Graft undermines conservation efforts

Graft undermines conservation efforts
, 19 November 2010

Rampant corruption at the local level is undermining Indonesia’s pledge to conserve its forests as it prepares to rake in billions of dollars under a scheme to be discussed at the upcoming UN climate change conference in Cancun.

Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) deputy chairman Mo-chammad Jasin told The Jakarta Post that graft pertaining to the issuance of logging permits remained rampant in Papua, Kalimantan and Sumatra, which are home to the nation’s largest forests.

The KPK has focused its antigraft campaign on the forestry sector this year. Since its establishment in 2003, the antigraft body has prosecuted a governor, a regent and a forestry agency official for illicitly granting forest concessions to several companies.

Earlier this month, the Corruption Court sentenced the former head of Riau Forestry Agency, Asral Rahman, to five years in prison for taking Rp 1.5 billion (US$168,000) in bribes from five companies that requested forest conversion permits in Siak and Pelalawan regency, Riau, between 2002 and 2005.

In 2007, former East Kalimantan governor Suwarna Abdul Fatah was sentenced to four years in jail for illegally handing over a license to convert forestry land into palm tree plantations in East Kalimantan in 2006.

In 2008, the court sentenced Pelalawan regent Tengku Azmun Jaafar to 11 years in prison for illegally endorsing authorization letters for forest resource use in Pelalawan regency between 2002 and 2003.

A study conducted by the KPK earlier this year found irregularities in the issuance of forest concessions of 79 forest concession holders in Riau. It also found indications that about one-third of the 2.3 million hectares of forest areas granted for plantation use were not used in accordance with the permits.

The KPK has also found indications that many plantation companies paid bribes to local administration officials to enable them to carry out illegal practices.

Four-hundred-and-seventy coal mining permit holders were also involved in the destruction of forest areas because they carried out mining operations without proper licenses.

According to the forestry law, a mining company is required to obtain a license from the Forestry Ministry to carry out mining activities in forest areas even if the areas are located in their concessions.

Environmental activists are concerned about persistent corruption in the forestry sector.

“This is a huge problem,” Indonesian Forum for the Environment forest campaign and advocate manager Deddy Ratih said.

“All government policies are hindered because of corruption.”

He added, “How can we protect the forests if corruption remains rampant?”

Elfian Effendi from Greenomics said that corruption in the forestry sector rose after the country implemented regional autonomy, which appears to have given local officials more ability to exercise corruption.

“After 2000, when decentralization began in our country, local governments raced to hand out forest permits without proper procedures. They did it for money,” he said.

In May, Indonesia Corruption Watch, along with Sawit Watch and Walhi, estimated potential state losses resulting from illegal logging had reached Rp 14.13 trillion ($1.54 billion).

The most common corruption method is the misuse of forest permits. For example, conducting mining operations in forests without proper forest-use licenses, and issuing licenses to companies that do not have an environmental impact analysis permit.

Many companies with permits to use forest areas for plantation reportedly do not carry out their plantation activities. They take the wood and abandon the areas afterward.

“They often give permits to family or other companies. So, they get all the benefits,” Deddy said.

The NGOs are calling on the government to impose severe punishment on those found guilty of destroying forests.

“The government has to impose a moratorium on forest concession,” Elfian said. “It must enforce the law.”