Government wins another forest fire court case, but enforcement remains a problem

Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry has recently won another court case against a company accused of starting forest fires, The Jakarta Post Online reported on Thursday.

The South Jakarta District Court on Tuesday found palm oil company, PT Waringin Agro Jaya (WAJ) guilty of starting a forest fire to clear land in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra. The company was ordered to pay Rp466.5 billion ($35 million) in compensation and rehabilitation cost.

The fine was however lower than the ministry had demanded – Rp754 billion.

The ministry welcomed the court’s decision, said Bambang Hero Saharjo, forest expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture who also served as an expert witness for the government in the case.

WAJ attorney M. Sidik Latuconsina said the company would appeal against the verdict.

The latest ruling adds to a string of government’s victories in cases relate to forest fires. The Supreme Court in November found PT Merbau Pelawan Lestart guilty of illegally clearing forest in Pelalawan regency, Riau, from 2004 to 2006. It was a landmark court ruling as the pulp and paper company was ordered to pay Rp 16 trillion in fines, the highest in any case of environmental destruction in the nation’s history.

However, enforcing the court’s rulings remains a big problem as none of the companies found guilty have paid fines or compensation.

The ministry’s law enforcement director-general Rasio Ridho Sani admitted it takes time for verdicts to be enforced as the ministry has to wait for the official record of the verdict to be available, which can take months to more than a year.

Moreover, he pointed out that there is no standard operating procedure folr the enforcement of forest-related rulings. The ministry is pushing for the Supreme

Court to issue a regulation on its judges to help with the enforcement of penalties.