HAze from slash and burn

Indonesia: Illegal logging frustrates government: Minister

Published by The Jakarta Post, 5 June 2003
by Moch. N. Kurniawan

Jakarta. 5 June 2003. The government has so far not been able to find any answers to the problem of rampant illegal logging, State Minister for the Environment Nabiel Makarim has admitted candidly.

However, Nabiel was more upbeat about the government’s efforts to tackle other environmental problems, such as flooding, forest fires and pollution, believing that these in the end would be effective. “While we might still be having problems with environmental issues like flooding, forest fires and pollution, we nevertheless think we can find a way out. But as for illegal logging, we don’t have a clue about how to combat it,” he said recently.

He asked people to suggest fresh and concrete measures to stop illegal logging, instead of demanding that the government increases its political will to fight it. He was speaking to The Jakarta Post on environmental issues affecting the country to coincide with World Environment Day, which fell on Thursday.

Illegal logging, flooding and forest fires are the main environmental problems the country is facing as they inflict losses amounting to trillions of rupiah every year on the country, he said. Illegal logging has been rampant in Indonesia since the breakdown in law and order that followed the economic crisis which swept the country in 1997. Forest fires have also been an annual occurrence since 1997, and have caused haze as far afield as Singapore and Malaysia. Illegal logging, forest fires, along with other factors like the eating up of farmland by real estate developments, and the pumping of untreated waste into the country’s rivers have triggered numerous disasters, including annual floods and landslides.

Nabiel expressed his concerns about a lack of coordination in handling forest fires between his office, the Ministry of Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and the regional administrations. “But there has been progress in law enforcement as a director of oil palm company PT Adei Plantation, which cleared its land using the slash and burn method, was sentenced to jail,” he said. The company also agreed to pay US$1.1 million in fines to the government. A number of other forest fire prosecutions are still before the courts. Nabiel also said his office would focus on combating forest fires in Jambi and West Kalimantan.

As for flooding, the government plans to rehabilitate 3 million hectares of degraded land in 21 water catchment areas across the country over the next five years to help minimize flooding at a total cost of about Rp 10 trillion. The government also has drawn up spatial plans for Java and other big islands that will stop farmland being converted into real estate.

But in the case of illegal logging, none of the masterminds have so far been arrested, let alone brought to court. Many believe that the illegal activity involves a number of senior officials in the government and high ranking military officers. So far, according to Nabiel, the government and the Indonesian Military (TNI) had carried out operations to crack down on illegal logging, but it was not easy to arrest the masterminds. The government had also signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with other countries, such as the UK and Norway, so that they would not import logs from Indonesia without proper legal documentation, he added.

Regarding pollution, Nabiel said that the government was promoting environmental audits for companies that polluted the environment, the clean river program (Prokasih), and good environmental governance (Pamong Praja) in regency and municipal administrations. Although the number of participants in the programs were still few, the figures would increase annually, he added. “Well, overall, we are still trying step by step to improve our environment after five years mired in economic crisis,” he said.


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