Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Over Objections, Forestry Minister Gets Budget Boost

February 17, 2009

Arti Ekawati, The Jakarta Globe

A commission of the House of Representatives, or DPR, has increased the Ministry of Forestry’s 2009 budget allocation by Rp 227 billion ($19.29 million) on Monday, with Forestry Minister M.S. Kaban arguing that the additional funds would help improve the ministry’s performance.

The increase covers such major expenditures as Rp 54 billion for the purchase of three boats to patrol the nation’s rivers, Rp 32 billion to buy a helicopter and other equipment to fight forest fires and Rp 14 billion to help prevent illegal logging.

“We have agreed to add the money to the funding allocation for the Ministry of Forestry, and there will be further discussions about it,” Arifin Junaidi, chairman of the DPR’s Commission IV, which oversees forestry matters, said after a hearing with the minister on Monday.

Some members of the commission, however, voiced objections to the ministry’s request, saying that simply increasing the budget would not bring about the desired results.

“I’m not sure that the problems can be solved just by adding more money to the budget, mostly to buy boats or helicopters,” one member of the commission, Hifni Sarkawi, said. “It will not be effective at all.”

Additionally, Hifni said, increasing the ministry’s budget would only put further strain on the country’s finances amid the growing economic crisis. He urged the ministry to use its original budget allocation more effectively rather than ask for additional funds.

Sudjud Siradjudin, another commission member, expressed concern about granting the ministry’s request for more money to combat forest fires, citing a 2008 proposal to build a firefighting center that has still not been acted upon.

Kaban, however, said that the budget increase would have an impact on the ministry’s performance. For example, he explained, the boats to be procured with the new funds were needed to help track illegal timber being transported along the nation’s rivers.

“We need to buy three boats of 36 meters in length to increase patrols, purchase helicopters and also fund illegal logging prevention efforts like forestry police patrols,” he said.

Not including the additional funds, the DPR had approved a 2009 budget of Rp 5.8 trillion for the Ministry of Forestry, an increase over the previous year’s Rp 4.7 trillion. Roughly 50 percent of the ministry’s 2009 budget is to be used to replant industrial forests and arid lands, and to prevent and extinguish fires.