Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Environmentalist Calls for Review of ‘Unfriendly’ Laws

October 28, 2009

Fidelis E Satriastanti. The Jakarta Globe

Several major regulations issued over the past five years have made the country’s natural resources more prone to exploitation, an environmental law expert says.

“This country’s paradigm, especially in the forestry and mineral sectors, is still more focused on the opportunities for investment,” said Rino Soebagyo, executive director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law. “It’s only about ‘exploiting’ our natural resources, ignoring public access [to these resources].”

The government, he said, has ignored sustainable development in favor of managing the environment with the goal of squeezing out as much money as possible.

“The basic rule of sustainable development is finding the balance between economic, social and environmental concerns,” he said. “Unfortunately, our government has only chased economic growth, without considering that the environment has to be preserved as an asset for future generations.”

As President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s new administration begins its work, green groups have been lobbying officials to review regulations they see as bad for the environment. These include the 2007 Law on Coastal Areas and Small Islands Management, the 2009 Law on Mineral Rights and Coal Mining, and ministerial decrees on peatlands and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

“The Forestry Law has one article that says cutting down one tree can be considered illegal logging,” Rino said. “This is very outdated, and major illegal loggers have never been successfully caught. Instead, there have been plenty of cases involving residents cutting down just one tree and being considered illegal loggers.”

Rino praised the recently passed 2009 Environmental Protection and Management Law, saying it could be used to counter the negative environmental impacts of other government regulations. He added, however, that political will and courage would be required to implement the law.

Experts say the new law is stronger than the one it replaced, the 1997 Environmental Management Law. The new piece of legislation carries stiffer sanctions for violations and addresses more environmental issues outside of pollution.

“The new law doesn’t just talk about ‘brown issues,’ meaning that it does not only consider water and air pollution, but it also covers spatial planning management, law enforcement and also green permits,” Rino said.

He said the law gave the State Ministry for the Environment the authority to issue green permits, which are a prerequisite for obtaining business permits.

“So, in the future, if there is a violation of the green permit, the state ministry will have the authority to withdraw the company’s business permit, forcing the company to temporarily close down,” Rino said.

“The law has also been strengthened in terms of the AMDAL [environmental impact analysis], which used to involve just visibility studies, but now is a compulsory scientific assessment to obtain a green permit.”