Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Activists Reject Team to Tackle Riau Logging

Activists Reject Team to Tackle Riau Logging

Source: The Jakarta Post- September 8, 2007
By Rizal Harahap, Pekanbaru

Twelve environmental non-governmental organizations expressed opposition Friday to the formation of a special team to stop illegal logging in Riau. The special team was announced by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday. The activists claimed two of the team's members have been involved in illegal logging activities in the province.

"The inclusion of officials who have allegedly been involved in illegal logging activities in Riau to the President-appointed team will jeopardize efforts to stop illegal logging, due to their conflict of interests," executive director of the Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi) in Riau, Johny Setiawan, said Friday.

When pressed on the names of the officials allegedly involved in illegal logging activities, he pointed to Forestry Minister MS Kaban and Riau Governor Rusli Zainal without providing more details. The special team will be led by Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Adm. (ret) Widodo A.S.

The activists believe the special team is a setback in the progress made to enforce the illegal logging law in Riau.

"The President should have pushed for speedy law enforcement by issuing permits to investigate the accused officials," Johny said. He claimed illegal logging cases in Riau involved several regents and other state officials. He said solving forestry crime in Riau involved a long drawn-out process due to the slow issuance of investigation permits.

"Law enforcement would be much faster if the President issued the permits," he said. He said it was not necessary for President Yudhoyono to set up a special team. It would be better if the President fully enforced the 2005 presidential instruction to strengthen the fight against illegal logging activities across the country, he said. Based on the instruction, 18 government offices are involved in the fight against illegal logging.

He views the team's formation as a way to apply legal solutions to illegal logging cases in Riau.

"The team's formation is based on economic interest, to protect investments and businesses. What is needed here is law enforcement, not a move to protect those who violate the law.

"It's fine for companies to receive hundreds of permits (to operate) but if they violate the law, they should be arrested," Johny said.

Coordinator of Riau Forest Rescuer Working Network, Susanto Kurniawan, said the investment climate would improve if the government enforced the law.

"The President overreacted in dealing with this problem. The law should not be blurred to save investments ...," he said. He said enforcement of the law would not make companies suspected of involvement in illegal logging activities go bankrupt.

"They might end up with less profit, but that is the consequence for breaking the law."