Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan (right) said Indonesia could take China to the International Criminal Court (ICC) if Beijing’s claim to the majority of the South China Sea and part of Indonesian territory is not resolved through dialogue. (Antara Photo/Nova Wahyudi)

Key Indonesian Minister Apologizes for Haze Crisis


NOVEMBER 11, 2015

Jakarta. As the massive haze crisis in Indonesia is winding down with the belated arrival of seasonal rains, a key minister on Wednesday apologized and promised the government would be better prepared next year.

Speaking at a Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club event on Wednesday, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan said the government was aware it would need to "act as early as possible" to keep any fires from growing out of control.

"We apologize for what happened in the past two months," the minister said, speaking in English.

Luhut said he had visited haze-hit areas and sites of burning forests and peatlands recently to witness the scale of the disaster.

He added that the government was determined to punish owners of land where fires were lit and that no more permits would be given out for concessions on peatlands, among other measures.

"Don't worry, we're serious on this," Luhut said.

Fires on peatlands largely burn underground and are very difficult, if not impossible, to extinguish unless firefighting efforts are aided by large amounts of rain. Fires are often lit on purpose to clear land for agriculture.

The seasonal rains arrived later than usual this year to a severe El Nino.

The recent crisis, which not only affected tens of millions of Indonesians but also Singapore and large parts of Malaysia, has been called the "biggest environmental crime of the 21st century."

To prevent a similar haze crisis in the future, Luhut said the government would also be revoking laws currently allowing small-scale farmers to practice slash-and-burn agriculture.

Besides that, major companies would be forced to make sure they can extinguish any fires breaking out in their concessions, the minister added, either by purchasing the necessary equipment or paying for the use of water-bombing aircraft.