A picture says a thousand words, says a popular ad from Kodak. George Eastman the founder of the American photo company would have never imaged how far digital photography has gone. Today we can spot changes in the environment and pin-point the causes of the haze to the square meter.
It is therefore difficult to argue for APP not to be held responsible for fires on its properties, of the relationship between PT Bumi Andalas Permai (BAP) and PT Sebangun Bumi Andalas (SBA) Wood Industries.
The questions will only be how much corporate culpability the company is responsible for and were the fires set on the properties set deliberately, in other words, are the fires the result of organized and wide-spread Arson? The Indonesian police thinks so. The national police is prosecuting 235 cases associated with deliberate fire-setting. The fires also is getting the parliamentarians up in arms calling for exposing the companies responsible for the damage. The deliberate setting of fires of state assets is becoming a political watershed moment.
A comparison of recent satellite photos shows on the left a relative healthy eco-system in June 2015. By September of this year, heavy smoke plums rise from the ashes in South Sumatra. The satellite on the right shows the conservation areas in yellow, plantations in red and other agriculture farming fields in brown. The smoke plums can be seen in a light blue trail going across the image starting in the spots between the High Value Conservation areas.
The evidence is clear. Fires are being set at an industrial scale but the reasons are not entirely clear. After all why would a company set fire to its own concessions which was just planted 2 years ago?
To find some answers we travelled to South Sumatra and examined the questions independently and investigate if the allegations made by the NGOs can be proven. This was done with the view in mind that the ecological catastrophe is too large to ignore.
Both companies are located in Air Sugihan subdistrict, Tulung Selapan subdistrict and Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) in South Sumatra, home of Asian Pulp and Paper with its subsidiary Sinar Mas and a vast array of complicated inter connected suppliers and concession holders, which according to Executives of APP are so plentiful making the oversight and compliance with laws difficult.
A few years ago, after a vicious campaign by Greenpeace causing APP losing 80 percent of its U.S. market, the Indonesian giant made a deal with Greenpeace. Phil Radford in an interview on the eve of leaving Greenpeace said, “APP agreed to work with us to change the laws”, a message repeated almost every time an APP executives goes in front of the camera or a message is being put in print. APP is at the mercy of Greenpeace and in an hour-long online interview her public self-flagellation of admitting guilt and pleading mea culpa, the message was somewhat lost. The finger points increasingly towards APP as the corporate culprit.
This is not the first time the NGO points its fingers towards Asian Pulp and Paper. The foreign funded Riau based NGO called Jikalahari pointed to PT Bumi Mekar Hijau and citing satellite data analysis showed hotspots detected on a concession belonging to APP supplier PT Rimba Hutani as early as July this year.The problem is Jikalahari has its own skeletons in the closet with its leadership identified as involved in questionable radical activities.
Greenbury, true to the Greenpeace script calls for better law enforcement and the speedy completion of One Map, a government initiative to produce a comprehensive map of land use and concession boundaries in Indonesia. Earlier, Greenbury added lack of clarity for a land use plan. She said in an interview printed by the pro-NGO Singapore based web-site, eco-business.com, “There is currently no map which provides an authoritative overview of company concessions”.In other words, APP does not know how much land it owns?
If so, it begs the question of APP becoming too big to manage its estates and the government to consider breaking up the company into more manageable sizes improving accountability and transparency.
Greenpeace keeps pretty mum about its relationship with APP. In a rather tame mouse-like statement Greenpeace seems not wanting to challenge APP. Comments made by Rolf Skar in the UK Guardian who said, “We don’t have permanent friends or enemies. The only thing we’re loyal to is the cause. If Kimberly-Clark screws up tomorrow, we’ll be right back at their throats. And they know that. The fact that they’ve survived in a cage with a wild animal for five years means more than some green stamp by another NGO.”
It seems APP was able to tame the wild animal and is able to survive the allegations unscathed with Greenpeace marking time since APP is keep on trying to push Jokowi for policy changes. Seems Greenpeace does indeed has only interests and they are not the environment. In the meantime, the APP concessions burn.
Only after the evidence become overwhelming pointing towards APPs involvement in causing the haze, and its companies are being implicated in the deliberate fire setting, Greenpeace wrote, “The data that we spend indicating the number of fires are most common in the concession Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). This is not surprising.” It was quick to point out that APP is now good people. The wild animal has become a meekly mouse.
Examining the latest fires again shows the fires being set proves the point. Sources interviewed in South Sumatra for this report said that employees set fire to the concessions for a wide range of reasons, such as burning plant seedlings. This hints wide spread fraud within the companies suggesting employees reselling seedlings and failing to meet audits, hence setting fire to the concessions is the cheapest way to eradicate the evidence.
The human costs are being raised as well. If the cause of deaths of children can be proven medically, ie haze related, APP and others will be faced with serious legal liability claims against the companies, impacting the risk rating. Walhi is preparing for civil suits according to media reports.