SINGAPORE - An Indonesian company linked to the record-breaking haze in 2015 is shaking up its internal operations, amid criticisms from environmental groups over the company's policy of planting on carbon-rich peatlands and its lack of transparency.
Among the measures undertaken by the Sinar Mas Group - parent company of paper firm Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) linked to the 2015 haze - is the appointment of two new roles in its Singapore office.
A key appointment is that of managing director for corporate affairs and sustainability in APP, and country president for Sinar Mas in Singapore. Mr Bernard Tan, 50, a former Singapore military general, will take on both these roles, the company announced at a media briefing on Wednesday (July 12) ahead of the upcoming dry season in Indonesia.
Mr Tan took on the new role on June 1 (2017). He was previously the marketing head of Singapore technology company ST Engineering. He has also served for 22 years in the Singapore Armed Forces, and retired with the rank of Brigadier-General. From 1998 to 2001, Mr Tan also served in the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta.
In his new role at Sinar Mas and APP, Mr Tan, who is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, will among other things take care of sustainability-related issues that the company has come under fire for.
Mr Tan's appointment comes after APP's former sustainability head Aida Greenbury left the company in May this year. But he clarified during the press conference on Wednesday that he would not be replacing her, and that he will work instead with the APP's new director of sustainability based in Indonesia, Elim Sritaba.
"Despite firm no-burn policies and government regulations, the haze has proven to be a complex issue... A lasting solution will require cooperation between industry, governments and people. APP has made significant advances over the past few years in terms of addressing the problem of haze,"he said, adding that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the haze situation this year.
On Wednesday, Mr Tan announced that APP will be setting up a new Fire Audit Team, which will be tasked with reviewing the company's concessions and those of its suppliers. It will assess readiness and the effectiveness of APP's programmes to combat haze, such as blocking canals to re-wet dry, flammable peat.
The new team will be led by Mr Aloysius Phua, 59, who is government relations manager at Sinar Mas, another new role in the Singapore office. Mr Phua previously headed a regional sales team at a Canadian tech company. Among other things, his team will be charged with doing equipment checks and assessing the ground team's adherence to fire-fighting standard operating procedures.
Sinar Mas is a conglomerate with subsidiaries in energy, land and communication technology sectors, among others. But its agribusinesses in paper and palm oil production are what have been on Singapore's radar, as fires on such plantations cause haze in Singapore.
APP, for example, is Indonesia's largest pulp and paper company, and one of the firms blamed for the record-breaking haze in the region in 2015. Since then, the Singapore Government has served APP with several legal notices under the Republic's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, but has yet to receive a satisfactory response from APP. The company's products, such as Paseo tissue, have been absent from supermarket shelves since 2015.
One of Mr Tan's targets is to put APP products back on the shelves. Singapore makes up a small market share, but it is still an important market in terms of setting standards. When asked on the status of NEA investigations, Mr Tan said this was ongoing and he could not comment.
More recently, APP has come under fire from environmental groups over its largest and newly operational mill in South Sumatra.
Green groups fear APP may have to clear natural forests to feed the mill's appetite. In its communications with environmental groups and the media, APP has as recently as in February this year given the impression that the mill can produce just 2 million tonnes of pulp a year. But documents obtained by The Straits Times showed that this limit is actually 3.25 million tonnes.
On Wednesday, Mr Tan said he is looking into the matter and will give updates at a later date.