The Jakarta Post
The government has earmarked at least Rp 20 billion (US$1.4 million) in its 2016 budget to cut red tape blocking indigenous people's access to their land.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry's social and partnership forestry director-general Hadi Daryanto said on Saturday that the budget would be distributed to regional governments to fund draft bylaws on indigenous land.
'We have allocated part of the 2016 budget to facilitate the drafting of bylaws. In the past, the central government only went to the field to verify [data on indigenous people],' he said.
Two years after a landmark ruling by the Constitutional Court on the 1999 Forestry Law that invalidated the government's claim to customary forests, indigenous people still find it hard to claim their land rights as they need to gain recognition from their local government first.
Article 67 of the 1999 Forestry Law states that only regional governments can pass local bylaws to recognize indigenous communities and their land rights. In order for a regency administration to issue the bylaw, it has to make sure that the indigenous people have been living in the area for a long time and that the customary land truly is such, among other things.
As the government plans to redistribute 12.7 million hectares of social forests between 2015 and 2019, with 36.6 million hectares to potentially be handed over to indigenous people, Hadi said that recognition from local governments was the key for indigenous peoples claiming their rights back.
However, only a few local bylaws have been passed to recognize indigenous communities, including in Ammatoa Kajang in South Sulawesi and Kasepuhan Karang in Banten.
Hadi said the slow progress was due to lack of commitment from regional governments on the issue.
'In general, regional governments tend to allocate their budget for social issues and education, leaving none for the environment,' he said.
One of the indigenous communities still fighting for their rights is Malalo Tigo Jurai in Tanah Datar regency in West Sumatra.
'Actually there are other social forestry schemes offered by the Environment and Forestry Ministry. We have discussed this with the ministry but the [Malalo Tigo Jurai community] fully realize that if we're talking about other types of social forests, that means that they acknowledge that their forest did belong to the state and they don't want that. They want customary forest because that is clearly their right,' Qbar program coordinator Nora Hidayati, who has been helping the indigenous community with their fight, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.
The Association for Community and Ecology-Based Law Reform (HuMa) said the government was only interested in declaring other types of social forests, such as village forests, because it could exercise more control that way.
HuMa believes that if an area is declared a customary forest, the Environment and Forestry Ministry will no longer be able to recommend the issue of borrow-to-use permits.
To respond to the reluctance from local governments to recognize rights of indigenous communities to their customary land, the ministry plans to help expedite the issuance of local bylaws on indigenous land by lending technical assistance to regional governments.
Nora said the ministry played a crucial role in granting access to the land. 'We want to access [funds and technical assistance]. Our hope is for the ministry to facilitate [the process], from the mapping to the preparation of local bylaws,' she said.
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