JAKARTA – Eleven Indonesian agricultural and logging companies still owe the state nearly $1.3 billion in compensation for civil cases in which they were found responsible for causing fires and illegal logging, Greenpeace Indonesia announced on Friday.
The environmental NGO’s investigation focuses on complaints filed against 10 companies between 2012-2015 over forest fires and another case for illegal logging against Merbau Pelalawan Lestari, whose criminal activities took place between 2004-2013.
The fines against Merbau Pelalawan Lestari comprises most of the debt (about $1.15 billion), while two of the other cases are still pending judicial review, NGO sources told EFE.
“By not enforcing these laws the government is sending a dangerous message: company profit comes before law, clean air, health and forest protection,” Arie Rompas, team leader of Greenpeace Indonesia, said in a statement.
“What the government has done is not enough. Because the fines have not been paid yet. As we see, the value of the fines is already quite large. If they are not paid, it does not give a deterrent effect. The companies will not have the desire to pay if the court and the government do not execute the payment,” Arie added.
Of the 10 companies responsible for the fires, eight belong to the palm oil sector, one is a paper company, and another cultivates sago, a starch extracted from palm trees of the same name.
Five of the palm oil companies set fires in 2015, one of the worst years of forest fires in Indonesia in decades.
That year a total of nearly 2.6 million hectares of land were burned on the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Papua, and the fires caused losses valued at $16 billion, according to World Bank data.
The cloud of smoke from the fires affected people in Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore and prompted Indonesian President Joko Widodo to make sure he would punish those responsible.
Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil in the world and one of the largest producers of paper and wood, industries that, together with mining, contribute to deforestation and high emissions of carbon dioxide.