Haze on Depot Road on 26 August 2016( Source : Hemanchong Instagram account).

Palm oil plantations belonging to a Singapore company sealed off by Indonesian Govt

It was reported that air quality in Singapore hit unhealthy levels on last Saturday (14 Sep) with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) went beyond the 100 mark at 4pm. This is the first time since August 2016 that the 24-hour PSI reading has reached the unhealthy level. In the western part of Singapore, the PSI was reported to have even hit close to 120.

NEA advised that people – especially children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with heart or lung conditions – should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor activities. Those who are not feeling well should seek medical attention, it added.

The air quality worsened as smoke haze from Sumatra was being blown towards Singapore and Malaysia. NEA said, “Moderate to dense smoke haze from persistent hotspots in Riau and Jambi has been blown by the prevailing winds to affect Singapore and the southern parts of Peninsular Malaysia.”

Indonesian government vows to punish errant palm oil companies

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government said yesterday that it vowed to pursue criminal charges against companies involved in open burning as it sealed off a number of plantations amid worsening haze in the region. Some of the plantations sealed off belong to subsidiaries of Malaysian groups and one Singaporean firm, after fires were detected in their concessions.

The Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry’s director-general for law enforcement Rasio Ridho Sani told the media that apart from levying criminal charges, the Indonesian government would be taking other steps against any errant companies found to have illegally involved in open burning. He said not only would their operational permits be revoked, they would also have to pay compensation for the burning and restoration of ravaged areas.

The authorities have identified four companies as suspects and are in the process of identifying individuals responsible for the fires, Mr Rasio said. Investigations would also be carried out against the companies whose plantations were sealed off, he added.

The Singapore firm whose plantations were currently being sealed off has been reported to be Sampoerna Agri Resources Pte Ltd, which is located at Haw Par Center along Clemenceau Avenue, according to Bloomberg.

In fact, Sampoerna Agri Resources Pte Ltd is owned by the Indonesian Putera Sampoerna family. It operates the palm oil plantations through a listed subsidiary in Indonesia, PT Sampoerna Agro Tbk.

According to information on LinkedIn, PT Sampoerna Agro Tbk together with its multitude of subsidiary companies is one of the leading producers of palm oil and palm kernel in Indonesia. The Company is also one of the few oil palm seed producers in Indonesia.

Forbes listed Mr Putera Sampoerna and his family as the 13th richest in Indonesia with a net worth of US$1.75 billion as at the end of last year.

Family fortune from selling cigarettes

Mr Putra Sampoerna is the tobacco heir to the cigarette empire established by his grandfather Liem Seeng Tee, who is also known as the cigarette king of Indonesia. Liem left the Fujian province in China in 1898. At 11, he sold food to railroad passengers and became a waiter serving in rail cars.

After he got married, Liem started blending and rolling cigarettes. He and his wife later bought a stall from where they sold snacks and cigarettes. In 1916, the couple had saved enough to buy tobacco products from a trader, adding chocolate and spices like cloves into the mix. Their tobacco became popular as the kretek (clove) variety.

In the 1930s, Liem adopted the Indonesian name Sampoerna (cf. sempurna) meaning “perfection” as his family name. During this time he also established a factory to produce his cigarettes. After Liem died in 1956, his son Aga Sampoerna took over and the cigarette business continued to expand.

Two decades later, the company was handed over to Aga’s son Putera. In 2005, the family decided to sell their 95 percent share to tobacco giant Philip Morris for US$1.4 billion. Today, the family has investments in agriculture, finance, telecom and timber. And of course, palm oil plantations are some of the key assets of the family.