Indonesia seals off 29 firms' plantations to curb fires

Indonesia has sealed off plantations operated by 29 companies, including four subsidiaries of Malaysian groups and one Singaporean firm, after fires were detected in their concessions, the government said yesterday.

The legal measures against allegedly errant companies have been under way since last month.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said the government will prosecute a number of these companies as a deterrent to setting fires. Indonesia is struggling to curb spreading fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and has faced criticism from Malaysia.

Ms Siti named the Singapore-affiliated company as Hutan Ketapang Industri, a West Kalimantan province-based rubber plantation subsidiary of another Indonesian company Sungai Menang, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Indonesia’s Sampoerna Agro. Singapore-based Sampoerna Agri Resources owns two-thirds of Sampoerna Agro.

The four firms affiliated with Malaysian corporate groups operate in West Kalimantan and Riau provinces. Ms Siti named the companies as Sime Indo Agro (a unit of Sime Darby Plantation), Sukses Karya Sawit (a unit of IOI Corporation) and Rafi Kamajaya Abadi (a unit of TDM Bhd). The last one, operating in Riau, is Adei Plantation and Industry (a unit of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Group).

Ms Siti made her remarks in a media briefing after a three-hour coordination meeting in Jakarta that was chaired by Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto.

“We give no compromise to those that burn and cause fire,” retired general Wiranto said in the same media briefing. “Our approach is, enforce the law hard and firm to create a deterrent effect.”

IOI Corporation issued a statement late yesterday that its subsidiary had not received any official notification on the matter.

“(Sukses Karya Sawit) has been on high alert and has put in place measures to deal with the dry weather and the risk of fire,” it said.

Military personel help ground firefighters in South Sumatra to douse raging fires. PHOTO: INDONESIA DISASTER MANAGEMENT AGENCY (BNPB)

“We were able to quickly extinguish several small fires that have occurred over the last couple of months and have assisted other companies and villagers to respond to fires on our neighbouring lands.”

Malaysia’s Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin, who has been critical of Indonesia over transboundary haze, is also the spouse of a scion of IOI Corporation.

A diplomatic row has erupted over the past days between both countries’ environment ministers, centring on who is at fault for the haze.

On Thursday, Ms Yeo cited data from the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre showing that more than 1,600 hot spots had been detected in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

In response to concerns that the government has not done enough to address the issue, she tweeted yesterday: “All diplomatic channels exhausted to manage transboundary haze from Indonesia.” She added that Malaysia has reduced its own hot spots from 50 to fewer than 10 and that the ministry welcomes “constructive suggestions”.

However, Ms Yeo made no mention of any measures that the Malaysian government would take against the Malaysian subsidiaries accused of having agricultural fires in their concessions.

Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok, who oversees cash crops such as oil palm, issued a statement yesterday to express concern over Indonesia’s claim that Malaysian subsidiaries owned land where forest fires were reported.

Ms Kok said such allegations could lead to the cessation of these companies’ certification status in Indonesia and Malaysia. She added: “Both Indonesia and Malaysia as major palm oil producers could end up as the ultimate losers.”

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