Thursday, 29 April 2010

Forest of Problems Hinders Illegal Logging Fight

April 28, 2010
Fidelis E Satriastanti The Jakarta Globe

Workers preparing to lift a number of logs into a large vessel, in Siak Kecil River in Riau. Illegal logging activities in the river is quite rampant forest endangerment resulting in Tasik Serai. Police and Riau Forestry Service has shut down this river flows out of wood. Besides the timber sold in the domestic market are also taken abroad, particularly neighboring Malaysia. (Antara PHOTO/Gema Setara)

Forest of Problems Hinders Illegal Logging Fight

The illegal logging cases in Riau in 2008 are an indicator of widespread forestry-related crimes in a country where for years an estimated four of five trees were allegedly cut down illegally with the sanction of officials and law enforcers, activists say.

The activists filed a report on April 22 with the Judicial Mafia Task Force, saying the illegal logging cases in Riau involving 14 paper and pulp companies were suspended by the police in 2008 due to lack of evidence. The contentious legal decision sparked anger among activists at the time. Located on Sumatra, Riau has the most extensively degraded forests in the country, mostly due to industrial and urban development.

Hapsoro, program director at environmental group Telapak, said on Tuesday that illegal logging has continued to spread.

“The difference [in the scale of illegal logging in specific areas] depends on the range of forest cover and also the quality of the wood,” Hapsoro said. “For instance, on Java Island, forest coverage is not that vast and timber values are not also worth much, so not many loggers would eye Java Island,” he said.

“[Illegal logging] threats are actually threatening eastern parts [of the country], such as Papua or Sulawesi, because of lack of monitoring and supervision in the areas results in loggers being able to conduct their operations freely,” he said.

However, he said Java still played a part in the trade. It serves as the main gateway to receive illegally logged timber through ports at Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya.

Data from various environmental groups shows that between 2000 and 2004, the illegal logging rate in Indonesia stood at a staggering 80 percent, meaning that four out of five trees cut down were cut down illegally. Indonesia’s forest losses hit the roof during this period of time, reaching around 2.8 million hectares per year.

In 2005, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched a crackdowns on illegal loggers in Papua. The operations, dubbed collectively the Hutan Lestari Operation II, utilized 1,500 personnel with a budget of Rp 12 billion ($1.3 million) and identified 186 suspects, comprised of 172 Indonesians, 13 Malaysians and a Korean, and secured almost 400,000 cubic meters of illegally harvested timber. But only 13 suspects — none of them major players — were convicted. The toughest punishment handed out was a two-year prison sentence for one of the offenders.

Julian Newman, campaign director at the Environmental Investigation Agency, said: “It would be good to re-examine the evidence including the reason for stopping the case. But the [Mafia Eradication] Task Force should not be restricted to Riau. Other cases include the suspicious acquittal of Adelin Lis.”

Adelin is believed to be the owner of a palm oil company linked to illegal logging and suspected of money laundering.

There are many laws relating to forest management and the timber industry in the country. Felling trees is not allowed in protected areas, logging can only take place in authorized areas within forest concessions and export of raw logs is banned.

“It is when these laws are broken that illegal logging is said to occur. The main problem is that relevant forestry laws only usually catch the people at the bottom of the chain, such as chainsaw operators or truck drivers. The powerful people behind illegal logging are not touched, although there have been efforts to use anti-money laundering and corruption laws against them, but so far with little success,” Hapsoro said.

He stressed that curbing illegal logging required “good governance starting from local to central governments.”

“Such efforts involve a lot of people, starting from villages, subdistricts, districts, central governments and even the police force.”

“It also doesn’t just revolve around the forestry sector but also [involves] trade and commerce agencies, customs and even politicians and political parties because illegal logging has high value, so no wonder that members of the House of Representatives are also involved. Illegal logging is very political,” he said. “As long as there is no good intention to deal with this issue then illegal logging will just keep on going.”

Mas Achmad Santosa, an environmental law expert, said that the definition on illegal logging was clear, although there were differences between the 1999 Law on Forestry and the 2009 Law on Environmental Protection and Management Law.

“The forestry law is much more lenient than the environmental law, which has stricter sanctions on corporate crimes and acknowledges corporate crimes in this case” he said. “However, on the implementation level coordination [to uphold these laws] has not gone anywhere, for instance, between prosecutors and investigators.”

There was also the problem of judges’ understanding of the definition of forests, with most of them considering forests as “just standing trees” and not as natural resources with economic or aesthetic value.