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Jakarta Post

Politicians in top posts limit progress on environment: Activists

  • Hans Nicholas Jong

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, October 3, 2014   /  09:38 am

As president-elect Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo is set to announce his Cabinet this month, speculations are rife over who will fill the top jobs at the forestry and environment ministries, which bear the herculean task of managing forests, one of the country'€™s most coveted natural resources.

Environmentalists agree that both posts should not be filled by political party members.

'€œSome past forestry ministers were from parties, such as Mohamad Prakosa, Nur Mahmudi Ismail, MS Kaban and Zulkifli Hasan. But they didn'€™t excel at saving or managing forests,'€ said Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaigner Yuyun Indradi.

Prakosa was from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), while Mahmudi, MS Kaban and Zulkifli were from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Mandate Party (PAN), respectively.

Indigenous Peoples'€™ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) director of information Firdaus Cahyadi said that it was too risky to fill the two posts, especially the forestry ministry, with political party members.

'€œThey won'€™t make much progress because environmental destruction is usually caused by corporations that have close ties with political parties,'€ he said.

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) executive director Abednego Tarigan said that ideally, forestry and environment ministers should possess strong communication skills, which would be helpful in efforts to lobby corporations and other government agencies.

The country'€™s forestry sector only contributed 0.75 percent to the country'€™s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010, according to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) as the country placed a ban on the log trade.

However, in spite of the ban, illegal logging practices are still evident in many regions, resulting in underreported trade, especially in the expansion of oil palm plantations, which have led to annual forest fires in the country. The palm oil industry contributed 11 percent to the GDP in the same year.

Current environmental law enforcement is perceived to be toothless in nabbing unruly agroforestry corporations, according to Abednego and Firdaus.

Firdaus said that law enforcement in the country was abysmal since the forestry ministry tended to side with the corporations.

'€œBoth the environment ministry and the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development [UKP4] have released reports on forest fires but the forestry ministry urged the public to not blame the corporations,'€ he said.

'€œThis is why it'€™s difficult to punish corporations.'€

Weak law enforcement has led some to believe that the posts should be filled by those experienced in investigating unruly corporations, such as officials from the UKP4 and the environment ministry.

'€œI heard Mas Achmad Santosa of the UKP4 mentioned as a potential candidate [to fill one of the posts],'€ said Yuyun.

He said that Achmad, who heads the unit'€™s law enforcement department, had a good track record in environmental law enforcement.

However, both Abednego and Firdaus said that the two posts should not be given to those from the UKP4.

'€œIf we'€™re talking about [forest fire] cases, the corporations were brought to court only after they were pressured by civil society,'€ Abednego said.

He said that he preferred figures such as former Walhi chairman Chalid Muhammad and also Presidential Advisory Council chairman Emil Salim to fill the posts.

'€œEmil has experience in dealing with civil society organizations and working with the government, while Chalid has extensive experience advocating environmental issues,'€ Abednego said.

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