The Jakarta Post
President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo ordered on Wednesday all relevant government institutions to start working on preventive measures that could prevent the annual forest and peatland fires, with only eight months left before the next dry season starts.
Jokowi told a limited Cabinet meeting that now was the perfect time to start focusing on preventive efforts given that the number of hot spots had declined from more than 1,000 to around 53 in Sumatra and 124 in Kalimantan.
'We will use this moment to focus on preventive measures, particularly in anticipation of future [fires]. Therefore, we will review regulations ' whether they are laws, government regulations or gubernatorial regulations ' which allow the burning of forests and peatland,' Jokowi said in his opening remarks to the meeting on Wednesday.
The thick haze that has enveloped Sumatra and Kalimantan for the past three months started to ease last week after rains fell in the two worst-affected regions.
However, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has warned that the rainy season is not expected to start until early December and that the effects of the El NiÃ±o weather phenomenon will continue.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry previously considered restricting slash-and-burn practices by drafting a ministerial regulation ' which would also put more emphasis on sustainable land clearance and management practices.
Officials in the Jokowi administration have also said it is mulling the issuance of a government regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) to repeal Article 69 of the 2009 Environment Law, which allows smallholders of 2 hectares of land or less to clear their land by burning.
The provision has often been abused by local farmers, as well as major plantation firms, to engage in slash-and-burn practices, a major cause of forest fires in the country.
The government has also considered imposing economic sanctions, including banning those firms involved in forest fires from obtaining bank loans or selling land cleared using the slash-and-burn method.
In the meeting, Jokowi also instructed that all concession licenses, particularly those related to peatland, must be subject to reviews and that there would be no more new licenses for peatland concessions.
The President also ordered the completion of all fire-break projects in peatland areas.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Willem Rampangilei said existing BNPB standard operating procedures in preventing forest fires ' which also cover early warning mechanisms ' should be adopted into a government regulation given that such preventive measures involved other related institutions and ministries.
'Further discussion is needed to adopt them into a government regulation,' Willem said, adding that, following Jokowi's Wednesday instructions, all relevant government institutions and ministries would work in unison to prevent forest and peatland fires. '[Jokowi's instruction] will be followed up by organizing ministerial coordination meetings to draft future preventive measures,' Willem said.
Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said, however, that issuing a Perppu would only be a last resort.
National Police Chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti, meanwhile, said that several of the investigations into individuals allegedly involved in the forest burning had been wrapped up and would soon be taken to court.
Badrodin, however, declined to identify the individuals.
The police are currently working on 238 cases related to forest and peatland fires. Of the 238 cases, 191 involved individual perpetrators while 47 involved corporations, including a number of foreign companies.
The police have named 205 suspects in individual cases, and 11 suspects in the corporate cases. At least 72 people have been detained.
During the meeting, the President also urged Siti to involve peatland experts in drafting a blueprint for future peatland management. Jokowi met with a number of peatland management and environment experts at the Gadjah Mada University (UGM) on Tuesday, which produced what he described as comprehensive input.
Jokowi received his undergraduate degree in forestry from UGM.
In the meeting, the UGM team highlighted the importance of conserving the natural function of the peat domes ' located under the peat areas ' in restoring the underground water, and suggested that a comprehensive topographic mapping of peatland should be the first step in implementing better peatland management.
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