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Jakarta Post

Questioning government logic on REDD+

  • Aditya Rakhman and Vitri Sekarsari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, March 19, 2015   /  06:58 am

The Unimog, Mercedes-Benz'€™s iconic freight truck, has a 5.1-liter turbocharged engine. Sure, if you take out that massive beast and replace it with a Ford 1.0 liter eco-boost machine, it would consume less petrol, giving you better miles to the gallon.

This, to a certain degree of logic, is efficiency, but would it actually run? Even if it were able to move, would it be able to move the load that the Unimog is designed to carry? Go figure.

As much as Indonesians wish to believe and trust the power of the word '€œefficiency'€ spearheaded by President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo'€™s government, it is a fact that efficiency is not a panacea.

It is not a one-size-fits all solution that can be applied to all sectors of government with the expectation of positive results across the board. Every sector is unique and therefore cannot be subject to the same, exact, approach.

On Jan. 21, Jokowi signed Presidential Regulation No. 16/2015 to outline the direction that should be taken by the Environment and Forestry Ministry in the coming years.

One of the impacts of this regulation was the dissolution of the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) Agency, with it being absorbed into the ministry'€™s duties and functions.

In the spirit of efficiency, it seems that a lot of people support the move. We, with all due respect, disagree. This policy is like putting that Ford engine on a Unimog.

The REDD+ Agency in Indonesia was a first, not just for the country, but also for the world.

Indonesia took a remarkable step by setting up a governmental tent to accommodate the movement. The agency, established through Presidential Regulation No. 62/2013, has grown into a hub to accommodate a movement that has exponentially evolved beyond forest conservation and low-carbon investment.

This meant that REDD+ in Indonesia was potentially structural, strategic and most importantly effective. This last element seems to vanish every time people hear the word '€œefficient'€ these days. Whereas, in the universe of public policy and management, efficiency and effectiveness are two sides of a coin, working hand-in-hand.

What seems to be missing from the process (of having the agency absorbed into the ministry) was thorough analysis. Not just regarding whether integration was fruitful, but also whether it could be done without disrupting the process and milestones achieved since the agency'€™s formation in 2013.

If the government was looking to eliminate any overlapping functions, there needed to be a proper assessment that concluded that integrating functions to the ministry was the better option compared to delegating some ministerial function to an independent agency.

The counter logic to that, however, is given room in terms of governing structures.

That'€™s why by design there are non-ministerial government institutions (LPNK) and non-structural institutions (LNS). Such institutions exist because it is always a possibility that ministries might not always be the correct institution to harbor power and authority.

So, to honor that train of thought, why would we need an agency? Before truly answering this question, it is paramount to understand that REDD+ is not a project with only one set of objectives. REDD+ covers the whole landscape of issues related to the rise of emissions, primarily exacerbated by deforestation and degradation.

As Martin Herold of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) rightly describes, this '€œlandscape approach'€ is desirable to endorse better planning and land use assessments, which integrate multiple options and generate helpful scenarios that are key to devising strategies for maintaining forests'€™ carbon and health.

A landscape approach seeks to ensure that all uses of land in a given area '€” and all the human users of that land '€” are addressed by integrated, sustainable policies.

Considering the above scope of the REDD+ approach, it was seen as a highly strategic move when Indonesia decided to establish an agency as a hub to communicate and coordinate, and above all, synergize the work among stakeholders.

To be effective and strategic, REDD+ in Indonesia requires our governance to depart from its silo management to ensure flexibility, agility and sustainability of the REDD+ agenda are in place by avoiding conflicting priorities, unfair information flow and duplication of measures among REDD+actors.

REDD+ deserves to be much more than just a '€œproject'€ run by the ministry.

The agency used to harness the potential to cater the needs of a substantial REDD+ process as laid out above.

Compartmentalizing REDD+ issues by anchoring them to the domain of one ministerial entity undermines its cross-sectoral nature. The REDD+ Agency was designed to accommodate the above concerns by approaching the work through matrix and multi stakeholder collaboration.

Given that, perhaps if President Jokowi wanted to mount a more '€œefficient'€ engine for his government, that very approach would require him to think strategically.

Questions are starting to arise regarding how Presidential Regulation No. 16/2015 regulates REDD+, as there are no visible hints as to whether a proper study was conducted, whether a proper transitional strategy was devised and whether all stakeholders beyond his inner circle were accommodated (or even thought of).

If this seems like a premature assumption, it is an unfortunate situation that is fueled by the lack of any form of clarity. This is why things are bleak and it looks like a step backward has been taken.

This is the age of transparency, which is not a card that we should let be trumped by the efficiency card.

It is the government'€™s onus to allow people to understand the steps and strategies that it is taking, moreover, a government that is led by a president that is primarily in office due to the people'€™s power and support that he garnered.

The government needs to answer whether this efficiency is a strategic move, or a political one?

Aditya Rakhman is an Indonesia economic and social policy analyst and Vitri Sekarsari is an environmental issues observer. They used to work for the REDD+ Agency.

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