Named and shamed by Indonesia, KL Kepong denies subsidiary added to haze

Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KL Kepong) today denied its Indonesian subsidiary was involved in slash-and-burn land clearing in the republic that has thrown a blanket of haze over the region, after it was named by an Indonesian official yesterday.

The plantations conglomerate maintained that its subsidiary, PT Adei, dealt primarily with mature, fruit-bearing palms and did not engage in land clearing activities for the purpose of new seedlings.

“KL Kepong wishes to reiterate its adoption of strict zero burning policy. KL Kepong does not subscribe to irresponsible burning practices and is in full compliance with the ASEAN Policy on Zero Burning for its plantations operations in Malaysia and Indonesia,” it was reported as saying by The Star on its website today.

Yesterday, Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya accused Malaysian plantation companies of ordering locals to start the forest fires and shifting the blame onto the republic.

Among the companies involved that Balthasar had reportedly named was PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation, a unit of Minamas Plantation and a subsidiary of Malaysia-based Sime Darby Plantations, one of the world’s largest listed oil palm plantations.

The other plantations named were PT Adei Plantation, owned by KL Kepong, PT Langgam Inti Hibrida, PT Bumi Reksa Nusa Sejati, PT Udaya Loh Denawi, PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa, PT Multi Gambut Industri, and PT Mustika Agro Lestari.

Earlier today, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng urged Putrajaya to verify Balthasar’s claims, saying that the firms named must be sanctioned if they are shown to be involved in the land clearing as alleged.

“If Malaysian plantation companies were proven to have carried out such open burning that had caused the present haze crisis, it can be construed as an act of betrayal to Malaysians and the environment so they should be severely and sternly punished, not only by the Indonesian government but also by the Malaysian government,” the DAP secretary-general said in a statement.

Yesterday, the federal government declared emergencies in Muar and Ledang, both in Johor, after the air pollutant index (API) hit 750 in Muar on Sunday morning.

By official measures, API readings between 51 and 100 are considered “moderate”, while the 101 to 200 range is considered “unhealthy”. Air quality between 201 and 300 is “very unhealthy” while “hazardous” is applied to API scores topping 300.

Southeast Asia’s worst haze crisis took place in 1997-1998, causing widespread health problems and costing the regional economy billions of dollars as a result of business and air transport disruptions.

The now-annual affair triggered allegedly due to land-clearing activities by plantation firms in Indonesia has also caused friction among the ASEAN neighbours, with regular bouts of finger-pointing over which was ultimately to blame for plunging the region into smog.

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