KUALA LUMPUR: INDONESIA, having bore the brunt of criticism over the haze enveloping its neighbours Malaysia and Singapore, is set to lay down the law on those responsible for the annual phenomenon.

The republic is expected to haul up more than 200 plantation and forestry companies to court next month over the roles they played in causing the smog via illegal land clearing methods, which included slashing and burning.

Speaking to the New Straits Times yesterday, Indonesian Ambassador to Malaysia Herman Prayitno said Indonesia’s ongoing investigation into errant companies linked to the haze would most likely be completed in October.

The likelihood of these companies being charged in court and paying a heavy penalty, he said, was high.

“We are taking this seriously. Those who have broken the law will face stern action as time and again, we have reminded them to refrain from slashing and burning. Even the number (of companies investigated) may increase.”

Prayitno said more companies may face suspension and criminal proceedings. However, he said, Indonesia was not at liberty to disclose their identities.

On how many more companies out of the 200 investigated would face a similar fate as the four firms that were suspended on Tuesday over illegal land-clearing practices, he said “investigations are still ongoing”.

On Tuesday, it was reported that four companies had their operations suspended for allegedly contributing to the haze.

Three oil palm plantation companies had their permits frozen while one forestry company had its licence revoked.

All the companies were Indonesian-owned while a Singapore-owned company was also under probe.

Prayitno said one Malaysian company was among more than 200 companies being probed. However, he could not divulge further information.

Among the penalties include suspension of operations, revocation of land permits and jail time.

On whether Indonesia would seek cooperation from Malaysia and Singapore to develop long-term
solutions, Prayitno said Asean was
a good platform to discuss the
issue.

“Indonesia is able to handle this, but if we do need the help of our Malaysian and Singaporean counterparts, we will ask, and perhaps, work together. However, we are working via the Asean platform and I believe we can do it. Hopefully, this will not happen again in the years to come,” Prayitno said.

He said, in the future, Indonesia would have an obligation of due diligence to prevent private parties within its territory, jurisdiction or control from causing transboundary environmental harm to other states or areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

“Our government will also have an obligation to punish the perpetrators of wrongful conduct if harm is occasioned,” he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican said the ministry has yet to receive word on the Malaysian companies linked to the haze situation.

“Our companies operating in Indonesia are subject to local laws and regulations. If legal action is taken against them, our embassy and consulate in Indonesia will provide necessary assistance,” he said.

Reezal said no protest note was sent to Indonesia on the situation as Malaysia wants to resolve such issues through consultation and cooperation in the Asean spirit.

Previously, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk
Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar had proposed a bilateral meeting to discuss among others, the haze situation.

However, the meeting, initially scheduled for Sept 25 in Jakarta, was postponed to a later date at Indonesia’s request.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, during his recent working visit to Jakarta, had also raised the haze issue with Indonesian vice-president Jusuf Kalla.