Govt investigates hundreds of businesses over haze

In total, there are 276 suspected business entities. Some are not yet identified as they turned out to be cooperatives and HGU (land title for industrial purposes) business holders.
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government is now investigating a total of 276 business entities suspected to have caused forest fires which create haze that shrouds Sumatra, Kalimantan, Singapore and Malaysia over the past few days.

The investigation of the 276 business entities, including private companies, cooperatives and other land business title holders, is carried out by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (LHK).

"In total, there are 276 suspected business entities. Some are not yet identified as they turned out to be cooperatives and HGU (land title for industrial purposes) business holders," Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said in Pekanbaru, Riau provincial capital, on Saturday night.

She said some 147 of them were now under examinations process by the National Land Agency (BPN) because they were outside the forest areas.

"But in terms of environment, the likelihood of their violation is strong. I think they have caused damage to the environment because they burnt land," Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said.

She said that after the identification process and found the companies profiles, her ministry would field 70 environment officials, 116 forestry ecosystem supervisors and 40 forest police personnel.

"They will be trained and be deployed simultaneously to the field to check and assess the companies to decide the level of their violation. The companies will then receive light or heavy punishment. Surely, there is the possibility for the companies to have their business frozen," Siti Nurbaya said.

She said most of the entities were palm oil companies whose permits were issued by district heads. The minister said in revealing the fact, she had no intention to pinpoint who was wrong but to emphasize that companies receiving licenses should continue to be monitored.

Therefore, the minister hoped the forest fire cases would soon be settled, even before the end of the year. She is prepared to be pressured if the case remains unresolved at the end of 2015.

"I want this problem to be settled before the yearend. If not resolved, you may yell at me," Minister Nurbaya said.

She said besides Riau, forest fires were found mostly in South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan. "South Sumatra, Central and West Kalimantan are as if competing each other in creating haze. Haze in Riau Province has started since November but it is manageable. Therefore, I decided to handle Riau haze mostly through a phone call with the governor and officials of the Technical Units," she said.

Up to Friday, September 18, due to haze, three provinces have been declared to be in the emergency response status by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), namely the provinces of Riau, Jambi and Central Kalimantan.

South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan provinces were still in the emergency alert status.

Chief of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Willem Rampangilei has set a target of one month to extinguish forest fires that have blanketed South Sumatra Province in haze.

The deadline is in accordance with instructions from President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), Rampangilei said on Friday.

Starting Sept 11, the agency has intensified efforts to put out forest and plantation fires in South Sumatra.

According to Vice President Jusuf Kalla, the government is all out in putting out forest fires and overcoming the haze problem.

"The government is making all efforts to overcome haze. The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) is also involved in providing assistance on humanitarian and health aspects. It distributes face masks and other assistance," Kalla said after attending a fun walk held at the Hotel Indonesia Traffic Circle to observe the 70th anniversary of PMI on Sunday.

The Vice President said that the government had made attempts to put out forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra through technical efforts in the field. Thousands of military personnel are also mobilized to put out the fires.

Some 2,909 military and police personnel have been deployed in stages to help put out the fires on Kalimantan and Sumatra islands. In Sumatras Riau Province, the worst hit by haze, the Indonesian Military (TNI) deployed 1,250 soldiers after President Joko Widodo declared a state of emergency.

Earlier, on Sept. 11, some 1,059 military personnel were sent to South Sumatra, which had also been hit by wildfires.

According to Kalla, who is also the general chairman of PMI, the Red Cross provided assistant from the humanitarian aspect.

"Humanitarian problems are increasingly bigger in line with the dynamism of us all. There are people who become toll of natural disasters, humanitarian victims and other problems. All become parts of our tasks, such as haze, to overcome it," he said.

Kalla said the PMI is providing assistance for haze victims by, among others, distributing face masks to residents.

The executive chairman of PMI, Ginandjar Kartasasmita, said PMI had distributed thousands of face masks to residents affected by the haze in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

He pointed out that PMI planned to coordinate with the BNPB to take more active part in assisting the people who are affected by haze.

The haze that affected several parts of Indonesia in recent weeks has caused 22,535 people to develop upper tract respiratory infection.

"The number of people suffering from upper tract respiratory infection reached 22,535 as of September 11, 2015.

The figure is likely to increase as haze caused by forest fires still continues," Health Minister Nila F Moeloek said meanwhile.(*)