Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Crack-down on forest crimes runs slowly

Crack-down on forest crimes runs slowly

Wednesday, May 12, 2010
By Andi Abdussalam

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Although the government has shown a serious will to eradicate illegal logging by forming a joint team of investigators to crack suspected cases, efforts to fight the criminal practice and enforce the law in the forestry sector still seems to be proceeding rather slowly.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan even complained about the slow progress achieved in the fight against crimes in the forestry sector. The minister voiced the complaint when he received representatives of Southeast Asia Greenpeace in Jakarta on Tuesday.

"I don`t understand why efforts to enforce the law are running very slowly. We have fielded a joint team and a task force but forest crimes that happen in front of our very eyes seem so difficult to solve," the minister said.

The Indonesian government is intensifying its efforts to fight illegal logging by involving a mafia eradication task force which is also investigating cases both in court and in the field.

Last month, a presidential Judicial Mafia Task Force was assigned to look into lenient court verdicts so far handed down to illegal logging suspects while an Illegal Logging Mafia Eradication Task Force was also fielded to examine illegal logging practices in the field.

The crack-down on forestry crimes was launched after President Susulo Bambang Yudhoyono repeatedly expressed concern about illegal logging cases. The president also called for cooperation with non-governmental organizations to help find ways to counter the predatory practice, saying that there was a mafia ring behind illegal logging.

The government`s joint team of investigators from the police force, prosecutor`s office and the ministry of forestry focused its first phase investigations on alleged forest mafia cases in North Sumatra and Central Kalimantan provinces.

"We have set 2010 as the year of law enforcement in the forestry field. In the first phase, investigations will focus on alleged forest crimes in North Sumatra and Central Kalimantan," Aulia Ibrahim, forest investigation and protection director of the Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Preservation (PHKA), said last month.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said on Tuesday that his ministry was investigating the case of two million hectares of forest whose function had been converted to an oil palm plantation and a mining business site.

For the enforcement of the law, the forestry ministry will set up a special forestry task force which would reinforce the joint team of investigators from the forestry ministry, police, prosecutor`s office and the Corruption Eradication Commission.

The minister also asked the Greenpeace representatives to help monitor local governments in issuing licenses for the opening of a plantation and mining site.

"On the issuance of a license for a land use, our position is at the end of the administrative process. Therefore, I cannot reject it if the local government has already provided a recommendation and the project is already equipped with an environment impact analysis and approved by the House," the minister said but admitted that he had not signed any request for a land conversion in the last seven months.

In the meantime, Director General for Forest Protection and Nature Conservation Darori said the special forestry task force would do its best to maximize its findings about firms opening illegal oil palm plantation and mining site in the forest areas.

He admitted that enforcement of the law had been running at the snail`s pace but in the last four months the ministry of forestry had been maximizing its efforts to net forest squatters and to impose corruption crime charges on cases that caused losses to the state.

"In Central Kalimantan, for example, about one million hectares of forest have had their function converted. If one hectare has the potential of 100 cubic meters of wood, the potential loss the state would have suffered is about Rp16 trillion. It is a corruption crime and there must be the party that has to be held responsible and pay the losses," Darori said.

The forestry minister has sent circulars to all governors in the country to file a report on deforestation in their respective areas. The director general for forest protection and nature conservation will ask all governors and district heads to hold exposes and deliver presentations on the forest conditions before the minister of forestry, KPK and the Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force.

"The governor of Central Kalimantan has said that the North Barito and South Barito district heads refused to file forest reports. The governor of Southeast Sulawesi has also reported that there were four large scale mining firms which are doing exploitation without a license," Darori said.

According to Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan only 24 percent or 43 million of 130 million hectares of primary forests in the country still remained. He said 40 million hectares were former production forests and half of them had been damaged or were in a critical condition. The rest was no longer forested land, he said.

Large-scale deforestation reached its peak in 2001-2002 following the euphoria of regional autonomy at a destruction rate of 3.5 hectares per year.

In order to overcome the critical forest condition in the country, Zulkifli Hasan said that his ministry was launching law enforcement and forest rehabilitation programs. The law will be enforced on illegal loggers and forest squatters.

The ministry will continue to carry out its tree planting program with a target of one billion trees. With the program, Indonesia sets itself to reduce its gas emissions by 26 percent in 2020, the minister said.