The Jakarta Post
Every adversity is an opportunity in disguise. Today marks the International Day of Forests, a moment of global celebration to raise awareness of the importance of forests to the ecosystem and to humanity.
This day is of particular significance to Indonesia, home to the world's third largest tropical forested area, and offers a great opportunity to highlight existing solutions to address one of the country's most challenging issues: annual forest fires and forest-related crimes.
As part of its commitment to protect national natural resources, UNDP and UN-REDD Program, with support from Norway, have worked with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the National Police Forces and the Attorney General Office to pursue a new effective approach to tackle environment-related crimes in forest areas and peatlands, including forest fires.
This approach is called the 'multi-door approach' and attempts to both prevent offenders from violating Indonesia's environmental laws and to ensure that corporate accountability, recovery of state losses and restoration of the environment are incorporated into every investigation for forest-related crimes.
This approach can be an effective tool to combat forest fires, often triggered by the clearing of land for agricultural purposes.
Illegal land clearing by burning is an example of a natural resource and environment-related crime that requires systematic investigations and mutual cooperation between various government and law enforcement agencies.
The full enforcement of these environmental protection laws are an essential step toward better protection and management of forests and peatlands in Indonesia.
The financial and environmental losses of environment-related crimes are staggering. According to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, an average of 0.7 million hectares of forest were lost every year from 1990 to 2013, through illegal actions ' that is a total of over 16 million hectares, which is nearly the size of Cambodia.
They also have a cost to State revenues; in 2015, the Corruption Eradication Commission estimated that the shortfall in State revenue due to these illegal actions amounts to US$6.47 to $8.98 billion from 2007 to 2013.
The multi-door approach has not yet been integrated into performance-based indicators of relevant institutions.
In May 2013, the national police, the Attorney General, the Ministry of Forestry, and the Ministry of Environment signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to adopt the multi-door approach when handling natural resources and environment-related crimes in forest areas and peatlands.
UNDP Indonesia has recently presented findings of an assessment ' undertaken at the government's request ' on the effectiveness of the Multi-Door Approach.
The results of our assessment show that, in practice, the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of law enforcement agencies were not yet aligned with the guidelines under multi-door approach, despite the formal agreement signed in 2013.
The UNDP assessment recommends three key elements for improved law enforcement for forest related crimes: (1) the establishment of guidelines and inter-agency coordination via the Multiple-Door Approach; (2) the need for capacity building for informed and knowledgeable enforcement personnel and (3) to ensure that all enforcement agencies explicitly incorporate the Multi-Door Approach into their daily operations to incentivize compliance.
Firstly, the handling of crimes in forest areas and peatlands require increased coordination between law enforcement agencies and government institutions mandated to investigate natural resource and environment-related crimes.
This includes civil servant investigators in the environment, forestry, taxation and plantation sectors.
If there are indications or reports of crimes such as violations of the Plantation Law and the Law on Spatial Planning, corruption or money laundering, following the multiple-door approach, the first institution that receives the report should then inform other relevant law enforcement agencies to trigger appropriate action.
Therefore, agencies can complement each other by bringing in witnesses and including experts from outside ministries or agencies, when required by the police or prosecutors investigating environmental crimes.
The second element is capacity building for informed enforcement personnel. In addition to understanding specific environmental laws, investigators must also be knowledgeable of interrelated regulations, which may be indirectly related to a forest fire case, such as the Plantation Law that regulates the scope of a plantation area.
This also includes capacity building for judges to increase their technical skills when overseeing legal proceedings for forestry-related crimes, which UNDP is addressing with the support of the European Union.
Lastly, the multi-door approach has not yet been integrated into performance-based indicators of relevant institutions.
This fact diminishes the incentives for each institution to implement the approach. It would be much more effective if the multi-door approach was incorporated as one of the performance indicators for the signatories of the MOU.
Taking action on the three aforementioned elements is expected to significantly improve law enforcement for natural resource and environment-related crimes throughout the country. Such improvement can lead to the prosecution of the relatively 'untouchable masterminds', companies and individuals who engineer the illegal actions that lead to annual burning of Indonesia's forests.
As just last week, hotspots signifying forest fires began to reappear in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. In response, the Indonesian government has pledged swifter responses to tackle the annual forest fires that cause a choking haze and blanket these two islands.
The multi-door approach offers an opportunity to make a significant breakthrough in addressing peatland and forest crimes, through increased coordination and inter agency cooperation.
What is urgently needed now is the full implementation of this approach by all relevant law enforcement and governmental agencies to prevent a reoccurrence of last year's historic levels of ecological and economic losses, caused by Indonesia's annual forest fires.
Strengthened cooperation and coordination will make a real difference to effectively tackle this complex issue and improve the wellbeing of Indonesia's people, environment and economy.
The writer is UNDP Indonesia country director.
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