Lack of governance

Much of Indonesia’s deforestation has been driven and facilitated by weak governance and law enforcement. Even government's protected areas have been illegally deforested without much counter-action, encouraging yet more deforestation. As civil society has been pointing out these flaws, Government has tended to weaken its land use related laws rather than enforce the existing ones. Powerful companies and individuals have remained untouched, able to continue their unsustainable practices, even in violation of the law.

Eyes on the Forest’s first press release in 2005 was about corruption in Riau’s pulp & paper sector. It highlighted the issuance of many legally questionable concession licenses and annual work permits to 35 wood suppliers for paper giants APP and APRIL which allowed them to clear over 400,000 hectares of Sumatra’s forests, many of them on peatlands. Over the years, courts sentenced six government officials to jail or detained them for corrupt practices in issuing these licenses. However, all cases against the APP and APRIL suppliers confirmed or suspected to have bribed the convicted officials were dropped. In 2012, the Presidential Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force estimated the state's financial losses from forest destruction carried out by 14 of these companies to have reached US$200 billion. Yet until today no company has been convicted. A coalition of civil society organizations detailed the situation in a report on Indonesia’s poorly conceived EU driven timber certification system SVLK in 2014 (Chapter 5.1).

Photos of convicted government officials.

In October 2015, Indonesia’s Presidential Corruption Eradication Commission reported that due to Government’s weak administrative systems and management of the country’s natural resources:

  • the forestry sector was able to not report around 77-81% of the actual total timber produced between 2003 and 2014 (between 630-773 million m3),
  • the estimated annual average state loss included US$539-749 million of non-tax forestry revenues (Reforestation Fund, DR and Forest Resource Provision, PSDH),
  • the non-reported timber can be considered “stolen state assets” and money generated through the sale of this timber – estimated at US$5.0-6.8 billion per year of commercial value - can be considered as both state losses and proceeds of a crime, and
  • much of the unreported timber came from land clearing for commodities including pulpwood and oil palm plantations, putting into question the legality of many of these plantations.

Historically, most cases against companies alleged to have caused fires in Sumatra have been acquitted (e.g. EoF News on 22 July 2016). After the devastating fires and haze of 2015, civil society believed a new era had begun with Government finally cracking down on violators of the country’s no burning laws. Yet by late 2016, once again the country seems to have slipped back into business as usual as cases against violating companies have been dropped. At least 15 companies who were allegedly involved in setting fires in 2015 are set free from investigation as police issued an order to close the cases. Environmentalist groups protested, requesting proper legal actions to bring them to justice. House of Representatives have summoned Riau Police officers for alleged irregularities related to case closures of the 15 companies. Chief of Riau Police was replaced and NGOs are still fighting to bring the companies back to justice.

Recent policy change in Indonesia from development towards protection and restoration of peatlands is a positive news, though the public needs to see stronger law enforcement against companies who operate against the new policy and regulations.