Minister concerned over allegations of burning on land linked to ‘respected’ Malaysian companies

Asia World

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s Minister of Primary Industries Teresa Kok expressed concern on Friday (Sep 13) over a statement released by Indonesian authorities regarding the sealing of land owned by subsidiaries of four Malaysian plantation companies.

Fire was said to be raging on the properties, contributing to haze in the region.

“I am very concerned regarding the statement from the Indonesian authorities that they have sealed off land belonging to the subsidiaries of four major Malaysian owned oil palm plantation companies.

“This was due to fires that were said to be raging on these properties.

“This is a very serious accusation indeed.” 

READ: Death toll rises as millions in Indonesia suffer from raging forest fires

Kok’s statement came after Indonesia’s Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar was quoted as saying that several palm oil companies believed to have been responsible for the Indonesia forest fires were subsidiaries of Malaysian groups. 

The government was said to have sealed off plantations operated by at least 30 companies and brought criminal charges against four. 

Kok said the four that were linked to Malaysian companies were “among the most respected oil palm cultivators” that had prescribed to and adopted certified sustainable cultivation practices. 

“Those familiar with the industry will vouch for the fact that an act of open burning such as the current accusations would result in the cessation of their certification status not only in Indonesia but throughout their operations including in Malaysia. 

READ: More people fall sick as haze worsens in Malaysia

READ: Malaysia sends half a million face masks to haze-hit Sarawak as 409 schools close

“Such actions would be rather counterproductive to their business status,” Kok added. 

The minister said she had reached out to the companies and “can state that they too will cooperate with the authorities to correct this accusation and put matters right quickly”. 

She said she would speak to her Indonesian counterpart as well and hoped to resolve the matter “quickly and amicably”. 

The haze has caused a diplomatic spat between Malaysia and Indonesia, after Malaysia sent the latter a diplomatic note last Friday requesting immediate action against the forest fires in Indonesia, as air quality deteriorated in parts of Sarawak

Malaysian deputy climate change minister Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis had said that satellite images showed more than 1,000 hotspots in Indonesia at the time, compared to just 17 in Malaysia. 

“Cross-border haze is the main cause of smog shrouding the country,” she said. 

This drew a rebuttal from Siti Nurbaya, who issued a press statement urging Malaysia to be transparent about its own forest fires. 

“The Indonesian government has been systematically trying to resolve this to the best of its ability. Not all smog is from Indonesia,” she said.  

In her statement, Kok also voiced concern that the accusation would play into the hands of those campaigning against palm oil.

“Both Malaysia and Indonesia as major palm oil producers could end up as the ultimate losers,” she said.

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