 2018 has allowed a repeat of the incidents in Indonesia this year, spreading the thick haze to its South-east Asian neighbours, Greenpeace said yesterday.
Many of the pulp and palm oil groups including APP and April, said chief of Greenpeace Indonesia's Global Forest Campaign Mr Kiki Taufik, did not receive any severe civil or administrative sanctions, or face significant sanctions that matched the size or the intensity of burning.
Greenpeace said Indonesia saw 3.4 million ha burned from 2015 to 2018. In 2015 alone, as much as 2.6 million ha were burned, Greenpeace said.
Greenpeace found out, among other things, that none of the 10 oil palm companies with the biggest burned areas between 2015 and 2018 got serious sanctions and punishment, and the highest number of hotspots was detected in seven of them this year, Mr Kiki told a press briefing on Tuesday (Sept 24).
One company, PT Globalindo Agung Lestari, a company affiliated with Malaysia's Genting Group, saw fires in its concession in Central Kalimantan this year, Greenpeace said. Around 5,000ha in its concessions were raged by fires over the 2015-2018 period, but no sanction was imposed on it.
"The area has burnt since Sept. 11. The smoke from the fire has been quite big because it is taking place in peatlands," said Mr Kiki.
He said a similar pattern also ruled the pulpwood sector, with fires were also detected in concessions run by the errant companies in the 2015-2018 period.
Mr Rusmadya Maharuddin, a forest campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia said fires have raged through the concession owned by two companies affiliated with APP through its subsidiary PT Sinar Mas Forestry - PT Bumi Andalas Permai in South Sumatra and PT Wirakarya Sakti in Jambi. There were also fires in the concession of PT Sumatra Riang Lestari in Riau that is affiliated with April.
PT Bumi Andalas Permai, for instance, were responsible to the burned areas of 81,900ha - the biggest in Indonesia - in the 2015-2018 period, but received a light sanction.
"Despite the burnt areas (in its concessions) had amounted to nearly the size of Singapore, this company only got a delay in the issuance of its planting permit," Mr Rusmadya said during the briefing.
Asked to comment on the Greenpeace report, Environment and Forestry Ministry's director general for law enforcement Rasio Ridho Sani said in a text message, "Our legal subject are companies instead of holding (companies)."
Mr Rasio said on Sept 14 that authorities may this year impose tougher sanctions and punishment to companies convicted of forest fires, noting that the fire crisis could be addressed with the change of behaviour of the people and the companies.
While he also asserted that in the past few years hotspots dropped sharply in concessions operated by companies facing severe punishment for their wrongdoing, the Greenpeace report suggests otherwise. The government has so far sealed off concessions owned by 52 companies for further investigation.