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Jokowi hints at company crackdown as Kalimantan residents prepare haze class action suit

  • Residents in West Kalimantan have banded together to file a lawsuit against the government over pollution.
  • Jokowi has said companies need to take “greater responsibility.”
  • An Indonesian resort plans to offer “more underwater activities” to manage the impact of annual pollution from fires and hotspots.

International efforts to contain fires and underground hotspots across Indonesia continued on Wednesday as the minister in charge of the archipelago’s anti-haze operation called for 15 more aircraft to join the air operation. In West Kalimantan, 46 complainants have joined in a class action lawsuit against the government.

“The right to a decent environment and healthy life is a basic right,” Sulistiono, the chairman of the plaintiffs, told Mongabay. “It is in the state’s interest to ensure the realization of the constitutional mandate to protect all citizens and the homeland of Indonesia.”

Schools in Palangkaraya and other parts of Central Kalimantan remained closed on Tuesday. The city government said it had released 1.5 billion rupiah ($109,000) in additional funding since declaring a state of emergency, some of which has gone directly to the police. Flights in several parts of Kalimantan and Papua remain subject to delays and cancellation.

In perhaps the strongest sign yet that the Indonesian government’s patience is wearing increasingly thin with the governance of some companies, the minister in charge of the haze operation and the country’s police chief both publicly criticized Sinar Mas, the parent company of Asia Pulp & Paper.

“There are fires in a Sinar Mas concession that are close to sources of water,” said Badrodin, the police chief. “Why can’t they put out the fires? We are talking about thousands of liters of water near the location of fires. They should not rely too heavily on us.”

Indonesia's haze is shown via NASA satellite imagery.
Indonesia’s haze is shown via NASA satellite imagery.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo told Indonesia’s state-owned Antara news agency that companies need to boost their firefighting capacity.

“Companies need to take responsibility and ensure they have the means to handle fires,” the president said. “It cannot be that we have been on fire for 18 years and yet we are still dealing with the same problem.”

Air quality was back in the unhealthy range on Monday and Tuesday, while Malaysian officials were assessing whether this weekend’s Moto GP in Kuala Lumpur would go ahead as scheduled. Singapore has launched a total of 47 water-bombing operations and says it has “put out” 35 hotspots.

Singapore’s education ministry is working with the health ministry and environment agency on revised education guidelines amid haze following a petition by a parent. The petition calls on the education ministry to ensure adequate filtration in classrooms, educate children in the correct use of N95 face masks and conduct non-essential lessons via e-learning.

The Association of Indonesian Forest Concessionaires (APHI) said on Tuesday it had lobbied the government to provide assistance to the Indonesian companies being sued under Singapore’s transboundary pollution law.

“This should be helped by diplomacy,” APHI’s vice chairman said. “Don’t let the companies be subjected to this alone.”

Smoke from wildfires settles in the city of Pontianak in West Kalimantan last month. Photo by Andi Fachrizal

As Indonesian and Singaporean armies began an annual 12-day joint military exercise, former Singaporean ambassador to Indonesia Barry Desker writes that relations between the two countries could be tested.

“Underlying the approach of many Indonesian policymakers is the belief that Singapore has no natural resources and benefits from exploiting Indonesia,” Desker writes. “The self-image is that of Indonesia as a pretty girl courted by everyone at the party.”

Elsewhere, a major 328-hectare “eco-resort” in Indonesia, which will be accessible only by boat from Singapore when it opens next year, claimed it would manage the impact of smoke next year by planning “more underwater activities which will not be affected by haze.

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