The Jakarta Post
The government has given the country’s leading pulp and paper company PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) a slap on the wrist even though it has violated President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s peatland moratorium policy.
Jokowi issued the policy in 2015 after massive land and forest fires that claimed the lives of 10 people and caused approximately 500,000 cases of respiratory tract infections.
The President ordered that even with licenses, all peatland was prohibited from being cleared until the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) finished mapping the location to see which areas were in protected or production zones. Peatland clearing is a major cause of forest fires.
On Friday, PT RAPP admitted that an operation to convert the peatland into a currently ongoing acacia plantation had occurred on their concession on Padang Island, Meranti Islands regency, Riau.
Despite violating Jokowi’s moratorium policy, RAPP president director Tony Wenas claimed that the company’s operations in the area was legal because it adhered to the company’s working plan (RKU), which had been approved by the Environment and Forestry Ministry in 2013. “We always follow the rules and all the actions we take are in accordance to the decree that we received from the [ministry],” he said after a closed meeting with the ministry and the BRG in Jakarta.
Tony added that the operation to convert the peatland had been ongoing since the end of 2014.
The company disclosed the peatland conversion operation after an impromptu visit on Monday by BRG head Nazir Foead, who discovered the area had freshly been planted with acacia seedlings.
Nazir decided to pay the visit after receiving a report about the company planting in the area, which has been disputed over by locals for years.
Since RAPP started its operation in Pulau Padang in 2011, residents have been protesting the company’s presence, resulting in the ministry issuing a decree that returns 7,000 hectares of land that were initially in the company’s concession area to three villages: Bagan Melibur, Mengkirau and part of Lukit. However, the decree has failed to ease tensions, which are still ongoing.
During the visit, Nazir also discovered that the company had built a canal over 3 kilometers long in the middle of the acacia plantation, suspected to be used to dry out the peatland to make way for the acacia seedlings to grow.
Tony said the canals were constructed to save water following forest fires last year, not to dry out the peatland.
BRG’s education, participation and partnership division deputy Myrna A. Safitri said the agency could not accept the company’s excuses as building a canal was also forbidden in peatland areas.
Despite the violation, the ministry decided to only give a verbal warning to the company. “There’s no sanction so far,” ministry’s secretary-general Bambang Hendroyono said.
Nazir said the ministry had only given the verbal warning to the company during their meeting.
For now, the government has ordered RAPP to halt all operations in the area while it continues to investigate the company’s claims, as well as to resolve the dispute between the company and locals.
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