Indonesia is punishing more than 20 companies in an unprecedented move for starting deadly forest fires that killed 19 people, a government official said yesterday.
Three companies have been shut down permanently after having their licenses revoked over their role in the blazes that choked vast expanses of southeast Asia with acrid haze and cost Indonesia US$16 billion.
It is the first time the government has revoked company licenses over forest fires, an annual occurrence caused by slash-and-burn land clearance.
The Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry also froze the operations of 14 companies and said they face closure if they do not meet the government’s demands over fire prevention.
Several other companies have been given a strong warning and are to be put 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,” ministry official Kemal Amas said.
The ministry has been investigating 276 companies in total since the fires broke out in September.
“We need firmer law enforcement so that this catastrophe does not repeat itself. It has been going on for 18 years, but nobody has learned their lesson,” Amas said.
Amas said the ministry was also working hard to restore the forests and farmland destroyed in the fires.
Campaigners welcomed the government’s new commitment to punish firms.
The Indonesian Forum for Environment said it was unheard of for the government to revoke licenses, as many companies previously avoided facing trial.
“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,” Kurniawan said.
“In the past, some people were named suspects, but for them to actually lose their licenses, this is the first time,” he said.
More than a half-million people suffered acute respiratory infections in Indonesia because of the haze, while many in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia also fell ill.
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