Law enforcement key to curbing Indonesia forest fires

Law enforcement key to curbing Indonesia forest fires
A boat passes next to the Ampera bridge as thick haze blankets in Palembang. Indonesia's parliament agreed to ratify a regional agreement on cross-border haze as fires ripped through forests in the west of the country, choking neighbouring Singapore with hazardous smog.

In a bid to combat the rampant forest fires on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, the government is planning to strengthen its law enforcement following the country's decision to ratify a decade-old regional haze treaty.

Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) said on Friday that the unit was planning to do so by several means, such as closely monitoring all government units.

"We will intensify law enforcement to show that we are capable. The 13 action plans [on forest fires eradication that had been formulated by the government] will be constantly monitored by the UKP4," Mas Achmad Santosa, the deputy of law enforcement in the UKP4, told The Jakarta Post.

He said that the working unit and the police would also try to punish agroforestry companies that had caused rampant forest fires by implementing a "multi-door system", which is a system seeking the harshest punishment possible by all legal means.

The government recently adopted the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution amid pressure from neighbouring countries following the spread of haze caused by land clearing in Sumatra to Singapore and Malaysia last June.

According to the Singapore National Environment Agency, the country's air pollution rose to unhealthy levels as of Monday, as winds changed direction and brought in smoke from forest fires in Indonesia.

The treaty obliges Indonesia, as one of the member states, to actively involve itself in efforts to mitigate air pollution, both nationally and through intensified regional and international cooperation.

The government will intensify law enforcement by implementing "multi-door system" Indonesia is ready to share data on forest fires with other ASEAN countries

Achmad said that he believed the treaty would benefit the country's effort in combating forest fires.

"It forces us to intensify our coordination, which is why it is very possible for us to support and help each other [neighbouring countries]," he said.

Achmad added that the treaty would also help the law enforcement in the country as well as in neighbouring countries.

"Maybe the law enforcers could utilize data from us due to data sharing," he said.

Achmad cited Indonesia's Land and Forest Fires Monitoring System (KMS) as one of the possible ways for the unit to implement the treaty.

The treaty also serves as an opportunity for Indonesia to prove itself, according to him.

"What's important for me is the initiatives implemented in our country.

We have to show that we are a country that does not get help, but we have to help [other countries] instead," Achmad said.

One of the unit's efforts to combat forest fires is summoning regional police heads in seven provinces which are most prone to forest fires on Friday.

The provinces are Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, South Kalimantan, West Kalimantan, East Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

National Police detective chief Comr. Gen. Suhardi Alius said that the meeting had decided to develop a system to combat forest fires currently being used by the Riau Police.

"The Riau Police are involved in putting out the fires, pushing the public and the governor [to combat forest fires] and so on," said Achmad.

Evan Sembiring, Riau deputy director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said law enforcement agencies so far lacked the will to issue proper penalties against environmental criminals.

"We are very disappointed with the district courts, which are a representation of the country's legal system," he said, referring to the recent very light punishment for PT ADEI Plantation operating in Riau.

PT ADEI Plantation & Industry, which is a unit of Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhard, was found guilty of violating the 2009 Environmental Protection and Management Law. The Pelalawan District Court in Riau handed down a fine of Rp 1.5 billion (S$159,000).

If the fine is not paid, the company's director, Tan Kei Yoong, will serve five months in jail.

The court also ordered ADEI to pay an additional Rp 15.1 billion to repair the environmental damage caused by the forest fires it had caused.

The court also sentenced ADEI general manager Danesuvaran KR Singam to a year in prison and the option of paying Rp 2 billion or serving an additional two months in prison.

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