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Jakarta Post

Rampant crime threatens RI forests

Hans Nicholas Jong
Jakarta   ●   Fri, July 3, 2015

Recent data from the government has shown that rampant environmental crime in Indonesia is posing an extraordinary threat to the country'€™s ecological sustainability.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry revealed on Thursday that it is currently handling 169 cases of environmental crime, spanning from Aceh to Papua and including offences such as illegal logging, wildlife trafficking, poaching and waste dumping.

'€œThis is just the tip of the iceberg. There are still many other cases [unreported or still in process],'€ the ministry'€™s law enforcement director-general, Rasio Ridho Sani, told reporters after a press briefing at his office in Jakarta.

Of these 169 cases, 10 of them are administrative, while 25 are disputes and 134 are crimes.

'€œThese numbers do not represent the whole country as this is just the data from seven units out of 77,'€ Rasio said.

He highlighted some major disputes to demonstrate the sheer volume of state losses caused by environmental crime.

For example, the case of wildfires destroying 20,000 hectares of vegetation at Ogan Komering Ilir regency in South Sumatra, allegedly caused by PT Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH).

The government estimated a Rp 2.7 trillion (US$203 million) loss as a result of the fires and are seeking to be reimbursed, and also demanding that the Palembang state court order the company to rehabilitate the damaged land at an estimated cost of Rp 5.3 trillion. That trial continues.

Forest fires are a major driver of climate change. According to the World Resource Institute (WRI), greenhouse gases (GHGs) from forest and peatland fires in Riau contributed to 27 percent of all GHGs emitted from Indonesia in 2009.

Forestry-related crimes still dominate legal cases handled by the ministry, with 90 cases having occurred from 2014 to 2015, consisting of 59 illegal logging cases, 27 wildlife trafficking cases, 20 encroachment cases, five forest fires and two illegal gold mining cases.

'€œIn terms of progress, there are 34 preliminary investigations going on, 10 full-blown investigations, six cases on trial and eight just completed,'€ the ministry'€™s forest security and protection director, Istanto, said on Thursday.

He admitted that many of the verdicts were far below what the ministry aimed for.

An example is the hunting of critically endangered black macaque monkeys, also known as yaki, in North Sulawesi, where 12 monkeys were recently killed.

The small monkey is protected under Law No. 5/1990 on the conservation of natural resources and the ecosystem, yet a penchant for the taste of the yaki'€™s flesh among the people of North Sulawesi is pushing the protected primate toward extinction.

The population of the crested black macaque is between 4,000 and 5,000 in the province.

'€œWe arrested four people [for hunting and killing the monkeys] and they have been sentenced to one year in prison,'€ said the head of North Sulawesi Natural Resources Conservation Agency, Sudiyono.

Rasio said that all people, especially law enforcers, needed to understand that these crimes were extraordinary ones.

'€œEnvironmental crime involves every kind of crime, from causing state losses to harming people'€™s wellbeing,'€ he said. '€œWith the crimes becoming more complex, organized and harmful, we have to prepare more robust law enforcement entities at a regional level. We don'€™t know the form yet,'€ he admitted, but said it had to happen.

According to the ministry'€™s environmental dispute settlement director, Jasmin Ragil Utomo, law enforcement at regional level was still weak because many regional law enforcers are reluctant to file lawsuits in court.

'€œFirst, they are reluctant because suing someone costs money. Furthermore, they are confused about where to put the money returned by convictions as it falls into the category of non-tax state income. Regions'€™ incomes are generally only taxes and fees,'€ he said on Thursday.

At the moment, agencies handling environmental law violations are still split as regional governments have agencies that handle environment and forestry separately, just like the central government used to have until President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo decided to merge the forestry ministry and the environment ministry last year.

'€œNow that [that] merger has been finished, we can focus on similar agency mergers at regional level. We have talked with the Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Ministry about this plan and hopefully we can execute it this year,'€ said Rasio.