Legislators to probe case closure of Riau forest fires

EoF News / 02 September 2016
Police billboard in burned conservation area (forest) inside APP’s timber main supplier PT Arara Abadi in Tesso Nilo landscape, Pelalawan district. Photo ©Eyes on the Forest, October 2015

On a development of controversial case closure of 15 corporations in Riau, House of Representatives would set up a working committee to tackle the case drop of 15 corporations by inviting related sides in a hearing next week.

“Given any incorrect process by releasing SP3 [warrant to drop cases] we will recommend the decision to be lifted and the cases can be proceeded again,” said Masinton Pasaribu, a speaker from PDI Perjuangan party who was also a member of the working committee, as quoted as saying by BBC Indonesia (1 Sep 2016).

The Riau Police closed the cases in January and Jikalahari revealed the information last month following by protests by NGOs in Riau. Police concluded that there was no evidence that the companies set the fires, people who set the fires were unidentified, the burnt area was coming from outside concession and there was land dispute in the burnt area (Merdeka, 30 Aug).

This week National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian visited burnt areas in Kampar district, Riau. He commented on case closure of 15 companies. “If [the allegations] are proved, [we] will accomplish them, we will back up their legal action,” adding that he still evaluated the Riau Police’s decision in dropping the cases of intentional burning allegations (Tempo.co, 1 Sep 2016).

The Chief supported the Riau Police Chief to take action against any corporation involving in intentional burnings in their concessions. “We will discuss which cases should be handled by National Police Headquarters and which those should be done by Riau Police.”

The 15 companies that cases dropped by the Riau Police are timber suppliers and palm oil plantations that raged by fires in 2015. They companies are: PT Bina Duta Laksana (APP), PT Sumatera Riang Lestari (APRIL), PT Rimba Lazuardi (APRIL), PT Riau Jaya Utama, PT Siak Raya Timber (APRIL), PT Parawira Group (palm oil), PT Bukit Raya Pelalawan (APRIL) PT Ruas Utama Jaya (APP), PT Perawang Sukses Perkasa Industri (APP), PT Alam Sari Lestari (palm oil), PT PAN United (palm oil), PT Suntara Gajapati (APP), PT Hutani Sola Lestari (APRIL), KUD Bina Jaya Langgam (APRIL), and PT Dexter Rimba Perkasa (APP).

Jikalahari urged Police Chief General Tito Karnavian to set up an independent team to probe the cases closure of 15 corporations that ordered by Riau Police. Closed process by the Riau Police to drop cases of 15 companies was suspicious, Jikalahari coordinator Woro Supartinah said last week.

She said that poor law enforcement against culprits of burnings would drive much more forest and bush fires in the near future and case closure of 15 companies would encourage intentional burnings as people and companies had no fear to commit such a crime.  

APP supplier punished

In South Sumatra, an appeal filed by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Palembang high court against Asia Pulp & Paper’s (APP) timber supplier PT Bumi Mekar Hijau was paid off. PT BMH was ordered by the High Court –as they were found guilty-- to pay Rp 76 billion in burnings case of 20,000 hectares of concession in 2015. The ruling that in favor of the Ministry was decided on 12 August. The fine is nearly 1 percent from original lawsuit which is Rp 7,8 trillion that rejected by district court in December last year.

It means the government represented by Ministry of Environment and Forestry won lawsuit at the high court after defeated at district court on 29 December 2015. At that time on a trial in Palembang district court, judges panel presided by Parlas Nababan set PT BMH free from allegation saying no damage caused by the fires of 20,000 hectares of the concession area which sparked controversies in the public.

National Sago Prima

Meanwhile, on 12 August a sago timber supplier in Riau province was ordered by South Jakarta district court to pay a penalty amount to IDR 1.07 trillion as compensation for ecological losses and restoration cost. Minister Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya called the punishment was the highest compensation ever a company ought to pay due to intentional burning verdict.

"This case is not merely to jail someone, but it is also to make people deterrent and so companies will not redo criminal case by burning forest,” said the Ministry’s Director of Law Enforcement Rasio Ridho Sani (Media Indonesia, 14 Aug).

The judges at South Jakarta district court punished PT National Sago Prima, a sago plantation company associated to Sampoerna Agro, who found guilty in setting burning in Meranti Islands district, Riau province, in January – March 2014. 

It is an administrative trial following criminal court in early 2015 as PT NSP was found guilty setting fires of 3,000 hectares area in the concession and the court penalized to the company to pay compensation of ecological losses and restoration cost amount to Rp 2 billion and must provide equipment and facilities for preventing and mitigating fires.

Hotspots number detected in Riau decreased this week following heavy rainfalls throughout the province early this week and improve air quality index. Haze and air quality index worsened last weekend in Pekanbaru as hotspots number peaked in north and east Riau. Thick haze shrouded Dumai city and forced closing of airport, while in Rokan Hilir and Rokan Hulu districts 300 families were evacuated to safe places as their dwellings hit by fires. Thick haze also shrouded Bengkalis district and Duri town in August.