Harrison Ford fired harsh questions at Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan. The verbal barrage managed to upset the chief steward of Indonesia’s vast tract of tropical rainforests. The Hollywood icon famed for his starring role as Indiana Jones was winding up a 10-day trip in Central Kalimantan and Sumatra to film a documentary on climate change.
The American actor was appalled by the footage recorded in Tesso Nilo, a national park in Riau province, Sumatra. In his testy interview with Zulkifli on Sept. 9, Ford, an advocate for environmental causes and vice-chairman of Conservation International, demanded action and accountability for the environmental damage he found in Tesso Nilo.
One third of this 385-square-kilometer lowland rainforest park in central Sumatra has been destroyed by illegal logging and illegal encroachments. According to a June 2013 report by WWF Indonesia, a 15,000-hectare-plus area inside the national park has been converted into oil palm plantations. Palm oil derived from a forest estate, in this case Tesso Nilo, is illegal
Coincidentally, Ford’s interview occurred only three days after the Cabinet secretary’s office announced the establishment of the REDD+ Management Agency (RMA), which would answer to the President directly on reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
The new agency, long overdue, is the permanent successor of the ad hoc REDD+ Task Force that was disbanded on June 30. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a presidential regulation on Aug.31 that formed the new agency, whose head has equal status to a Cabinet minister.
The 16-page regulation lists as many as 12 functions of the RMA. One chief function is to develop a REDD national strategy. Another core task is coordinating and implementing REDD+ policy and developing it into a national program .
Coordination will be a challenge. The RMA will have to cooperate with numerous ministries that have separate interests.
Major sectors are forestry, agriculture, mining and public works. Coordination also involves working with local governments that have the authority to issue land-use permits given Indonesia’s local autonomy law.
Two other important functions of the RMA are law enforcement and conflict management. This relates to possible disputes arising from land-use-change programs and conflicts involving custom-based communities.
To minimize disputes and enhance equity, the RMA will set up a stakeholders’ committee that will engage diverse parties including environmental crusaders, the private sector, indigenous people, women, good governance advocates as well as the science and technology community.
To its credit, the RMA recognizes the gender perspective of government programs, an acknowledgment of women’s advocacy campaigns like action for gender, social and ecological justice have long demanded. The new agency also accepts the presence and the rights of custom-based communities whose concerns AMAN, the Archipelagic Alliance of Indigenous Peoples, have unwaveringly voiced.
To further their cause, an AMAN-led petition recently got the Constitutional Court to amend the 1999 Forestry Act. The law now rules that customary forests are not part of the state forest zone. Indigenous people or custom-based communities have the legal right to manage the customary forest where they live in.
The presidential regulation states that the agency’s sources of funds will be transparent and accountable. However, no line in the 28-article regulation calls for public accountability for the activities of the agency as a whole.
By comparison, the 2010 landmark letter of intent, in which Norway will grant Indonesia up to US$1 billion for verified attempts to save its forests, has a closing clause on independent review. It states that an independent review group jointly implemented by Indonesia and Norway will execute annual reviews on the deliverables of agreed indicators. Its reports will be made public.
The new agency may soon draft a results matrix on deliverables within a set time period. This matrix as well as the work of the RMA in its entirety should be open to public scrutiny. By default, the agency will have to be transparent and accountable if the stakeholders’ committee works properly. What matters is that when the public demands the right to know, should Ford return for follow-up questions, the REDD+ Management Agency should be able to deliver.
The writer teaches at Dr. Soetomo Press Institute (LPDS), Jakarta.