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Jakarta Post

Govt ramps up efforts to prosecute agroforestry firms

  • Hans Nicholas Jong

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, February 21, 2015   /  07:05 am

With forest fires in Sumatra challenging the country'€™s aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 41 percent by 2020, the government has rolled out a plan to boost law-enforcement measures against agroforestry firms.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry said on Friday that it would step up its oversight of agroforestry firms as well as monitoring of legal proceedings involving companies that were alleged to have started forest fires.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar previously expressed her disappointment over the Bengkalis State Court'€™s decision to declare two executives of PT National Sago Prima (NSP) not guilty of burning forests in Riau.

'€œThe judges did not apply Law No. 18/2013 on the prevention and eradication of forest damage,'€ she said during a recent visit to Pekanbaru, Riau. '€œWe [also] found that the three judges did not have environmental credentials [on their
resumes].'€

PT NSP was found guilty earlier of burning forested land that had destroyed thousands of hectares of sago plantations in the Meranti Islands regency.

The company has been ordered to pay Rp 2 billion in fines as well as to equip itself with the proper facilities to handle forest fires.

The sentence is lower than the Rp 5 billion fine demanded by prosecutors, who also asked the court to order the company to pay an additional Rp 1.4 trillion to recover land that was damaged while the firm was operating.

Siti said she intended to challenge the verdict.

'€œI sent a letter to the Judicial Commission asking them to review the verdict,'€ she said on Wednesday.

The ministry has also filed lawsuits against several agroforestry companies suspected of starting forest fires in Sumatra in 2013 and 2014.

'€œIn terms of forest fires, the police have wrapped up its investigation into one company and we'€™re waiting for its trial to start. It'€™s in Riau,'€ the ministry'€™s law enforcement deputy, Himsar Sirait, told The Jakarta Post, referring to palm oil company PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa (JJP).

'€œAnother company, PT GDS, is also currently awaiting the start of its trial. But the case centers of forest destruction, not forest fires, in North Sumatra,'€ he said.

Himsar said the ministry had also lodged a civil lawsuit against pulp company PT BMH in South Sumatra for igniting forest fires. The ministry also filed a criminal lawsuit against the firm with the National Police'€™s Criminal Investigations Directorate (Bareskrim).

As for other cases, the ministry is completing the necessary paperwork as required by the Attorney General'€™s Office (AGO).

In 2013, litigation was launched against six companies '€” palm oil companies PT BNS and PT LIH '€” as well as industrial forest firms PT RUJ, PT SRL, PT SPM and PT BBH, all operating in Riau.

The ministry then filed lawsuits against PT FGP, PT FDI and PT KWL on allegations of starting forest fires in 2014.

Hot spots in Riau area have produced haze that has caused hundreds of people in the country as well as neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia to experience respiratory problems.

The province was also the first to be subject to a government compliance audit on local administrations and agroforestry companies last year, since 93.6 percent of the 12,541 hot spots recorded between Jan. 2 and March 13, 2014, were located in Riau.

The audit found that most local administrations and companies in the province failed to follow the proper procedures in conducting business related to forests, which is suspected as being a major cause of fires.

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