PUTRAJAYA: None of the Malaysian-owned plantations in Sumatra has carried out open burning there.
After meeting the CEOs and senior officials of 18 Malaysian plantation companies that operate in Indonesia, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin was elated to learn that Malaysian companies were not the culprits behind the haze.
From the explanations given to him by the company representatives at the dialogue held at the ministrys office yesterday, Chin said it was clear that Malaysian companies would have to be silly to conduct open burning.
All the oil palm estates owned by them, especially in the Riau area, have an age profile of seven to 11 years, he said, adding that Malaysian-owned estates accounted for 10% of the land area of all the plantations in Riau.
There is no reason why they would burn trees that are already mature and bearing fruit. Who in their right mind would do that?
On Tuesday, Indonesian Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban said eight Malaysian companies had lit fires on their pulp and oil palm plantations.
Chin said the Malaysian firms confirmed that five of the eight companies belonged to them but the owners maintained that these estates practise the zero-burning policy.
The five companies are PT Tunga Mitra, PT Bumi Reksa, PT Multi Gambut, PT Langgam and PT Mustika.
As for the other three companies, nobody knows who they belong to as the companies they may be operating under were not here (for the dialogue), he said.
The minister also explained the hotspots in Malaysian-owned land in Sumatra that were detected by satellites.
In some cases, he said, there were Indonesians squatting on estate land belonging to the Malaysian companies.
Sometimes, the people who live within the boundaries of these estates may have started the fires, he said.
Chin said the Government had to accept the Malaysian companies word that they did not start any fire, until the Indonesians can provide proof to the contrary.
If they are guilty, we will let them face the full force of the Indonesian law, he said.
Earlier in Seremban, Chin said there were a total of 24 companies owned by Malaysians operating in Sumatra and Kalimantan, mostly in the oil palm industry.
He also suggested that the Indonesian government conduct cloud seeding in Riau as a temporary measure to reduce the effects of the haze.
In Kuala Lumpur, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar called on Asean member countries to put in place a regional action plan to tackle the annual haze problem.
He said the existing Asean Transboundary Haze Pollution Control Agreement was ineffective because there was no mechanism to prevent haze from recurring.
If we take action only when the situation turns ugly, it will affect the co-operation within Asean.
We know it is going to happen again, so we need to put in place the necessary mechanisms to stop it, he told reporters after opening an international humanitarian law seminar.
He said the December summit of Asean Foreign Ministers in Kuala Lumpur would discuss the setting up of an action plan because the issue requires political will and commitment.