Indonesia Citing legal technicalities, the Pekanbaru District Court turned down a lawsuit filed by a local resident demanding a pretrial hearing against a controversial warrant ( SP3 ) issued by Riau Police to terminate investigations into 15 companies suspected to have been involved in several forest fires and illegal land clearings in the province last year.
The court did not touch on the substance of the lawsuit, which included the contention that the police did not have a strong reason to drop the case. Instead, judge Sorta Ria Neva focused her ruling on procedural matters.
The judge concluded that Ferry Sapta, as plaintiff, did not meet the legal requirements to file a civil lawsuit (CLS) on behalf of other citizens.
Like all citizens, said the judge, Ferry had the right to file a CLS, but the plaintiff failed to send the required notifications to the defendants.
According to law, notification letters have to be sent to defendants 60 days before a lawsuit is filed with a court and copies of the letters have to be sent to the local district court. However, no such notification letters were found.
Thats why the pretrial hearing proposed by the plaintiff has been denied, said Sorta, adding that Ferry was also obliged to pay Rp 5,000 for court expenses.
The ruling on the pretrial hearing is final. There are no further legal avenues available after that, said the judge.
The police claimed they decided to discontinue investigations into the companies in January because of a lack of evidence. The decision sparked anger among local farmers and environmentalists.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry expressed deep disappointment because the polices decision went against the governments determination to punish those who were responsible for the severe forest fires caused by land clearings.
Last years forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan attracted global attention because they caused severe health problems for people in the provinces and neighboring countries and massive damage to forests.
The House of Representatives demanded National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian replace the provincial police chief. Newly appointed Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Zulkarnain indicated that the force had made procedural mistakes in issuing the SP3.
We have made an internal evaluation. It is true that there are a few things that should be corrected, Zulkarnain said at the House last month.
Meanwhile, a lawyer with the Riau Police, Nirwan, said that the ruling was in accordance with the evidence presented during the hearing.
There was no preliminary evidence found indicating that the corporations committed the crime of burning fields, Nirwan said after the court ruled.
The spokesman of the plaintiffs legal team, Mayandri Zuzarman, expressed disappointment against the ruling, saying that the fires and the smoky haze had severely harmed people.
As he is one of the affected people, how come the plaintiff was declared to have no legal standing to file a lawsuit for a pretrial hearing? Mayandri asked.
This is not over yet. The lawsuit for a pretrial hearing is just an initial stage. We will show the government that the people will not remain silent against the SP3, he said.
A group of non-government organizations have also planned to challenge the police decision.
Government has urged Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who are deployed to guard Viphya Plantation against destruction to be vigilant by dealing with the perpetrators accordingly.
Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion
Minister of Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka, made the statement Tuesday after touring the plantation, especially areas under the jurisdiction of Total Land Care and Raiply Malawi Limited.
Incidences of fire destroying numerous hectares of trees every year have been a never-ending song for the Viphya Plantation for over a decade now. The plantation is shared by two districts of Mzimba andNkhata Bay.
However, the issue has raged on in spite of efforts by government and its stakeholders to plant trees and guard them against destruction. Reports have indicated that more often, the fires that destroy the plantation are deliberately set rather than accidental.
The minister said government is aware that some disgruntled workers and individuals whose licences were cancelled are the ones setting fires in the plantation.
People need to know that this is a national asset, so if the department of forestry has denied somebody a licence for the reasons best known by the department, they are supposed to understand instead of setting fires, he said.
To mitigate the challenge, Msaka said government deployed MDF soldiers in protected forests across the country as a way of scaring people from destroying the plantations.
In spite of the effort, some people are still setting parts of the Viphya Forest on fire, regardless of the size of trees.
We have directed the Malawi Defence Force solders to deal with anyone setting bush fires and operating in the forest without licences and that the law will take its course [against them], he warned.
However, Msaka commended Raiply Malawi Limited and Total Land Care for utilizing the forest sustainably and adding value to the trees from the forest.
In the past, we have been cutting trees or sawing and selling them abroad at a very cheap price. We behaved like a prodigal son who squandered all what his father gave him.
We need to be very careful and be proud of what we inherited so that we can benefit from it and pass on those benefits to the next generation, advised the minister.
Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of Raiply Malawi Limited, Thomas Oomen, cited bush fires and encroachment as major challenges facing his company.
This year alone, we have lost about 526 hectares [of trees] to bush fires, unfortunately, most of these trees are below 15 years old but they are supposed to be harvested at the age of 25. This is dooming our future, said Oomen.
Chikangawa Forest consists of seven plantations comprising 53,000 hectares.
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