Indonesia gathering evidence against 29 forestry firms
THE BIG HAZE
THE Indonesian government is gathering evidence to bring to court 29 forestry and plantation firms which it found had illegally cleared land by burning, a senior environment official said yesterday.
Mr Nabiel Makarim, deputy director of the Environmental Impact and Management Agency (Bapedal), said his agency was working with the Forestry and Agriculture ministries, military and Attorney-General’s Office to “punish” the companies responsible for forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
“We have dispatched teams to the field to take samples to prove our case that there has been pollution and environmental damage,” he told The Straits Times.
“We need to collect the evidence now before the pollution disappears. These samples will be used as evidence to take these companies to court.”
The move comes a week after Forestry Minister Djamaluddin Suryohadikusumo revoked the timber permits of 29 firms operating in Sumatra and Kalimantan for using slash-and-burn methods to clear land.
Mr Nabiel declined to name the 29 companies under investigation until after formal charges have been brought against them.
The government was intent on striking hard against these firms “to send a strong signal that it did not condone activities that damaged the environment”, he said.
Enforcement has been made easier now with a new environmental law, approved by President Suharto last month.
This imposes stiffer penalties of a maximum of 15 years’ jail and a 250 million rupiah (S$10 million) fine.
It also allows the government to seize assets or close down those convicted of damaging the environment.
Previous laws allowed for a maximum 10 years’ jail and a 100-million-rupiah fine.
Mr Nabiel, who heads Bapedal’s pollution-control unit, also warned Jakarta’s 10 million residents to be on the alert with the onset of thin haze over the capital.
The haze from fires in Central and East Java had been hovering over the capital for a month but had not bothered its population yet.
The smoke was at a height of 900 m and was blocking the sun rays from reaching the city, he said, adding: “Clear blue skies in Jakarta? Not for long anymore.”