Indonesia to name firms linked to forest fires

An aerial photo shows smoke from peatland fires near a piece of heavy equipment in a forestry concession in Ogan Ilir, South Sumatra province.
PHOTO: Reuters

Indonesia is set to name the companies responsible for illegal fires that led to this year's transboundary haze crisis. The firms, which mainly run plantations on concession land in Sumatra and Kalimantan, will also have their business licences suspended while a decision is made on whether to initiate legal proceedings against them for breaching environmental laws.

This was revealed yesterday by Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, while he was testifying at the ethics committee hearing on the Setya Novanto-Freeport-McMoRan saga.

The case involving the country's House Speaker Setya Novanto, who is accused of trying to get kickbacks from the United States mining firm, is not related to the haze crisis.

Although Mr Luhut did not name the firms during the public hearing, he told The Straits Times last week that at least two are connected to "a giant pulpwood plantation company" in Indonesia. An aide of the minister later confirmed that an official announcement will be made on Thursday by the national police and Ministry of Environment and Forestry during a joint media briefing.

This year's haze will go down as the worst on record, surpassing even the 1997 and 2013 crises.

The Indonesian government has pledged to get tough on firms many believed were using illegal slash- and-burn techniques to clear land, including highly flammable and carbon-rich peatland.

Indonesia had said it was investigating more than 100 companies over forest fires that occurred on land under their care.

In September, the Environment and Forestry Ministry revoked the permits of three plantation companies proven guilty of setting fires to land and forest areas. The three are PT Tempirai Palm Resources, PT Waringin Agro Jaya and PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, reported Antara news. The ministry also revoked the permit of forest concession holder PT Hutani Sola Lestari.

Indonesian police also identified executives from seven companies in connection with illegal forest fires across Sumatra and Kalimantan.

They included a senior executive from Bumi Mekar Hijau, a unit of Singapore-based Asia Pulp and Paper, which is Indonesia's largest pulp and paper producer.

Correction note: In an earlier version of this story, we reported that Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH) is a unit of Singapore-based Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). The company has clarified that BMH is a supplier to APP in Indonesia, and not part of its group.

This article was first published on December 15, 2015.
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