Monday, 17 May 2010

Lake Toba subject of House probe

Lake Toba subject of House probe

Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta Mon, 05/17/2010

The House of Represen-tatives has set up a working committee to investigate allegations of environmental damage throughout the country.

The committee, which starts work this week, will first examine allegations of environmental damage in Lake Toba, North Sumatra.

Deputy chairman of House Commission VII on environmental and mining affairs, Effendi Simbolon, said the investigation into Lake Toba would serve as a model for future investigations.

“The committee will inspect companies operating near Lake Toba in its effort to investigate a declining water level and increased sedimentation in the lake,” Effendi told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

He said that the committee would inspect Asahan hydropower plant (PLTA Asahan), PT Toba Pulp Lestari and PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium (Inalum).

Several legislators visited the three companies last month during a working visit to North Sumatra. Lake Toba is the largest lake in Indonesia and the largest volcanic lake in the world. It covers 110,260 hectares.

A recent study by the Environment Ministry revealed that around 168,000 hectares of forest around the lake was in critical condition due to illegal logging and other industrial activities.
The ministry said Lake Toba’s sedimentation rate was between 1 and 3 centimeters per year.
Nine ministries have prioritized the restoration of Lake Toba and that of 19 other lakes in the country to stave off potentially catastrophic water shortages.

Effendi said the committee would assess the companies’ adherence to environmental regulations and compare their findings to the companies’ environmental impact analysis (Amdal) reports.

“If we find signs of corruption, including in policies, we will recommend law enforcers, such as the Corruption Eradication Commission [KPK], follow them up,” he said.

“If the companies are proven to have violated the environmental law, we will propose that they be closed down.”

The committee, he said, will hire independent experts to test the quality of water, emissions, soil and other parameters at the companies before making any decisions.

The head of the committee, Zainuddin Amilia, said Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta should be ready to provide data at any time to verify environmental damages in North Sumatra.

Indonesia has about 840 lakes, which account for 72 percent of fresh water in Indonesia.
Executive Director of the Indonesian Environmental Forum Berry Furgon said he was delighted by the legislators’ decision to investigate environmental damage in the country. “But the commission should not focus only on North Sumatra, because serious environmental damages are evident in almost all provinces,” he said.

Legislator Effendi said the committee would investigate allegations of unlawful mining and deforestation in Kalimantan once the Lake Toba investigation was complete.