Thursday, 19 February 2009

Kaban takes on big shot mining firms

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban is likely to be involved in a looming battle with politically wired mining companies that allegedly operate in protected forest areas.

Kaban revealed Monday the involvement of a deputy speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) trying to intervene in a police investigation into two coal companies for allegedly mining in the a protected concession in Bengkulu.

The disclosure was made during a hearing between Kaban and the House of Representatives' Commission IV for forestry, fishery and agricultural affairs.

Kaban refused to name the deputy speaker. There are only three MPR deputy speakers currently active - People's Mandate Party (PAN) senior politician A.M. Fatwa, businesswoman Mooryati Soedibyo, and Vice president Jusuf Kalla's brother in law Aksa Mahmud.

"There's a letter from a deputy speaker of the MPR to the National Police that questioned the termination of mining activities of PT Bukit Sanur and PT Ping Xiang," said Kaban who is also chairman of the Crescent Star Party (PBB).

"We have decided to terminate their operation because there are indications the companies are operating in protected forest areas and without approval from the Forestry Ministry."

Bukit Sanur is a coal producer under the Indika Group, owned by tycoon Sudwikatmono - cousin of the late former President Soeharto, while Ping Xiang is a coal subsidiary of a Chinese state firm.

According to a hearing document, Bukit Sanur already had 700 hectares of coal concession approved from the Forestry Ministry in 1999, but has yet to get any further licenses from the ministry.

Kaban insisted the ministry won't let the companies operate unless the police have cleared all of the allegations.

During the hearing, Kaban proposed a budget increase of around Rp 227 billion (US$19.4 million) on top of the current Rp 3.2 trillion. The extra budget is aimed at helping to combat illegal logging.

Around Rp 54 billion of the fund will be allocated to buying three 36-patrol boats, Rp 141 billion for protecting forest areas from illegal logging, and another Rp 32 billion to pay helicopter rental in case of forests fires, according to Kaban, who has also been mired in several controversial policies favoring certain business groups and politicians.

Kaban argued there was a major imbalance when it came to protecting the country's forests against threats with available infrastructure.

"The total forest areas in the country are around 120 million hectares, but we do not have our own helicopters, we have to rent them during cases of fire. As a comparison, there is a country whose forestry areas are only around 8 million hectares but it has 46 helicopters," he said.

Last year, the ministry recorded 161 cases of illegal logging but with few of them ending up in court, let alone getting the big boys behind bars. (HDT)