Jokowi to get tough on illegal fire-starters

Jokowi to get tough on illegal fire-starters

JAKARTA - President-elect Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has vowed tough law enforcement to fix the recurring haze problem, making it clear that the local authorities know who the culprits are.

Jokowi said that it was a question of political will and that he would use his power to give necessary instructions to the relevant authorities. "For me, it's not a complicated problem, it's only a matter of managing the people and how we communicate with them. The haze is caused both by the people and the companies. If we have good, tough law enforcement, then it can be resolved," he said, gesturing to indicate that the problem would be swept away.

Jokowi made the statement during an interview with The Straits Times earlier this week.

Smoke from Indonesian forest fires, which sometimes causes pollution in Singapore to reach unhealthy levels, has been one of the more frustrating aspects of relations between the city-state and its giant neighbour.

Jokowi offered his views on the haze issue only eight weeks before he is due to take over as the country's seventh president.

Jokowi will assume the presidency with a reputation for solving issues on the ground, after successful tenures as mayor of the city of Solo and governor of the capital city.

He promised to bring this to bear on the haze problem, saying that those guilty of illegal burning would be stopped. "Our local governments, also our provincial governments, they know where they [illegal burners] are," he added.

Acknowledging the importance of the issue, he noted that the haze had been recurring every year with a high degree of frequency. It was a question of the "political will to act or not", he added.

Asked how different his approach would be from his predecessors', Joko declined to comment on the progress made so far, but said: "When we have the power, we must use the power to solve the problem, not only respecting haze but also other problems. I'm sure that the governor or the Bupati knows where the problem is coming; for example, whether it's coming from this district or that district. They know. I'm sure they know."

A preliminary finding by a compliance audit conducted by a government-sanctioned team has uncovered several irregularities involving local governments and agroforestry companies in Riau province that are likely responsible for the rampant forest fires in the area.

The audit examined 18 agroforestry firms operating around potential hotspot areas in Riau.

Another finding of the audit was that the majority of the audited firms were also embroiled in land disputes with local residents, conflicts that played a role in triggering forest fires. The team also found evidence that the Riau provincial government and the firms had failed to perform their duty to protect the fire-prone areas.

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