Weak law enforcement allowed repeat of fires: Greenpeace

Greenpeace said Indonesia saw 3.4 million ha burned from 2015 to 2018, with as much as 2.6 million ha were burned in 2015 alone.
Greenpeace said Indonesia saw 3.4 million ha burned from 2015 to 2018, with as much as 2.6 million ha were burned in 2015 alone.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Weak law enforcement against pulpwood and oil palm companies with the largest burned areas in Indonesia between 2015 and last year has allowed a repeat of forest fires this year, spreading thick haze to its South-east Asian neighbours, Greenpeace said yesterday.

Many of the pulp and oil palm groups, including Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia-Pacific Resources International (April), did not receive any severe civil or administrative sanctions, or face significant sanctions that matched the size or intensity of burning, said Mr Kiki Taufik, chief of Greenpeace Indonesia's Global Forest Campaign.

Greenpeace said Indonesia saw the burning of 3.4 million ha from 2015 to last year, and in 2015, as much as 2.6 million ha went up in flames.

Greenpeace found that none of the 10 oil palm companies with the biggest burned areas between 2015 and last year received serious sanctions and punishment, and a high number of hot spots was detected in seven of them this year, Mr Kiki told a news briefing yesterday.

One company, PT Globalindo Agung Lestari, which is affiliated with Malaysia's Genting Group, saw fires in its concession in Central Kalimantan this year, Greenpeace said. Fires raged on about 5,000ha of land in its concession over the 2015-2018 period, but no sanction was imposed on the firm.

Of the Central Kalimantan concession, Mr Kiki said: "The area has burned since Sept 11. The smoke from the fire has been quite big because it is taking place on peatland."

He said there was a similar pattern in the pulpwood sector, with fires detected in concessions run by the errant firms in the 2015-2018 period.

Mr Rusmadya Maharuddin, a forest campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia, said fires have been raging on the concessions owned by two firms 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 Riau concession of PT Sumatra Riang Lestari, affiliated with April.

Asked to comment on whether fires or hot spots detected are linked to APP and April as stated in the Greenpeace report, Environment and Forestry Ministry's di-rector-general for law enforcement Rasio Ridho Sani said in a text message: "Our legal process deals with the companies, and not holding (companies)."

Mr Rasio had said on Sept 14 that this year, the authorities may impose tougher sanctions and punishment on companies responsible for forest fires.

While he asserted that, in the past few years, the number of hot spots has fallen sharply in concessions operated by companies facing severe punishment for their wrongdoing, the Greenpeace report suggested otherwise. The government has so far sealed off concessions owned by 52 firms for further investigation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2019, with the headline 'Weak law enforcement allowed repeat of fires: Greenpeace'. Subscribe