Legislators are set to deliberate the first-ever bill to combat illegal logging that will impose harsh punishments on rogue loggers, who now usually receive lenient jail sentences for their crimes.
The bill, initiated by the House of Representatives, states illegal loggers would get a minimum sentence of one year in prison and a Rp 500 million (US$55,500) fine.
Any company cutting trees in concession areas without environmental impact analysis statements, known as amdal, would have its operators sentenced to a minimum of two years in prison and fines of between Rp 1 billion and Rp 15 billion.
Democratic Party legislator Herman Khaeron said the illegal logging bill, which is on the agenda for 2011, would benefit the nation’s economy by eradicating illegal logging, which destroys forests.
The bill defines illegal logging as any kind of illicit activity, from the licensing process to the harvesting, transportation, marketing and smuggling of forest products.
One article in the bill states that anyone bringing equipment generally used to cut trees into forests without an official permit can be categorized as an illegal logger.
Another article stipulates that any official who knows about illegal logging but takes no action to prevent it could be sentenced to between six months and 15 years in prison and a minimum fine of Rp 250 million.
The draft bill says forest rangers and civil service investigators would be equipped with firearms in order to combat illegal logging.
If the bill passes, an integrated team would be created in Jakarta and various regions to coordinate efforts to prevent and combat illegal logging.
The team would consist of officials from the Forestry Ministry, the Office of the State Minister for the Environment, the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office, the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) and the Indonesian Military.
The government has long been under pressure to enforce the law to combat rampant illegal logging, which is one of the main causes of the loss of forest in this country.
The Forestry Ministry said law enforcement on illegal logging activities was still lacking as most of the jailed violators were low-ranking staff with sentences of less than a year. Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan reportedly said in October that illegal loggers should be punished with at least 10 years’ imprisonment.
Ministry data showed that from 2008 to 2009, 597 people were sent to jail for illegal logging; 326 of them were sentenced to less than a year in jail, and the remainder got less than two years.
The government is currently revising a 2005 presidential instruction on illegal logging. The bill expands the definition of violations to include illegal mining and forest encroachment.
The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) and the Indonesian Working Group on Forest Finance (IWGFF) hailed the draft bill, saying it was necessary that the country enforce strict laws to stop illegal logging. “Our concern is the lack of clarity in Article 109 since it could be interpreted as an effort to limit indigenous people’s and local communities’ access to forest areas,” IWGFF coordinator Willem Pattisarany said.
Willem said the bill should ensure the local community and indigenous people could still enter forests in order to make a living.
Walhi campaign manager Deddy Ratih said the bill should ensure the management rights of indigenous people in forest areas.
“The most important thing is to review the concession rights that have been awarded to companies,” he said.
Deddy said one of main motivators of illegal logging in Indonesia was the high demand for wood as natural and industrial forests could not supply amounts to satisfy demand.
The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples (AMAN) warned that generalizing by making all activities that used materials from forests illegal would seriously endanger indigenous people in the country.
AMAN’s secretary general Abdon Nababan said if the bill was passed into law, 30 million indigenous people who earned their living from the forest would be sent to prison as illegal loggers.