Jakarta’s new Bill gets tough on polluters

Move to fight haze ——————

THE Indonesian Parliament has passed a new environmental Bill which aims to get tough on polluters, including those responsible for causing the haze that is enveloping the region now.

The Bill, among other things, allows the government to seize the assets or close down activities of those convicted of damaging the environment, in particular, people in charge of such projects.

“Projects or activities which use toxic materials, and or produce hazardous and toxic waste must pay directly should there be pollution,” the Jakarta Post yesterday quoted Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja as saying. He said that unless the environmental damage was caused by natural disaster or war, those responsible would be punished.

The Assistant Minister for Policy Formulation in the Environment Ministry, Mr Sugandy Apandi, said the Bill would give powers to the authorities to take action against farmers and big firms which start illegal forest fires that has resulted in haze covering parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“It is a national Bill and covers all aspects of protecting the environment through strict enforcement action,” he told The Sunday Times yesterday.

The Bill, which now awaits President Suharto’s approval, imposes stiffer penalties on polluters, with a maximum 15 years’ jail and a 250-million rupiah (S$146,700) fine. The previous Bill allowed for a maximum 10 years’ jail and a 100-million rupiah fine.

Mr Kusumaatmadja said the Bill had undergone substantial changes before it was passed. He stressed that enforcement was a key element in the new Bill.

“The Bill will enable police as well as government officials to investigate environmental polluting,” he said, adding that law enforcers previously did not enforce the earlier Bill properly and that judges tended to be lenient on those accused of pollution.

Another significant aspect of the Bill, he noted, was that it gave the public, including non-government organisations, a bigger role in environmental protection by allowing them the right to file a lawsuit. He said environmental cases could be brought to court or resolved in out-of-court settlements.

The Bill, however, drew strong protest from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi). About 60 Walhi members staged a protest outside Parliament demanding that legislators delay passing the Bill. Said its executive director Emmy Hafild: “The exclusion of non-governmental organisations from the new Bill prompted us to protest. This exclusion will limit our activity on the management of the environment.”

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