For Indonesia’s Forests, a Broken Promise

Bernadinus Steni | June 11, 2011

In his recent opinion article in these pages, Agus Purnomo, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s special adviser on climate change, blamed the environmental movement’s attack on the presidential instruction on the logging moratorium, saying the criticism overlooked the many good aspects of the decree, which puts a two-year halt on new permits to clear primary forests and carbon-rich peatland.

We commend the president for taking steps to protect the remaining forests in Indonesia, but as civil society organizations, it is our duty to speak out when the measures are not the right ones.

We agree and appreciate most of Agus’s arguments. The moratorium does indeed provide momentum to begin much-needed reform of the country’s forestry sector. Conceptually, the moratorium has revived long-lasting efforts advocated by the environmental movement to adopt sustainable development principles and to respect human rights. There is now increased awareness of the hazards that deforestation and forest degradation pose to our nation.

However, Agus failed to acknowledge that the substance of the presidential instruction is far below even the most modest expectations, thus failing to fulfill Indonesia’s national and international commitments.

We had expected the moratorium to move beyond business as usual. Environmental organizations and human rights supporters had made a number of recommendations to make this so.

First, we suggested the moratorium cover all existing natural forest and peatlands in Indonesia, including secondary forests that are especially diverse in species and that often contain vast amounts of carbon. Such forest areas are crucial to local peoples’ livelihoods.

Second, we said the moratorium should include a review of existing permits, to assess their compliance with social and environmental requirements.

Third, that there should be a plan for conflict resolution that would help resolve the numerous land feuds around the country.

Fourth, we had expressed a need for a new legal framework that would put an end to the current destruction while also ensuring the rights of marginalized communities that have been denied access to their land and resources.

Fifth, we called for the moratorium to be based on achievements, rather than a pre-set time frame. We hoped it would refer to the real conditions that need immediate and concrete action in order to protect our forests, and last until sustainable and rights-based forest management could be ensured.

Finally, we advised that the moratorium should be based on the achievement of “Social Welfare for All Indonesian People,” as mandated by the nation’s state ideology, Pancasila.

Sadly, none of these recommendations were adopted by the president in his instruction. It can be claimed that the scope of the Ministry of Forestry’s strategic plan for 2010-2014 is more forward-thinking than the moratorium. For instance, the strategy includes bureaucratic reform and accountability measures, as well as community empowerment initiatives. Furthermore, the 2009 Law on Environmental Protection and Management commissions a review of existing permits based on environmental standards.

These crucial steps are not sufficiently covered in the presidential instruction. So how, then, can Agus claim that the moratorium offers a “clean sheet” and “an opportunity to refine regulation of land use permits, establish a database of degraded land, designate land for development and find ways to support companies to move into degraded land?”

Agus is referring to crucial steps if we want to protect our remaining forests, but the moratorium is too weak to ensure any of this. For years, the Ministry of Forestry has been called on to improve governance by creating greater transparency in granting licenses and ensuring the meaningful participation of forest communities in policy-making processes.

But nothing has changed so far. Therefore, we urge the president to be brave and progressive enough to implement the necessary measures to rectify this weak moratorium. Among these steps could be a strong mandate to a new institution, with the power to revise existing concessions and cancel those which are violating our laws, destroying our forests and denying the human rights of our people.

Indonesia’s forest cannot wait any longer. For its sake, and for that of all those who depend on forest areas for their livelihoods, we hope the president will reconsider the nature of the current decree and take the opportunity to implement the reforms needed to solve problems in the forestry sector.

Bernadinus Steni is a member of the Jakarta-based Coalition of Civil Society Organizations for the Rescue of Indonesian Forests and the Global Climate.