Govt to sue firms over forest fires

Govt to sue firms over forest fires

2 September 2006

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Jakarta, Indonesia — The government plans to sue three oil palm plantationfirms and one oil palm entrepreneur for allegedly starting fires in theirconcessions that grew into massive forest fires in Riau province.

The State Ministry for the Environment identified the companies Friday as PTSubur Arum Makmur, PT Riau Andalan Sentosa and PT Agro Sarimas Indonesia. Theindividual is identified as Deden.

“We will file criminal and civil lawsuits. We’re compiling theiroffenses now,” said Hoetomo, the state ministry’s deputy for environmentallaw enforcement.

The country’s environment, forestry and plantation laws, as well as itscriminal code, ban burning land to clear it. The offense carries a maximumpenalty of 15 years in prison and billions of rupiah in fines.

The ministry is probing three other companies, including State Plantation V,which manages oil palm, rubber and cacao plantations in Sumatra. It is alsoinvestigating two firms in Kalminantan, PT Mitra Aneka Rezeki and PT WilmarSambas Plantation, as well as a foreign investment firm referred to only as PTBCP.

“As for BCP, we’re currently investigating the owner’s country of origin,”Hoetomo said.

Masnellyarti Hilman, deputy minister for environmental management, said thegovernment decided to sue the companies because fire “hot spots” hadbeen occurring in their concessions since last year and nothing had been doneabout it.

She said she believed the legal actions would deter other companies.

“Satellite images show that most of the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantanoccur in concessions belonging to logging and plantation firms,” she added.

Ministry data shows that from June to August this year, more than 53 percentof the 6,734 hot spots in Sumatra have occurred on the concessions of logging,industrial timber estate and plantation firms. Hot spots are places that produceenough heat to trigger satellite sensors, but not all of them are fires.

More than 65 percent of the 5,705 hot spots in Indonesia’s part of Borneoalso took place on business properties.

Masnellyarti said the ministry would seek compensation for environmentallosses, such as the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of the forests’ability to absorb carbon emissions, which is vital to halting global warming.

Greenomics Indonesia has estimated that forest fires and haze are costing thegovernment, the public and the private sector more than Rp 227 billion (almostUS$25 million) a day in deforestation, damage to health and other effects.

State Minister for the Environment Rachmat Witoelar said the lawsuit wouldaim to prove that the country’s rampant forest fires were intentional ratherthan natural.

“We also want to show that we’re not only targeting small-scale farmersor nomadic farmers, but also big players,” he said.

The companies’ executives could not be reached for comment and are not listedin the country’s trade and industry directory, the Sumatra or Borneo yellowpages, or with the province’s 108 information operator.

Derom Bangun, the executive chairman of the Indonesian Association of PalmOil Producers, said these companies might affect the image of the country’s oilpalm industry, but his organization fully supported the ministry’s move toenforce the law.


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