Up to Jakarta to probe plantation giants over open burning, says Yeo

A fire rages in a plantation near Rambutan village, in Ogan Ilir, South Sumatra. (AFP pic.)

PUTRAJAYA: The government today said Indonesia has full power to investigate the four Malaysian plantation companies which have been accused of carrying out open burning and contributing to the haze affecting the region.

Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin also said that according to media reports, there are many more Indonesian companies that are involved in open burning.

“We believe the Indonesian government should do whatever is necessary to investigate and take action against whoever is proven to be acting against the law,” she told reporters on the sidelines of a special Cabinet meeting here.

“Indonesia has full power to enforce their law on their land.”

The Cabinet meeting, held at the Prime Minister’s Office, discussed the “Shared Prosperity Vision” theme of the government’s second year in power. Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad chaired the three-hour meeting.

Raging fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan over the past month have led to cross-border haze, resulting in Indonesia sending thousands of security personnel to douse the flames.

Yesterday, Reuters quoted 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.

She said Indonesian authorities had since sealed off land belonging to subsidiaries of Sime Darby Plantation, IOI Corporation, TDM Bhd and Kuala Lumpur Kepong Group.

Asked if the four companies will be called to explain, Yeo said “it has to be enforced in Indonesia”.

She said this was because Asean countries did not have a transboundary haze Act, so the decision to spearhead enforcement efforts still lay with the respective countries.

In an immediate reaction, Sime Darby Plantation Berhad denied that a plantation owned by its subsidiary had been sealed off by Indonesian authorities.

The company said that as of 4pm yesterday, there had not been any action taken by the Indonesian authorities to seal off the operations of PT Sime Indo Agro (PT SIA) for allegedly being involved in open burning.

Sime Darby Plantation clarified that a fire on Sept 3 occurred outside of the operational area of PT SIA, located on land occupied by local communities. This was reported to authorities from the Indonesian ministry of environment and forestry.

In a separate statement, Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd said it would cooperate with the Indonesian authorities in its investigation into forest fires on land owned by a subsidiary, PT Adei Plantation and Industry.

The group confirmed the occurrence of a hotspot area which affected 2.8ha of the 14,400ha estate managed by PT Adei and it happened during an unusually acute dry spell where rain was recorded on only two days out of the last 60.

“At present, 4.25ha, which includes an isolation area, have been sealed off for on-going investigations,” it said.

Yeo said Jakarta was “no longer” trying to blame Putrajaya for causing the haze. She also said Indonesia had yet to accept Malaysia’s offer of help to put out the fires.

She said cloud seeding would be carried out within the next few days in Selangor as air quality had worsened significantly, but only when there were sufficient clouds.

However, cloud seeding was only a temporary relief for the haze, and the main focus was still to put out the fires, she said.

Early this afternoon, “very unhealthy” air quality was recorded in Kuching and Samarahan in Sarawak and Tangkak in Johor.

Thirty-three stations in the country recorded “unhealthy” air pollutant index readings, and 31 recorded “moderate” readings. Only one station recorded “good” air quality.