It made no sense to accuse large corporations of intentionally setting fires to their own concession as the civil sanctions awaiting them for such acts were too exorbitant for companies to afford, a legal expert on forestry and the environment said.
Sadino, who lectures at a number of private universities in Jakarta, Tangerang, Bandung and Semarang, said that among the three types of sanctions awaiting corporations found intentionally burning part of their concession to clear land — administrative, criminal and civil — the last one was the one most feared by companies.
“The civil suits are the most feared… the values of the lawsuits are fantastic,” Sadino said in an online discussion of forest and ground fires organized by the Indonesian Association of Palm Oil Producers (GAPKI) on Tuesday (16/6.)
Civil Sanction Assures that Companies will not Burn Their Concessions: expert
He said that on average, the sanction awaiting companies that have to take responsibility over fires within their concession stood at Rp 400 million per hectare. If the fires ravage 500 hectares, which was not a rare occurrence in forest and ground fires, companies stood to pay Rp 200 billion. “And what is the value of a plantation per hectare?’ he asked, answering at the same time that it was clearly much less than that.
Sadino took the example of an industrial timber estate company in Riau which recently was sentenced to pay Rp 16.2 in compensation and losses in a civil suit. The company’s assets, he said did not even reach Rp 100 billion, he said, adding that there was no way the company could pay the amount that was decided based on a regulation of the minister of the environment and forestry number 7 of 2014.
Sadino said that for him the law should be rational and thus executable. The current civil suit sanctions, he said, were clearly not.
“Would it be possible for the ministry of environment and forestry to invite the other stakeholders to reformulate the ministerial regulation of the minister of environment and forestry number 7 of 2014?” he asked.
He said that the regulation needed to be reformulated so as to provide some protection for businesses in Indonesia but also to produce more academically accountable compensation and restoration costs.
Under the straight liability concept of Indonesian laws and regulations concerning forest and ground fires, a company has to be held accountable for fires within their concession, regardless whether the fires were intentional, unintentional, natural or spread from beyond their concessions,
Sadino also said that the ministry should also work together with all other stakeholders in preparing a standard operational procedure for cases of forest and ground fires.
“If the company has met that sop and can legally prove it, then it should be deemed to be of good faith so that it would not have to bear absolute responsibility over the fires,” he said
At the present, he said, companies such as palm oil plantation companies would face a civil suit regardless of whether they had met all efforts to prevent and control the fires.
He called on companies to also abide by all requirements set under the law such as the provision of infrastructures, facilities, equipment and competent manpower to anticipate fires and more importantly document everything in writing so as to be able to produce it as proof of compliance in court if needed.
“What is stipulated in terms of facilities and infrastructure must be met, so that they would not be put at fault,” he said.
Meanwhile, addressing the same discussion, Secretary General of the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry, Bambang Hendroyono said that the implementation of the law in cases of forest and land fires was not that rigid and factors such as the company’s compliance to the rules and regulations, the origin or cause of the fire were also considered. But he did not elaborate.
“I think matters such as these are also considered,” he said.
Hendroyono also said that besides complying to all requirements set in the laws and regulations, plantation companies should also map areas within their concession which had a high potential for fires.
He took the example of areas within a concession which had been occupied by local people for a long time, areas still under tenurial or social conflicts with others, or areas designated as high conservation values where the company would not plant.
As the country enters the dry season, President Joko Widodo has issued instruction for all to work hard so that the annual forest and ground fires that have plagued the country for decades no longer happened this year.