With deforestation and forest fires still prevalent in the country, calls are mounting for the government to not only extend but also strengthen a current moratorium on new concession permits for primary forests and peatlands, due to expire on May 13.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry has said that the moratorium would not only be extended but also improved by reviewing the permits that were issued before the moratorium was first enacted in 2011 by then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
'There would be additional content,' the ministry's secretary-general, Hadi Daryanto, told The Jakarta Post recently.
One of the improvements is that the new moratorium will be more inclusive by targeting specific institutions, according to him.
'It will be specific on the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Public Works [and Public Housing] Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry and the National Land Agency [BPN],' said Hadi.
However, the new moratorium is likely to be in the form of a presidential instruction (Inpres), just like before, Hadi added.
Greenpeace SEA Indonesia's forest political campaigner, M. Teguh Surya, said that an Inpres was not good enough.
'If that's the case, then the moratorium will not be binding for all stakeholders because an Inpres is merely an internal instruction [involving only the government],' he told the Post.
The implementation of the new moratorium will also be coupled with the review of existing permits that were previously issued before the moratorium in 2011, which was extended once by Yudhoyono in 2013.
'There will be a ministerial decree to establish a task force on permit review. The task force will involve experts,' Hadi said.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry's deputy for environmental damage control and climate change, Arief Yuwono, said that the review was aimed at improving the management of forests in the country, both in terms of permit issuance and monitoring.
'So a permit is not only an instrument to use land but also an instrument to manage and monitor [forests],' he said recently.
Arief said the review was crucial given that there were firms which obtained permits even without adequate facilities.
An audit on companies' and local administrations' compliance in Riau last year found that poor compliance was the major cause of rampant forest fires in the province, with some companies lacking even the most basic equipment to manage forest fires.
Moreover, as slash and burn practices to clear areas for plantations in Riau have continued, the current moratorium has been deemed as ineffective in saving peat forests in the province.
Teguh said that a permit review was an inseparable part of the moratorium extension considering there are 5.7 hectares of forests on which permits are overlapping at the moment.
'This is a potential problem and could only be solved with a permit review,' he said.
According to Teguh, the new moratorium was of paramount importance with regional elections scheduled to be held concurrently in December this year.
'So if the new moratorium is weak under the Inpres, unprotected forests or those that are protected halfheartedly are under the threat of extinction because they could be used as political capital [by election candidates],' he said.
Teguh said there were 4.3 million ha of forests that would be at risk of deforestation because their statuses were convertible production forest (HPK) and non-forest areas, also known as areas for other use (APL).
Non-forest areas are currently under the authority of local governments and the land agency.
The status of APL has been abused by local administrations as a loophole to obtain forest permits.
In 2013, for example, the former forestry ministry approved the Aceh administration's request to convert protected forests into non-forest zones through spatial planning bylaws in spite of the moratorium.
Therefore, if the current government failed to address the weaknesses of the soon-to-expire moratorium, such as a flimsy legal basis and legal loopholes, it would be business-as-usual for the country.
'If President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo only copies and pastes Yudhoyono's moratorium, then he doesn't have the commitment to protect the forests as promised in his vision and mission, Nawacita,' Teguh said.