The Jakarta Post
Rear Admiral (ret.) Willem Rampangilei was appointed to lead the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) amid ferocious haze from forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan early this month. The former deputy for the environment and social vulnerability at the Office of the Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister has declared his ambition to end the fires and haze within two weeks. The Jakarta Post's Ika Krismantari talked to Willem on Wednesday to get a firsthand view of his policies. following are excerpts from the interview.
Question: Can you elaborate on your ambitious two-week plan to clear up the haze?
Answer: Soon after my inauguration, the President instructed me on several matters. Among other issues was to tackle the forest fires and haze ['¦] immediately. This is why I translated these instructions into a mission. In relation to the two-week ambition, it really depends on the location.
For example, in Riau, after talking with the local authorities, we came to the conclusion that we would need 14 days. The target really depends on the magnitude of the threat and the available resources and capabilities. I went to South Sumatra, where the local administration was also upbeat that it would need 14 days, but after a discussion with all stakeholders we concluded that we would need about 30 days. For West Kalimantan, we've concluded that the haze will be contained within 30 days.
What are your policies to meet this target?
We will deploy national resources to extinguish the fires on land and also by air. National resources will not only come from local administrations, but there will also be personnel and equipment from Jakarta. We have 16 helicopters to carry out water bombings and we have four fixed-wing [aircraft] for weather modification technology to create artificial rain. However, it really depends on the availability of clouds. We also have land and air task forces.
We will intensify socialization to make people aware of and understand about the danger of haze and try to persuade people not to burn. Other policies will include law enforcement. We will do them simultaneously. Our success indicators will include fewer people suffering from respiratory problems, students being able to go back to school and airports being able to be open 24 hours a day.
But why there is no sign of the haze abating?
We have challenges from the geographical perspective. This year is different to previous years, because last year the fires only occurred in Riau. But now it is happening in six other provinces including in Sulawesi. El NiÃ±o, which is predicted to last until the end of November, has also worsened the situation.
We are facing difficulties when the hotspots are located in places that are not accessible by our personnel. So we have to bring helicopters, but sometimes we cannot operate them because the thick haze disrupts visibility.
Another issue is weak law enforcement as evident in the occurrence of new hotspots as we struggle to put out the old ones.
Are there any indications of budget misuse that prevents the BNPB from doing its tasks?
The government has allocated Rp 385 billion [US$26.6 million] to overcome the forest fires in six provinces. We always seek advice from the BPKP [Development Finance Comptroller] when spending the budget, so that all the expenses are accountable. The BPKP helps us with this kind of monitoring and ['¦] so far everything is accountable.
This disaster has been occurring for almost five decades. Do you think there is something wrong with the way the government handles this issue?
It is common sense as to why forest fires happen. Forest fires happen because the preventative actions are not effective enough. The government has carried out preventative measures, but the fires still happen, so it means that preventative measures are ineffective; that is why in the future we have to build capacity [for preventative measures].
What are these preventative measures?
The biggest problem is the slash-and-burn practices as this is part of tradition because it is the most efficient and effective way to clear land. And you know, in our regulation [Article 69 of Law No. 32/2009 on environment], it is allowed for a smallholder to slash and burn an area not more than 2 hectares for land clearing. Many people misuse it. Therefore, one of the approaches is our socialization to make people understand ['¦].
Law enforcement must be firm. Ninety-nine percent of forest fires happen for a long time because they are started by humans. This is fact. To enforce the law, we have the police and PPNS [civil servant investigators].
What is the main cause of the fires?
The land is burned by people and the situation worsens because of El NiÃ±o. ['¦] The masterminds behind it are of course the companies, there is evidence of that, and also individual land owners.
Why is it difficult to sanction companies?
Of course there is politics, this is public knowledge, not only in Indonesia, but everywhere in the world. When you talk about business, there are politics within but I don't have the capacity to comment about law enforcement. The Environment and Forestry Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry also have the authority to sanction those violating the regulations.
Many Singaporean and Malaysian companies are operating in the impacted areas and may contribute to this disaster. Do you think there is a need for cooperation with the neighboring countries?
I see it more from the internal perspective. We have to strengthen our capacity, and in this case the preventative measures. Whoever runs a business here should abide by Indonesian laws. I personally don't care, whether it is a Singaporean or Malaysian company. What matters most is that they should comply with our laws.
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