In the article, ‘Indonesia's forestry minister axes deal with paper firm over 'irregularities’’ published in The Straits Times on 27 July 2016, it has been reported that ‘Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has vetoed a land management agreement with a member company of pulp and paper company Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL) over irregularities in the way the deal was struck last month.’
This follows reports earlier this year which mentioned that one of APRIL’s suppliers was issued a stern warning by the forestry ministry for fires that occurred in their concession in Riau province.
In a Jakarta Post report dated 19 April 2016, the fires had burned through “rubber and sago plantations belonging to residents as well as an industrial forest belonging to PT Sumatera Riang Lestari (PT SRL), a concession company in Parit Jawa village, Tanjung Kedabu subdistrict, Rangsang Island.” Of the 100 hectares of land burned in Tanjung Kedabu, 30 hectares belonged to PT SRL. PT SRL is an affiliate company of APRIL.
APRIL’s errant environmental practices were further highlighted when the Eyes of the Forest published an investigative report on PT SRL in February 2011. (Link to report)
The report states that PT SRL in its ‘Blok Rupat concession had destroyed habitat of protected Ramin species (Gonystylus sp) that internationally protected since 2003 by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).’ Besides this, there were other concerns such as the threat to mangrove and peatland ecosystems due to natural forest clearing by PT SRL.
This raises interesting questions for the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), doesn’t it?
Just last year in October, Supermarket chains NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong announced that they would withdraw all paper products sourced from Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP), after the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) said it has instituted a temporary restriction on the use of the “Singapore Green Label” certification for the Indonesian firm's products.
If SEC has blocked off APP’s use of the Green Label due to the alleged involvement in the haze pollution, should we not be expecting the SEC to do the same for APRIL especially in the light of what’s transpired of late?
A check on the SEC website shows that APRILs PaperOne products are still certified under the Singapore Green Labelling Scheme, despite the company being targeted by the Indonesian government, media and NGOs.
In fact, SEC renewed the Green Label for PaperOne on 16 March this year.
Hence, the lack of impartiality by the SEC, which has numerous government officials on its Board, including two Members of Parliament, is clearly worrying and disturbing considering the fact that it is one of the most established environmental NGOs in Singapore and the region.
The SEC needs to be impartial and explain to the public why has it not taken any form of action or sanctioned the company since they are in the limelight for all the wrong reasons from an environmental perspective.
More importantly, how credible then is the Singapore Green Label, since it continues to companies like APRIL, and not demand action and for them to show cause, especially since the company has an office located in Singapore, which is helmed by Mr Bey Soo Khiang, who was formerly Singapore’s Chief of Defence Force from 1995 to 2000.
TOC has written to the Commissioner of Charity about an earlier allegation about a conflict of interest by the SEC chairman on 25 April 2015 and also how SEC has since removed its financial reports from its website. There has been no reply from the Commissioner till today.