INDONESIA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has appointed Hartono as the new head of the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), dismissing concerns over an initial plan to dissolve the state body.
Hartono was sworn in at the Presidential Palace, Central Jakarta, in a ceremony on Wednesday along with new BNN head Ir. Gen. Petrus Reinhard Golose, six new ministers and five new deputy ministers in the latest Cabinet shake-up.
Before being appointed as the BRG head, Hartono was the secretary in the agency and the acting deputy of its Construction, Operation, and Maintenance Department.
With Hartono’s appointment, Jokowi also simultaneously renewed the agency mandate for another four years. Under Presidential Regulation No. 1/2016, the BRG’s tenure would previously have expired on Dec. 31.
“Our mandate was renewed until Dec. 2024,” Hartono told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
The BRG was established in January 2017 following Indonesia’s worst-ever forest fires in 2015. It is tasked with restoring up to 2.67 million hectares of peatland across seven provinces during a five-year time frame.
In July, Jokowi expressed his intention to dissolve dozens of government institutions as part of his de-bureaucratization efforts. The disbandment was also aimed at easing the burden on the state budget amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The BRG was among the state bodies that were considered to be dissolved. Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko said at that time the government would review whether the agency’s tasks could be handled by other institutions.
“It will be reviewed if [the tasks] of the BRG could be handled by the BNPB [the National Disaster Mitigation Agency] for fire mitigation and the Agriculture Ministry for the optimization of peat for agriculture,” Moeldoko said. The government’s initial plan to dissolve the BRG had raised some concerns from environmentalists over the country’s efforts in peatland restoration and deforestation.
Teguh Surya, the chairman of environmental NGO the Madani Foundation, said disbanding the BRG without a follow-up plan would tarnish Indonesia’s reputation in the global emissions reduction effort especially since the country’s emissions associated with peatland degradation were still high. Teguh went on to say that the BRG had also been credited as one of the factors contributing to Indonesia’s historically low deforestation rates in three consecutive years.
Since its establishment in 2016 until June 2020, the BRG spent Rp 1.04 trillion (US$73.25 million) on peatland restoration.
The BRG restored 143,448 ha of about 1.7 million ha of peatland on concession lands in 2018 and about 780,000 ha of peatland in non-concession areas in 2019.
Besides assigning Hartono as the new BRG head, Jokowi also changed the agency’s name to the Peatland and Mangrove Restoration Agency (BRGM), effectively expanding its tasks and roles to cover mangrove rehabilitation as well. “We are now tasked with the acceleration of mangrove restoration, which is currently under the authority of the Environment and Forestry Ministry,” Hartono said.
“The BRGM will act as some sort of auxiliary agency to the Environment and Forestry Ministry and other state bodies tasked with mangrove restoration and rehabilitation,” he added. The agency’s new role to restore mangrove was previously assigned to the National Mangrove Ecosystem Development Coordination Team (TKNPEM), which was disbanded in July along with 17 other state agencies.
The TKNPEM was not the first environmental protection agency dissolved by Jokowi. In 2015, he dissolved an agency tasked with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. In the same year he also disbanded the National Climate Change Council and returned its mandate to the Environment and Forestry Ministry.