- Plantation companies convicted of causing fires in Indonesia owe the government the equivalent of $233 million in unpaid fines, according to the environment ministry.
- The ministry is pushing courts to enforce their rulings but is facing difficulties on several fronts.
Difficulty tracing the assets of plantation companies convicted in civil court of causing forest and land fires in Indonesia is among the “technical problems” preventing the nation’s environment ministry from collecting 3.4 trillion rupiah ($233 million) in unpaid fines, a ministry official said at a recent panel.
Over the past several years, the environment ministry has sued a handful of companies for deliberately setting fires to clear land in their concessions or negligently allowing them to spread, as President Joko Widodo seeks to crack down on the near-annual fire and haze episodes that blanket swathes of Indonesia and its neighbors in a choking haze. But while courts have ordered more than a dozen firms to pay large fines as a result of the ministry’s lawsuits, enforcing these rulings is another matter, with companies using a variety of legal maneuvers to delay or avoid payment.
In some cases, companies have countersued the ministry or reported investigators to the police for alleged criminal conduct, Yazid Nurhuda, the ministry’s director of criminal litigation, said at the panel, which was organized last month by the Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists.
In one case, Yazid said, ministry officials went to the field in Aceh province to assess the value of a defendant’s oil palm plantation, and were “confronted” by local residents or company employees and forced to withdraw. “Our personnel were limited, so besides danger it was to avoid conflict,” he said.
“There are many considerations and technical problems in the field,” he added.
“Operating in the field is not easy,” he continued. “The first priority is to sue them and win. As soon as we win and file for execution, their assets are calculated. We’re now in the process of tracing their assets so that they can be brought to court for execution.”
Banner: A peatland burns on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.