S. Sumatra Companies Face Charges Over Fores Fires

Workers bring water pipes to extinguish fires as they walk through a burned palm oil plantation at the Pulo Geronggang village in Ogan Komering Ilir district in South Sumatra province on Sept. 11, (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

By : Farouk Arnaz | on 7:27 PM September 15, 2015
Category : News

Jakarta. Two more corporations and 126 individuals who are allegedly responsible for the slash-and-burn practices causing the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan have been criminally charged by the National Police, a source revealed on Tuesday.

To date, the police have investigated a total of 130 incidents and 24 companies involved in the paper and palm oil businesses, but have only been able to charge three companies. Bumi Mekar Hijau, which operates in Riau, was the first corporation to be charged for the offense this year. On Tuesday, a police source revealed that Tempirai Palm Resources and Waymusi Agro Indah, both located in Ogan Komering Ilir district of South Sumatra, have also been charged.

President Joko Widodo visited Ogan Komering Ilir last week to personally inspect efforts to control forest fires, which have affected the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan and are also sending choking haze as far as Singapore and Malaysia.

During the visit, Joko instructed National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti, who accompanied the president, to not only investigate individuals involved but also corporations believed to be using slash-and-burn practices to clear land to make way for rubber and oil palm plantations.

Director of the police's criminal investigation department Brig. Gen. Yazid Fanani defended the process of investigations saying, “don't compare [investigations] in the field with those done in Jakarta. We have to deal with bushes, mountains, jungles and ravines. [At times, we can't] even access areas because there are no roads.”

Badrodin echoed the sentiment on Tuesday, saying that slash-and-burn cases are more difficult to solve than those involving drugs or terrorism. “In terrorism and drugs [cases], we have access to preliminary information, there’s the links and networks [of offenders],” he said, adding the police in such cases can also question people who know the suspects and use wiretapping or tracking methods to go after perpetrators.

“However, for [forest] fires, [the problem is] how do we get this [preliminary information] fast, and [how do we figure out] who started it?,” Badrodin said.

Badrodin added that satellite technology can now detect a fire, but there are also drawbacks, “we can’t possibly install CCTV to monitor every [part of] the forests."

However, some Indonesian scientists and businesses have called on the government to revise laws that allow for small subsistence farmers to perform slash-and-burn practices.

Meanwhile, the World Resources Institutes said in a statement on Saturday that fires have reached crisis levels in South Sumatra and Kalimantan, arguing that the situation is worse this year than the major outbreaks in June 2013, March 2014 and November 2014.

The WRI said satellites have detected 1,189 "high-confidence" fire alerts, exceeding the highest peaks of the last two years and it said “many of the fires, which are used to clear land for agriculture, are occurring on carbon-rich peat soils, causing widespread haze.”

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