Indonesians want govt to punish ‘fire starters’


PRESSURE is mounting on the Indonesian government from various groups in the country to strike hard against firms responsible for the forest and land fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi), a non-governmental group, called on police over the weekend to initiate criminal proceedings against 175 companies suspected of starting the fires.

Walhi’s executive director Emmy Hafild cited the country’s environmental law and a criminal code article on deadly arson as the basis for launching investigations.

The law now allows up to 10 years’ imprisonment for polluters and a 100 million rupiah (S$533,000) fine, while the deadly arson article carries up to life imprisonment.

Not ruling out legal action by her organisation, she said that Walhi would give police two weeks before it filed a complaint.

Said Miss Emmy: “If the police fail to act, Walhi will be ready to bring the companies to court. We believe in upholding the law and in teaching them a lesson not to disobey rules.”

The Association of Muhammadiyah Students also called for tougher government action, saying that companies should be forced to pay compensation for economic losses.

The Indonesian government has said that it would revoke the licences of the 175 suspected firms if they failed to show that they had not engaged in land clearing by fire after a ban was ordered earlier this month. The companies have been given until the end of the month to prove their innocence.

Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja said that the government would continue a crackdown on firms that violated the ban – including releasing their names in public to “shame” them, and having them foot the bill for cloud-seeding operations. In response to the calls for tougher action, Attorney-General Singgih said that he had ordered the courts to co-operate with police to slap a criminal or civil suit against these firms. He did not discount the possibility of using the anti-subversion law as well.

He said: “I have instructed various agencies to act because the fire has caused severe pollution. This is an international problem now.”

Miss Emmy stressed that President Suharto’s apology should be followed by concrete government action.

In an editorial yesterday, the Jakarta Post said: “The government should teach companies a hard lesson this year. Show them that crime does not pay and there is equal justice under the law. We can’t exactly tell our neighbours to put the haze in their pipe and smoke it.”

“Another failure would prove costly for Indonesia as it would show the world that we lack the political will to address the problem seriously.”

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