Jakarta – Indonesian Environment Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja has identified three local firms that cleared land for agriculture through illegal burning, the Jakarta Post newspaper reported on Friday.
Kusumaatamadja told a parliamentary commission on Thursday that satellite data had been used to identify PT Musimas in Medan, North Sumatra, PT Torganda in Riau province and PT Surya Barokah in the Waringin Timor district of Central Kalimantan as offenders.
He could not say what action would be taken against the companies.
"We just investigate companies' activities and report them to related ministries, such as the ministry of agriculture and the ministry of forestry, which have the authority to take action against them," he was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying.
Companies illegally burning forest cover to set up plantations have been identified as the main cause of a haze engulfing large parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan islands, which has affected neighbouring Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia.
The official Antara news agency quoted the minister as saying he was astonished by the actions of the companies.
"This is a disaster. Threats of sanctions without real action have proven ineffective," he said.
Forestry Minister Djamluddin Soeryohadikusumo told a another parliamentary commission on Thursday his ministry had no authority to fight pollution caused by the burning of forests.
"We hope the Environment Minister can take action against the polluter companies under the environment law," he said.
The Jakarta Post quoted Kusumaatmadja as saying poor coordination among ministries was hampering the handling of the haze problem. "It means it is sometimes too late to do anything about the forest burning," he said.
The newspaper quoted a director of PT Musim Mas as denying his company was responsible for the fires as his plantations had been in the planting stage in the last few weeks.
No comments were available from the other companies.
"Forest burning will destroy our seedlings," he said. Under Indonesian law those who burn forests without proper permission can be punished by a maximum jail sentence of 10 years or a fine of 100 million rupiah ($33,000)
Worried by thickening smoke haze that is spreading over large chunks of Southeast Asia, Singapore on Thursday told the ill and elderly to take it easy and stay indoors.
The warning accompanied news that the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which measures air quality, had hit 99 at 7.00 a.m. (2300 GMT Wednesday). The index classifies a level of 101 and above as unhealthy.