The Jakarta Post
With the merging of the Forestry Ministry and the Environment Ministry in President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo's new Cabinet, newly-appointed Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar faces the daunting task of balancing the exploitation and preservation aspects of both ministries.
Environmental activists have questioned how Siti would helm the ministry to reach a balance in the management of the country's abundant, yet massively exploited, natural resources.
Fresh from the hand-over ceremony with her predecessor Balthasar Kambuaya on Wednesday, Siti made it clear that one focus of the ministry would be on the issuance of permits.
'The issuance of permits should be made easy for the business world so that natural resources could truly become a source of public wealth,' she told reporters at the ministry's office in Kebon Nanas, East Jakarta. Siti said that in the future, permits should be obtained quickly and cheaply. She did not elaborate on what kind of permits she was referencing.
But Siti admitted that she had things to learn first before the plan could be implemented.
The merger and the appointment of Siti has raised concerns over the future of environmental conservation in the country, with some saying that the new ministry might tend to produce policies in favor of exploitation rather than conservation.
Conservation group Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), for example, said that there was still a strong paradigm of exploitation in the country caused by the point of view that exploitation is a source of income to the state while conservation is costly.
WALHI chairman Abetnego Tarigan also raised doubts over the capability of Siti, pointing out how she was not a prominent name in the environmental field, despite her doctoral degree in natural resources planning from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB).
'I've been involved in environmental and natural resources issues for 12 years, but never once have I come into contact with work related to Ibu Siti Nurbaya,' he said.
Commenting on the concerns, Siti acknowledged the dual nature of the new ministry, which had the authority to issue forest utilization licences (HPH) as well as strategic environmental assessments (KLHS). A KLHS is an assessment that regional administrations have to carry out before issuing permits for land or forest management, as stipulated in Law No.32/2009 on environmental management and protection.
Siti, however, assured reporters that the preservation function of the ministry was alive and well.
She said that the plan to simplify the issuing of permits did not mean that the process would not be controlled and monitored carefully.
'The perception that surfaces in the public is that permit issuance is associated with transactions. It can't be like that anymore. Permit issuance is an instrument of control,' Siti said.
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