Firms blamed for rampant forest fires in Riau

Firms blamed for rampant forest fires in Riau

JAKARTA - Poor compliance by companies and local administrations is the major cause of the rampant forest fires in Riau, a government-sanctioned audit team has revealed.

Bambang Hero Saharjo, who headed the team, said that of the 17 companies investigated in the audit, none passed the compliance test, which measured the companies' level of compliance with environmental regulations.

"Not a single one fulfilled its own promises, whether they are companies operating plantations or in industrial forests," he said.

The audit was conducted between July 1 and Aug. 25 by a team consisting of the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4), the REDD+ Management Agency, the Forestry Ministry and the Riau Police.

Riau is the first province to be audited by the team, as 93.6 per cent of the 12,541 hot spots recorded between Jan. 2 and March 13 were located in the province.

Last year, slash-and-burn fires on plantations in Riau and some parts of Kalimantan triggered severe haze that blanketed Singapore and some parts of Malaysia. In response to the subsequent diplomatic uproar, President Susilo Bambang Yudho- yono apologised to the neighbouring countries.

Forest fires remain endemic to Riau as the authorities struggle to contain the problem after it reemerged on several plantations in August.

UKP4 head Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said the 17 companies investigated, identified only by their initials, comprised 12 forestry companies and five palm-oil companies. "Of the five plantation companies, none of them fell into the category of 'compliant'."

The five companies were PT JJP in Rokan Ilir regency, PT MEG and PT TFDI in Siak regency and PT SAM and PT BNS in Indragiri Hilir regency; they scored between 18.5 per cent and 48 per cent for compliance to their 97 responsibilities.

"Only one of them [PT BNS] had a pretty high level of compliance, approaching 50 per cent. But even that did not fall into the 'compliant' category," Bambang said.

Things were even worse among the forestry companies, which produce wood and non-wood products such as sago.

The audit found that one firm PT SRL Block III, only complied with 7.22 per cent of its 122 obligations. Another 10 companies: PT SPM, PT RRL, PT SPA, PT SRL Block I, II, IV, PT DRT, PT RUJ, PT AA, PT SSL, PT NSP and PT SG had a compliance level of 26.19 to 47.54 per cent.

The last company, PT SRL Block V, meanwhile, had the highest compliance rating among forestry companies, at 52.38 per cent.

The audit also investigated the performance of the regional administration in Riau in managing agro-forestry companies and environmental hazards in the province.

The administrations of Indragiri Hilir regency, Dumai city, Rokan Hilir regency, and Meranti Islands regency were found to have poor regulatory systems.

Some of the irregularities shown by the audit were due to the fact that all of the audited companies were operating in peatland, which is known to be extremely flammable.

Some of the companies also submitted bogus environmental impact analyses (Amdal) in order to exploit peatland of depths of more than 3 meters.

Presidential Decree No.32/1990 on protected-area management states that peatland can only be exploited if its depth is less than 3 meters.

The audit also found that the majority of the audited firms failed to secure their sites located in protected areas for various reasons, such as a lack of access or the fact that the land was being occupied by local residents.

"For example, a firm in Rokan Hilir is located on land where the whole area is occupied by local people, so there are no operations by the company," the audit said. "In that area, burning occurs openly around the access to the concession area."

UKP4 law-enforcement deputy Mas Achmad Santosa said that the unit would deploy a team to Riau to follow up on the audit. "We will allow a certain period of time for them to fix their problems."

Should the companies fail to improve their compliance ratings, sanctions will be imposed by the government depending on the level of failure.

The next audit will be conducted in Central Kalimantan, another province suffering from endemic forest fires.

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