Thursday, 29 April 2010

As Indonesia's Forests Continue to Fall, Forestry Minister Says Blame Lies Elsewhere

April 28, 2010

Arti Ekawati & Nivell Rayda The Jakarta Globe

As Indonesia's Forests Continue to Fall, Forestry Minister Says Blame Lies Elsewhere

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan on Wednesday tried to distance his ministry from the rash of illegal logging cases and the so-called logging mafia, saying they also involved rogue provincial officials and legislators.

“Don’t blame it on the Ministry of Forestry because the ministry only processes requests from district governments,” Zulkifli said at a meeting of the Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force.

“There is a whole process that needs to be gone through. After the district makes a request, an Environmental Impact Analysis is conducted and the House of Representatives issues a permit. The best we can do [to combat illegal logging] is to revoke logging permits.”

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has told the task force to focus on illegal logging because of the environmental damage and lost income involved.

The president also has told the task force to evaluate the legal process involved in combating illegal logging, as well as allegations of bribery in the logging permit process.

The task force took a special interest in a 2008 case in Riau.

Riau Police dropped their investigation of 14 pulp and paper companies after 22 months of work, saying there was a lack of evidence.

Environmental groups claimed the decision was an indication the government was not serious about tackling illegal logging.

According to estimates from Jikalahari, a forest protection network, the country lost Rp 2.8 trillion ($310 million) from the activities of the 11 companies involved in the investigation.

Task force secretary Denny Indrayana said it was examining the decision to drop the case.

“We will look at anomalies, especially if we feel that the police had enough of a case to continue to prosecution. However, we need clear evidence that bribery occurred,” he said.

Zulkifli said such cases were common. “The government has lost so many cases. Our burden had been eased now that the task force is examining the legal process,” the minister said. “In 10 years only one major company was found guilty but law enforcers did not try to execute the court sentence.”

Mas Achmad Santosa, a task force member, said the ministry needed to review existing regulations that overlapped and contradicted other regulations.

“There has to be transparency in the permit process and an effective system to take public complaints and evaluate irregular permits,” he said.

Zulkifli said another problem was that many heads of subdistricts did not understand the issues involved.

“Up until now, about two million hectares [of forest] have been illegally encroached upon by mines and plantations,” he said.

Zulkifli said his ministry was probing a big case in Padang Lawas, North Sumatra.

Activists warn that continued illegal logging could spell an environmental disaster for the country. Indonesia has 42 million hectares of primary forest, 40 million hectares of degraded forest and 48 million hectares of irretrievably damaged forest areas.