Anti-haze soil tests planned


JAKARTA: Indonesia plans to conduct soil tests to identify plantation companies suspected to have cultivated oil palm, pulp wood or other crops on land after using slash-and-burn techniques to clear it.

Authorities will target the concessions sealed off by the Environment and Forestry Ministry between last month and this month.

These belong to 51 companies –14 of which are foreign-affiliated – and one individual.

“Their existing crops might be on land that they had cleared by burning, say a year or five years ago. Traces of that would still be there,” said the ministry’s law enforcement director-general Rasio Ridho Sani.

“We spoke to our legal counsel and various experts on our plan to go about doing this,” he said during a talk show in Jakarta yesterday.

Last week, Jakarta charged that errant plantation companies had resorted to the slash-and-burn method for clearing land to make way for new plantings, a far cheaper way to do so as opposed to utilising excavators and hiring labour, which would have cost seven million rupiah (RM2,071) per hectare.

Rasio said his ministry could impose administrative sanctions, which could mean fines and revoking of business licences; file a civil suit to seek compensation; or pursue a criminal case to send company management to jail.

Administrative sanctions, Rasio said, were the quickest way to deal with the problem as there was no need to wait for a court ruling.

Filing suits before a district court, whether civil or criminal, would mean a lengthier process.

Even if the government lost the case, it would affect the firms’ credibility in the eyes of their creditors, partners and customers, said Rasio.

He pledged to step up law enforcement by working with local leaders – regents, city mayors and provincial governors – in fire-prone regions.

Local authorities also issue permits for the running of plantations and therefore have the right to monitor the firms and apply penalties.

Rasio told The Straits Times yesterday that a few Singapore-affiliated and Malaysian firms were among the 14 foreign-affiliated ones whose concessions were affected by fires.

The Indonesian government had earlier named one Singapore-affiliated firm – Hutan Ketapang Industri, a West Kalimantan rubber plantation subsidiary of another Indonesian firm, Sungai Menang, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s Sampoerna Agro. — The Straits Times/ANN
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