The impact of the forest fires is back and taking some casualties! In Palembang, there were three infants died of thick haze. They were Latifah Ramadhani, Muhammad Husin Sahputra, and Arika Fatinah Ramadhani. Some time ago, seven students in Pontianak fainted due to suffocation. The school was forced to dismiss the teaching and learning activities in view of the dangerous air pollution.
Land and forest fires have resulted in severe smog, damage to ecosystems and the environment, as well as material losses worth trillions of rupiah due to the disruption of economic activities and environmental restoration. This case is more often caused by human factors, mainly related to changes in land use, which apply the method of slash-and-burn because it is considered more efficient and easier.
Based on police data per 12 October 2015, 218 of 244 reports related to the crime of forest and land fires have been included in the investigation stage. Of the 218 investigations, there were 113 cases involving individuals and 48 cases involving corporations. From 12 companies named as suspects, some of them are Malaysians, Singaporeans, and Chinese. On the other hand, these conditions also encouraged the Commission IV of the House of Representatives to urge the government to establish the status of land and forest fires as a national disaster. However, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry thought that it was unnecessary considering the main perpetrators of land and forest fires are human, not natural disaster. However, the environmental factors such as prolonged drought and El Nino, contributed to the condition.
Looking at the case of land and forest fires as well as its main causes, and considering that this is not a new issue, the government and all relevant authorities should address this issue more carefully and swiftly. Constraints such as sectoral ego, limited human resources, finance, decentralization dilemma and the division of authority, as well as coordination within the authorized bureaus should have been resolved a long time ago for the government to be more responsive in tackling the problem at various levels. To discover the main perpetrators of land and forest fires should be the top priority for the government to play its role with the firm hands in terms of law enforcement, indiscriminately. When strong evidence is found, then it is obligatory for the government through law enforcement to ensure that the perpetrators to be held responsible before the justice system.
It also the role of government in the perspective of liberalism to ensure that the law is enforced fairly as possible, besides protecting the responsible freedom of the various parties. Thus, the urge from the Commission IV to make the smog as a national disaster should be scrutinized. Not with the intention of making the government to let go of its responsibility of the problem that occurred. With the division of the central government and local government, as well as examine existing conditions, as well as evidence from law enforcement agencies, the government should immediately move swiftly to tackle the problem of polluting fires, in addition to working with local communities as well as through foreign aid. On the other hand, it should be noted, the law must be enforced, whoever the perpetrators are!
Though it is established as a national disaster in order to hasten efforts to reduce the smog as a whole, it does not mean the legal process should stop and the responsible parties go unpunished! The legal process should continue to run because their actions have hurt many parties in various aspects including material losses, even loss of life and environmental damage, which threatens a healthy environment for the people. Law enforcement agencies must be convinced by the evidence they obtained and firmly follow it up through the legal process that is transparent and accountable. The perpetrators of pollution fires, both individuals and corporations, both domestic and foreign, should take full responsibility in accordance with the violations they have committed.
There should be no further casualties as a result of land and forest fires! Preventive action should be the main thing that is implemented to all stakeholders for the use of land and forest. To promote and run synergistic coordination on this matter, collective efforts to maintain and preserve the environment, as well as strict sanctions on the violation on the use of forest and land should be on the agenda of the government and law enforcement agencies, as well as relevant stakeholders both at central and local levels. There must be a collective willingness to learn from previous experience to be able to prevent land and forest fires a problem to occur in the future. Public policy attention to the environmental impact should be the primary account in the policy process.
Although the human factor is the main cause of land and forest fires, it does not mean that we are against economic freedom and should restrict it. Economic freedom is absolutely necessary in development. However, it is important to keep in mind that economic freedom must be followed and guaranteed by strict law enforcement, which is clear, and consistent, and not selective. It is very important to ensure that economic freedom and development are conducted responsibly and in consideration of various impacts, including the impact on the environment.
Adinda Tenriangke Muchtar is Chief Editor of Suara Kebebasan. She is also Executive Board Chairperson of Yayasan Kebebasan Indonesia (Indonesian Freedom Foundation) and Executive Director of a public policy think-tank based in Jakarta, The Indonesian Institute, Center for Public Policy Research (TII). Adinda completed her Ph.D. in Development Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand (2018) with scholarship from NZAID. Adinda earned Master of International Studies from The University of Sydney (2003) with scholarship from AusAID and Bachelor of Social Science from International Relations Department, FISIP University of Indonesia (2001). Her focus of interests are development and public policy, democracy and good governance, women’s empowerment, and international aid. Adinda can be reached at email: email@example.com and twitter @tenriangke.