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article imageIndonesia to punish companies for 2015 wildfires — Is it enough?

By Karen Graham     Dec 22, 2015 in Environment
Indonesia has taken the unusual step of punishing over 20 companies for starting forest fires in 2015 that caused the death of 19 people, resulting in billions of dollars in environmental damages, and endangering the health of millions of people.
A government official said on Tuesday that three companies had been shut down permanently, their licenses revoked over their role in the forest fires that created an environmental disaster that endangered the health of millions of people.
This is the first time that the government has ever revoked licenses of companies for starting forest fires, an annual occurrence caused by the use of slash-and-burn land clearance that has been going on for decades.
The Environmental Ministry also froze operations for 14 companies, and those operations will stay frozen unless they agree to meet the government's demands for fire prevention. Several other companies were given warnings and will be under close supervision.
"We have sanctioned 23 companies in total, ranging from administrative sanctions to license revocation, while 33 others are still in the process, they could have their licenses revoked too if they are found guilty," environment ministry official Kemal Amas told AFP.
The Environmental Ministry now has 276 companies under investigation since the fires broke out in September this year. According to a story in Digital Journal on Oct. 20, researchers calculated that over 100,000 fires had been detected at that time.
"We need firmer law enforcement so that this catastrophe does not repeat itself, it's been going on for 18 years, but nobody has learned their lesson," Mr. Amas said. He added that the government was working hard to restore forests and farmland destroyed by the fires.
Campaigner Kurniawan Sabar, with the Indonesian Forum for Environment, said, "The Minister has the courage to not only freeze the companies' operation but also chase the owners in a civil case, this is great and this must be guarded carefully. In the past, some people were named suspects, but for them to actually lose their licenses, this is the first time."
The BBC is reporting that while the names of the companies have not been released, the initials and general location of 30 of the 56 companies being punished have been published. One of the companies has been confirmed as being foreign-owned while another is a supplier to the world's largest paper and pulp producers, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP).
Asia Pulp and Paper has 14 major companies in Indonesia and China and has a current annual combined pulp, paper, and packaging-grade capacity of more than 18 million tons per year. They market their products in over 120 countries around the world, according to Bloomberg.
There is still a great deal of concern about the fires starting up again when the rainy season ends in March 2016. Experts are saying not enough has been done to head off the risks. Not only that but Indonesia has a problem with land politics that allow "strong, powerful people" to benefit from the burning, says Reuters. It does make one wonder just how serious the government is in imposing its punishments.
More about indonesia forest fires, over 20 companies, slash and burn clearance, $16 billion, prevention and early warning
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