Malaysian plantations ‘targeted’ by Indonesia over haze, says oil palm exec

Indonesian firefighters are seen battling a fire at a peatland forest in Ogan Ilir, South Sumatra, due to the dry season which had worsened in recent weeks. (AFP pic)

HO CHI MINH: A senior executive of a major oil palm plantation has cast doubts on the accusation by Indonesian authorities that deliberate open burning by subsidiaries of Malaysian plantations has contributed to the haze currently affecting the region.

Speaking to FMT, the executive, who declined to be named, said this was not the first-time Malaysian companies were being blamed for the haze.

“Indonesian authorities have purposely targeted companies belonging to high-profile Malaysian plantation companies.”

The source said foreign-operated plantations in Indonesia faced greater scrutiny from the authorities than locally-owned entities and more often too.

“The Malaysian plantations would not dare dream of harming their brand and values. These are also the big plantations with verified track records, subscribing to sustainability certification systems and they have taken years to build up their brands.

“They would be foolish to even think of breaking the law, let alone do so.”

He said this after Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok voiced reservations yesterday that the four Malaysian plantations named by Indonesia would have risked their sustainability certification statuses by committing open burning.

Yesterday Reuters reported Indonesia’s Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar as saying Malaysia had not painted an objective picture of the fires in her country which had led to haze in the region, as the fires were also raging on Malaysian-owned plantations in Indonesia.

Indonesian authorities have sealed off land belonging to subsidiaries of Sime Darby Plantations, IOI Corporation, TDM Bhd and Kuala Lumpur Kepong Group.

The source acknowledged that fires might be taking place on land owned by the subsidiaries of Malaysian plantations, but this did not mean they were committing open burning.

“Some plantations in Indonesia are on peatland, which are more prone to fires when the weather is hot and dry. There are also fires which start from open burning outside the concession areas and which then spread to the plantations.”

Kok had said she would speak to her Indonesian counterpart in a bid to resolve the issue quickly and amicably.

She also said the four companies would cooperate with Indonesian authorities to correct the accusations levelled against them.

Separately, on the sidelines of the Malaysia-Vietnam Palm Oil Trade Fair & Seminar (POTS) here yesterday, Kok said she hoped representatives from both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments could meet soon.

“We can examine any available evidence in a non-biased manner and find ways to prevent this from spreading and becoming more serious.

“Malaysia also currently chairs the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOC) and we will definitely be raising this issue (in that forum),” she said.

Raging fires throughout part’s of Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands over the past month have led to cross-border haze, resulting in the republic sending thousands of security personnel to douse the flames.

It has been reported that Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is writing to Indonesian President Joko Widodo to raise his concerns about the haze problem.