The Jakarta Post
After 11 years of deliberation, the House of Representatives finally endorsed on Tuesday a bill on prevention and eradication of deforestation amid of protests from environmentalists, who criticized the excessive power granted to the Forestry Ministry to manage the country's forests.
The bill draft, was first proposed by the government as an illegal logging bill in 2002, but was only discussed by the House from 2010.
'The first draft only aimed to curb illegal logging, however, as deforestation has expanded to conservation areas, a regulation is needed to prevent and eradicate deforestation,' deputy chairman of House Commission IV overseeing agriculture and forestry Firman Subagyo said.
Firman said that once endorsed, the bill would effectively protect the country's 133.4 million hectares of forest and would give severe penalties to individuals guilty of illegal logging or occupying forest areas protected by the government.
Under the new law, the maximum jail term for an illegal logger is 15 years. Under the current Forestry Law No. 41/1999, illegal loggers could face a 10-year prison sentence.
The new law also stipulates that individuals who use funds from illegal logging will be liable to pay fines up to Rp 100 billion (US$10 million).
Article 43 of the bill mandates the government to seize all evidence from illegal activities in the forests for the sake of research development, public and social purposes.
Article 45 permits the government to sell mining and plantation products seized from illegal activities, because of the high cost of keeping them.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) faction ratified its endorsement of the bill by saying that the government should destroy all evidence seized from illegal activities in forest areas, instead of handing them over to the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry for research, or auctioning them off as stipulated in Articles 43, 45 and 46.
Lawmakers postponed the endorsement of the bill in April following protests from environmental groups which rejected the bill over concerns that it could be used by authorities to prosecute members of indigenous communities who have lived off the country's forests for generations. The House then made minor changes to the draft, guaranteeing that the bill would not violate their rights.
Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan ensured that the bill would only target 'organized illegal activities' in the country's forests, and, thus, would not arbitrarily target members of indigenous communities.
'Under the new law, organized crime refers to systematic illegal activities by two or more individuals who work collectively for certain duration to destroy the forests.
This will of course exclude communities that have been living in or around the forests, who have opened traditional plantations or utilize the timber for personal use,' Zulkifli said.
Under the new law, the government receives a mandate to set up a task force comprising members of the National Police, prosecutors, experts and public figures, who will be authorized to monitor efforts.
'This team will answer to the President,' Zulkifli said. He added that the task force would only be established after the 2014 election.
A coalition of environmentalists and anti graft activists, including the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) and the Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), maintained their opposition to the bill and pledged to file a judicial review with the Constitutional Court.
Siti Rahma Mary, a spokesperson for the coalition, said that the new law would encourage corrupt practices among officials in the central government and regionally, as it gives them authority to issue permits or bring criminal charges against those conducting illegal activities.
'This will hamper efforts to eradicate corruption in the forestry sector because the responsibilities of the task force will overlap with the Corruption Eradication Commission [KPK],' she said.
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