Monday, 14 September 2009

Environmental law ‘ineffective’ unless govt allots more budget

The Jakarta Post | Mon, 09/14/2009 10:30 AM | National

The House of Representatives passed the environmental protection and management bill into law last week with articles containing harsh punishments for those that harmed the environment. Initiated by the House, the law awarded more power to the Office of State Minister for the Environment to improve the ailing environmental conditions. The Jakarta Post’s Adianto P. Simamora talked to Mas Achmad Santosa, coordinator for the expert group representing the government in deliberating the bill with the House, about the law. Below is the excerpt:

Question: What are the key massages of the newly passed law?

Answer: The law clearly endorses sustainable development and good governance as part of the principles in managing the environment. It means that all sectors including mining, industrial, forestry or local administrations must link their policies on principle to protect the environment.

The law contains very powerful planning and prevention instruments to mainstream sustainable development in the country. It requires that the government to set inventory data on the environment to mapping capability of environment and kinds of natural resources that are still available in region.

The inventory would be the basis for policy makers to determine strategic plans on environmental protection and management, which had been implemented in many developed countries to protect their environment.

The government and local administrations are also obliged to formulate strategic environmental assessment to evaluate impacts that would harm the environment. The building of 1,000 residential towers has no prior environmental assessment leading to many of the towers being built in water catchments areas. This will in turn lead serious threats for water supply and to the environment.

The law also gives 26 new authorities for the Office of State Minister for the Environment, including the issuance of environmental permits, developing economic instruments and law enforcement. The law allows civilian investigators to arrest and detain polluters.

It also requires the central government and local administrations to set aside a bigger portion of budget known as the green budget to protect the environment and issue green legislations.

Why does the law come with minimum punishment for violators?

Currently obedience level of people, companies or government officials in protecting the environment is still very poor.

Many companies digging natural resources fail to meet the required standards on environmental protection in doing their business.

Worse still, law enforcers are not serious yet about upholding the environmental law by giving only “light” punishment to violators just like in the case of illegal logging or mudflow in Lapindo case.
Law enforcers failed to show deterrent effects for environmental violators. In the future, we hope violators with serious environment destructions are punished for more than a year.

Poor governance would give significant boost to damaging the environment. Many regional administrations now easily convert forests into commercial purposes because there is a lot of money from issuing the permits.

On the other hand, the awareness of government officials on the environment is still poor since many of ministries or agencies do not integrate their policies with environmental protection.

The new law would be a serious warning for the violators. I predict many directors of companies would be sent into jail if they don’t change the way they protect the ecosystem.

Could you explain how poor our environmental conditions are?

The Office of State Minister for the Environment publishes an annual report on environmental conditions. It clearly shows that the quality of air, water, river and sea have continued to deteriorate year by year.

We can also see the poor environmental conditions from the frequent events of natural disasters including flooding, landslides and severe drought that recently hit the country. It is a clear message for the country to take urgent actions to protect the environment; in order to avoiding experiencing more and more natural disasters.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also admitted the declining quality of environment during his state of the nation speech at the House of Representatives but he did not explain how to improve it.

If the President is serious about better supporting environment, the law is the answer.

How optimistic are you that the government could enforce the law?

The House has shown its goodwill to protect the environment through its initiative to make this bill. The law awarded “big” power to the Office of State Minister for the Environment to protect the environment.

The ministry would be coordinator for enforcing the law in environmental cases. It is important because the ministry, the National Police and the Attorney General’s Office have so far had different perceptions in terms of defining environmental violators.

As long as there is no breakthrough from the government, such as allocating more funds for the ministry to implement the law, there will be no significant results in protecting the environment.
The law also clearly sends the message that the government need to upgrade the level of the state ministry for environment to a proper ministry.

There is also an urgent need to totally reform the capacity and integrity of its human resources, otherwise, the new law will not effectively protect the environment and it could become the new source of corruptions.

The good news is the Supreme Court had shown its commitment to help protect the environment. The office is now preparing about 150 certified judges in dealing with environmental cases.