Illegal logging and smuggling of timber into Malaysia continues unabated
FOR the past several years, Koes Saparjadi has been diligently waging a war against illegal logging and smuggling. Alas, the efforts of the Director General for Forest Protection and Nature Conservation at the Department of Forestry seem like stopping the wind. Instead of decreasing, the illegal logging and smuggling activities are even getting busier.
Every day, deep in remote areas of Kalimantan, hundreds of trucks freely and serenely transport stolen logs from the jungles in Indonesia to Sarawak and Sabah, Malaysian-controlled areas. On the east coast of Sumatra, a similar sight also prevails. Dozens of small tugs go back and forth, transporting illegal logs to timber yards in Batu Pahat, Kuala Linggi, and Muar-all of them in the Malaysian Strait.
The thieves and smugglers are quick to take advantage of the constraints on the Indonesian security guards. Especially since, as in Kalimantan, the area along borders that can extend to 1,960 kilometers-twice the length of Java-is rough terrain. Some are highlands with mountains of forests.
To evade officials, thieves in the depths of Kalimantan often carry out their activities at night. The trucks, with an average capacity of 9 cubic meters of logs, start rumbling as soon as dusk falls. When dawn breaks, the illegal logs have entered the Malaysian region through small and narrow paths, among others in Badau, Mungguk, and Arau.
In Sarawak, the illegal goods are usually piled in a temporary receiving area in Lubuk Antu, Tebedu, and Biawak. Imagine how many trees are felled if 200 trucks cross the borders every day.
And then there are logs smuggled by sea. “If this continues unchecked, before 2010, the forests in Kalimantan and Sumatra will vanish,” said Agus Setyarso, Manager of the Log Theft Eradicating Program from the Department for International Development (DFID). Agus was not making wild predictions. These thieves are indiscriminate.
Not only do they fell inexpensive timber such as meranti. Expensive and scarce timber such as bengkirai and ramin (Gonystylus spp.), protected under the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)-an international convention ratified by 155 countries-do not escape their hands.
It is no secret that the masterminds behind the illegal logging and smuggling are, mainly, Malaysian financial backers, also commonly called as cukong. The illegal logging business is indeed lucrative. “Timber valued at Rp900,000 per cubic meter can be sold at twice the price in Malaysia,” said Darmawan Liswanto, Head of the Consortium Against Illegal Logging (KAIL) in West Kalimantan.
Koes Saparjadi even goes as far as saying that timber costing Rp500,000 per cubic meter in Kalimantan will fetch Rp2 million per cubic meter in Malaysia. The profits increase because operational costs are very low. A feller from Indonesia is paid a mere RM12-15 or Rp30,000-Rp37,500 a day.
To make the loggers dependent, the backers provide their daily necessities while working in the depths of the jungle, including entertainment equipment such as karaoke. The adat people (keepers of generations of traditions) are paid just as cheaply: Rp75,000 per cubic meter.
There is, of course, sopoi or cigarette money for the security guards. Mere peanuts: Rp50,000-Rp100,000 per truck. With such a reward, officials will turn a blind eye although the documents are forged and have been repeatedly used. “The financial backers know very well that Indonesian officials and officers can easily be hushed by money,” said Darmawan.
With regard to damage to the Indonesian forests due to the theft, here are statistics from Koes Saparjadi. Previously, the total reached 1.6 million hectares a year; today, the figure has doubled to 3.2 million hectares a year. From 1998-2002, Indonesian forests have shrunk to 24.7 million hectares.
The unstoppable smuggling is also recorded in data on timber trade with other countries. In 2002, for example, according to Indonesia’s records, exports to China were said to be 3,000 cubic meters. But according to the Chinese government, 1.1 million cubic meters of Indonesia’s timber entered the country, or 366 times more.
The same with exports to Malaysia. Based on Indonesia’s records, the volume was only 3,000 cubic meters. However, Malaysia’s statistics showed 715,000 cubic meters entering this neighboring country, or 238 times more.
Trade with Singapore shows the same pattern of irregularities. Since ramin timber was entered in CITES, in a period of 16 months, Singaporean customs claimed that 19,000 cubic meters of processed ramin was exported. Considering the fact that during the same period Singapore imported only 6,000 cubic meters, the difference of 13,000 cubic meters was said to have been imported from “unknown sources.”
The amazing list becomes longer if we look at Malaysia’s position as the largest timber exporting country in the world. For the first eight months in 2003, the value of its exports reached US$3.7 billion. Miraculously, although it has exported so much timber, the forests of Malaysia remain intact!
Agus Setyarso calculates that the volume of the stolen timber smuggled to Malaysia reached a total of 8 million-9 million cubic meters a year; its value between Rp800 billion-Rp1 trillion. In other words, for the past five years, Indonesia has suffered a loss of Rp5 trillion due to this theft.
Potential revenues for taxes are also lost. Governor of West Kalimantan, Usman Ja’far, estimates that only 10 percent of timber exports from his region have documents and pay taxes. “The rest escapes untouched,” he said.
It is not as if there have not been efforts to catch the financial backers. In collaboration with National Police Headquarters, the Department of Forestry has three times conducted raids since 2001. However, until today, not a single big financial backer was caught in the raids codenamed “Wanalaga.”
So far, only small-time cukong have been captured. “Several cukong and logs as evidence have been processed in court,” said Sr. Adj. Comr. D. Suhardi, spokesman for the West Kalimantan Regional Police. Negotiations with the Malaysian government to stop the illegal smuggling are still deadlocked.
Malaysia tends to pass the responsibilities on illegal logging to Indonesia. Even if it is cornered, Malaysia always has an answer. Koes Saparjadi gave an illustration of when Indonesian officials showed the use of an expired certificate of forest yields as evidence. “Why didn’t the Indonesian government let us know that the documents were no longer in use?” said the Malaysian official as mimicked by Koes.
Malaysia’s attitude annoyed State Minister for Environmental Affairs Nabiel Makarim. But he could only remark, “When there’s a forest fire in Indonesia due to illegal logging, and the smoke goes to Malaysia, it’s their own fault.”
Recently there was news that Forestry Minister Mohammad Prakosa submitted the names of 12 high-ranking financial backers-both Indonesian and Malaysian citizens-to National Police Chief Da’i Bachtiar. There is one who is called A Pek who frequently operates along the West Kalimantan_Sarawak borders.
Malaysia’s response was calm. “Indonesia can go ahead and arrest them, because the crime was committed here, not in Malaysia,” said Ambassador Datuk Hamidon Ali to reporters in Pontianak, West Kalimantan. Do the Indonesian Police dare to take up the gauntlet thrown down by Datuk Hamidon?