The Jakarta Post
As the haze frenzy from forest fires intensifies, the National Police named on Wednesday seven companies and 133 individuals suspects for their alleged involvement in clearing land by burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Last year, at the height of rampaging haze, the police also announced at least four companies suspects, a decrease from eight companies named in 2013.
However, critics have often characterized the police's stern measures as little more than an annual Legal public relations stunt designed to appease the international community and show that Indonesia is serious about enforcing its laws. Such criticism is buttressed by the fact that few cases related to the fires have made it to court in the last three years.
Data from the now-defunct Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) revealed that between 2012 and 2014, investigations into 12 companies allegedly behind forest fires remained unclear and undecided after law enforcement agencies named them suspects.
Records show that only three companies received punishment between 2014 and 2015.
Last week, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by palm oil company PT Kallista Alam and ordered the company to pay record fines totaling Rp 366 billion (US$25.6 million) for illegally burning large swathes of the Tripa forest in Aceh.
The company is owned by a local businessmen in Aceh.
Last year, PT ADEI Plantation & Industry, a subsidiary of Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhard, was found guilty of violating the 2009 Environmental Protection and Management Law.
The company has been ordered to pay Rp 1.5 billion. If the fine is not paid, the company's director, Tan Kei Yoong, must serve five months in jail. The court also ordered ADEI to pay an additional Rp 15.1 billion in damages.
The court also sentenced ADEI general manager Danesuvaran KR Singam to one year in prison.
In January, PT Nasional Sago Prima, affiliated with Sampoerna Agro, was found guilty of illegal
land-burning and was ordered to pay Rp 2 billion in fines. The court, however, acquitted its executives.
But the majority of companies implicated in forest fires have seen no development in the cases.
'There is politics, this is public knowledge, not only in Indonesia, but everywhere in the world,' newly appointed National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) chairman Rear Adm. (ret) Willem Rampangilei said when asked about the reason behind the lack of prosecutions against companies that instigate forest fires.
'The masterminds behind them [forest fires] are of course the companies, there is evidence of that, and also individual land owners,' he said.
Several of the plantations implicated in forest fires are linked to big business groups such as Sinar Mas Group's Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and plantation giant Royal Golden Eagle International, whose subsidiaries include Asian Agri and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL).
APP managing director for sustainability Aida Greenbury denied that the company's suppliers were using slash-and-burn methods to clear their concessions.
'We guarantee that our suppliers are not burning the land as we have applied strict prohibitions on such practices,' said Aida recently.
Aida believed that the fires in the concessions originated from land outside the company's plantations or on land that was still unclaimed.
'We have deployed personnel to guard the borders of our concessions to prevent the fires from spreading into our areas. The government should also deal sternly with other firms to enforce the zero-burning policy.' (rbk)
Progress in the prosecution of companies allegedly causing forest fires
1. PT Surya Panen Subur (Aceh, 2012). Affiliated with Agro Maju Raya and Hamparan Sawit Nusantara.
Status: In court.
2. PT Bumi Reksa Nusa (Riau, 2013). Affiliated with Guthrie Group. Status: Under investigation.
3. PT Ruas Utama Jaya (Riau, 2013). Affiliated with Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). Status: Under investigation.
4. PT Sumatera Riang (Riau, 2013). Affiliated with APRIL Group. Status: Under investigation.
5. PT Sakato Pratama Makmur (Riau, 2013). Affiliated with APP. Status: Under investigation.
6. PT Langgam Inti (Riau, 2013). Affiliated with Saratoga Group. Status: Under investigation.
7. PT Bukit Batu Hutani (Riau, 2013). Affiliated with APP. Status: Under investigation.
8. PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa (Riau, 2013). Affiliated with Wilmar Group. Status: In court.
9. PT Suntara Gajapati (Riau, 2014). Affiliated with APP. Status: Under investigation.
10. PT Teguh Karsa Wahana (Riau, 2014). Affiliated with Asian Agri. Status: Under investigation.
11. PT Triomas (Riau,2014). Affiliated with APRIL. Status: Under investigation.
12. PT Bumi Mekar Hijau (South Sumatra, 2014). Affiliated with APP. Status: Under investigation. National
Police have declared the firm a suspect.
13. PT Nasional Sago Prima (Riau, 2013). Affiliated with Sampoerna Agro. Status: Found guilty in January
2015 and ordered to pay Rp 2 billion (US$142,000) in fines. The court, however, acquitted the firm's
Source: Now-defunct Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) and others.
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