Monday, March 28, 2011

Indonesian Forests and The Green Graft

The state of Indonesia's forests has reached critical condition in the last several years. Indonesia has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, we lost 1.8 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2005. Green Peace Indonesia has forecasted that if deforestation continues unchecked, our forests will be lost forever within 35 years.

In monetary terms, the costs are high. Indonesia Corruption Watch has estimated that our economy lost Rp 71 trillion ($8.16 billion) from 2005-09, or $1.6 billion annually, due to deforestation. Human Rights Watch puts the losses even higher, at $2 billion a year.

The loss of our forests carries a high human cost as well. Deforestation destroys local livelihoods and health — through floods, aridity, species loss, polluted rivers and land — and speeds up climate change.

The current system has failed to slow forest loss, despite the fact that many rules are in place to protect our forests. The existing legislations and regulations simply have not protected our woodlands, which are threatened by the unabated expansion of plantations, logging and mining operations.

For example, the Forestry Ministry recently said that more than 98 percent of mining companies and more than 80 percent of plantations in Central Kalimantan hold illegal operating licenses. And in 2010, some 8,000 mining and plantation firms were found to be operating illegally in forest areas throughout the country.

The lack of government support for healthy forests can be seen in the dearth of monitoring efforts at both central and local levels. What monitoring mechanisms that do exist are severely undermined by the mutually beneficial relationship between violating companies and government officials— especially at the local level. Local officials have the authority to issue mining, plantation, and logging permits. Corruption amongs these officials means that many of the permits are issued illegally for extraction operations in protected forests.

Local governments cannot argue that they do not know which areas are off limits, because forested districts and provinces have local government institutions designed to work in conjunction with the Ministry of Forestry.

In this light, forestry crimes are often crimes of graft. Here the nation’s Financial Intelligence Unit (PPATK) should play a role in helping law enforcement agencies bring violating companies and corrupt officials to justice. And in prosecuting graft offenders, l aw enforcement officials should consider using the Anti-Corruption Law, rather than the oftentimes toothless Forestry Law. There are examples of success when the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) gets involved: the cases of Suwarna case, Tanjung Api-Api and Pelalawan to name a few.

But thus far, the government appears to have little stomach for taking on illegal forest activities. The Forestry Ministry, together with law enforcement agencies, has processed just 58 of the 8,000 cases of illegal mining and plantation operations reported in 2010. At that rate, prosecution offers little reason for parties to discontinue illegal forestry activities; the benefits of illegal activities simply outweigh the potential penalties.

More evidence of a lack of government support lies in the absence of a two-year moratorium of deforestation as a part of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) agreement between Indonesia and Norway. According to the agreement, the government should have implemented a moratorium on Jan. 1 of this year. Until now, no moratorium has been forthcoming. Such a moratorium is necessary to curb the rapid rate of forest loss in Indonesia, even though it will not touch on established mining, plantation and logging operations because permits received prior to the moratorium would remain valid unless they are found to be illegal.

If the government wants to get serious about saving our forests, then it should strengthen law enforcement mechanisms and increase efforts to prosecute offending companies and corrupt officials under the Anti-Corruption Law. The president should issue a decree bringing the promised forest clearing moratorium into effect. And all lawmakers must do more than pay politically expedient lip service to the need to rescue our dwindling woodlands.

By Hendra Teja postgraduate student at Crawford School of Economics and Government at The Australian National University.

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