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Widodo checks up on efforts to tackle forest blazes in Borneo

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo is heading to Borneo and Sumatra islands to check on efforts to stop forest blazes that are causing pollution across the region.

Widodo checks up on efforts to tackle forest blazes in Borneo

Mr Widodo (front) inspects the aftermath of a fire in Banjarbaru, South Kalimantan province. Photo: Reuters

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo is heading to Borneo and Sumatra islands to check on efforts to stop forest blazes that are causing pollution across the region.

Mr Widodo’s visit comes as his administration faces regional pressure to step up efforts to combat perennial forest burning by cracking down on companies with fires on their concessions. The government yesterday (Sept 22) said it had suspended the permits of three Indonesian palm oil planters, and revoked the permit of a forestry company.

“There are 14 companies that are being investigated by police,” said Mr Fadrizal Labay, the head of forestry and plantations for Sumatra’s Riau islands. “There will be a possibility of criminal and administrative action.”

Mr Widodo, who has set a deadline of two weeks to a month to stop the burning, was slated to speak to fire fighters in southern Kalimantan on Borneo today before heading to Sumatra for two days, his office said in a statement. A pollution gauge in Pontianak in Kalimantan worsened to 779.4 today, double the level considered hazardous.

PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, one of the palm companies named by the government and majority-owned by PT Provident Agro, said on Tuesday it was not responsible for causing any fires and will cooperate with the authorities.

The head of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) backed the country’s palm oil producers, saying producers stand to lose from deliberately lighting forest fires and abide by a “zero burning” policy.

“(Members of Gapki) have implemented sustainability principles,” Mr Joko Supriyono, head of Gapki, told Antara news agency yesterday.

Producers face heavy sanctions and risk having their permits revoked if found to be clearing land through fire, Mr Joko said. Buyers of palm oil products also demand eco-friendly practices.

“It is impossible for companies that have invested trillions of rupiahs to take the risk of having their permits revoked just because they want to save the cost of land clearing,” he said.

Indonesia’s enforcement of its laws against plantation owners is key to resolving the haze issue, Singapore’s Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Friday. 

The smog has led the city-state to cancel outdoor events, and flights have been affected across the region.

Responsibility for the blazes, which also emit greenhouse gases from burning peatland, is complicated by uncertainty over land rights and overlapping permits in a country with widespread official corruption. AGENCIES

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