The Jakarta Post
Reforestation funds of Rp 64 billion (about US$5 million) in Mentawai Islands regency, West Sumatra, have reportedly been lying idle in the regency coffers since 2003.
Mentawai Islands Forestry Office head Binsar Saleleunaja said that in line with Government Regulation No. 35/2002 on reforestation funds, Mentawai Islands had been issued money for reforestation every year since 2003. However, the funds have, in their entirety, been unable to be used.
'The problem is, based on assessment by the West Sumatra River Basin Area Management Center [BPDAS], which has the authority to determine areas to be reforested, only 143 hectares of the forested areas are deemed fit for reforestation, while other areas, including those close to logging company concessions, are considered not appropriate,' Binsar said Tuesday.
The areas in question are located in the southern part of Siberut Island, including 53 hectares in Muntei village and 90 hectares in Maileppet village. However, both locations have been converted into community forest farms using special allocation funds this year.
Mentawai Islands regency has the largest forest concession areas in West Sumatra, with a number of lumber companies having operated in the area since the New Order government. Currently, two companies operate in the regency.
PT Minas Pagai Lumber obtained a natural forest production permit from the Forestry Ministry in October 1995 to exploit 83,330 hectares on South Pagai Island for a 20-year term. The permit was extended two years ago for a further 45 years.
PT Salaki Summa Sejahtera was issued a forest cultivation permit in October 2004 to exploit 48,420 hectares in the northern part of Siberut Island for a 56 year period.
According to Binsar, the amount of reforestation funds for Mentawai Islands varies every year between Rp 2 billion and Rp 6 billion, according to timber variety, number of companies operating and size of working area.
In 2014, the regency received Rp 6 billion in reforestation funds from both companies. This year the amount is expected to be the same, as both companies received the same annual working plan permit.
'The transferred reforestation funds will not be withdrawn by the central government because they are owned by the Mentawai Islands regency administration, but if the funds are used in line with BPDAS requirements to reforest and restore critical forest, obviously we will not be able to use them, ' said Binsar.
The regency administration, he said, had asked the central government to allow the funds to be used for other development purposes beneficial to the community in Mentawai Islands, such as infrastructure development, especially roads.
Mentawai regency council deputy speaker Kortanius Sabeleake called the government regulation 'too rigid' in deciding the use of reforestation funds for regions.
BPDAS should be serious, he added, in assessing critical areas because the forest in Mentawai had been logged by a number of companies for dozens of years, resulting in the deforestation of thousands of hectares of forest.
'Environmental damage is inevitable in Mentawai. In Siberut alone, rivers overflow and submerge homes every rainy season and the situation continues to worsen. The presence of forest concession holders obviously contributes to the problem,' said Kortanius.
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