Rainforest in Riau, Indonesia. Photos by Rhett A. Butler.
Last fall Indonesia elected its first president with no ties to the established political order or the military.
Joko Widodo’s election was widely heralded by reformers who hoped the politician’s capable management in his stints as mayor of the town of Solo and metropolis of Jakarta could transform Indonesia’s chronically underperforming bureaucracy, potentially ushering in a new era of improved human rights, better environmental stewardship, reduced corruption, and healthier economic growth. Indeed, in the run up to his election, Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, made several commitments on natural resource management and related issues.
But Jokowi’s ambitions were quickly challenged by powerful entrenched interests and the decentralized nature of land-use decision-making. While progress has already been made in some areas, some civil society groups are concerned that issues related to natural resources management, agrarian reform, and indigenous people may fall off the administration’s list of priorities.
Peucang Island off the coast of Java
Accordingly, Mongabay-Indonesia, Mongabay’s Indonesian-language environmental news service, last month launched a project to document and track progress on Jokowi’s social and environmental commitments, with a particular focus on those related to forests, oceans, wildlife, conservation, and traditional communities.
The first step of this effort is identifying commitments that have been made to date. Below is a summary of those commitments based on campaign materials, public statements, and interviews with NGOs that have met with administration officials. By June, we’ll release a scorecard that measures progress against these commitments.
By Loren Bell, Ridzki Sigit, Sapariah Saturi, and contributors from the Mongabay-Indonesia team
|Jokowi’s Plan / Administration Comments
|One map policy
|The Indigenous rights group AMAN claims that over 40 million hectares of ‘hutan adat’ (community forests) in and around 33,000 villages should be recognized under Constitutional Court decision 35/2102, which confirmed the existence of Indigenous-owned community forests. However, without a clear map shared among all agencies, at all levels of government, these rights are often overlooked. Conflict has been widespread throughout Indonesia as community lands are permitted for other uses.
The One Map policy has been endorsed by AMAN, and was well-received by the now disbanded BP REDD+ cabinet ministry. It is unclear how the project will proceed under the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
|Siti Nurbaya, the head of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF), stated that recognizing and granting rights to indigenous people through the One Map Policy is on the ministry’s road map. The MoEF will establish a special task force for developing the policy and resolving conflicts involving indigenous land.
The vision document submitted during Jokowi’s campaign listed a goal of distributing 9 million hectares of land to rural and indigenous populations.
Further, on a visit to Meranti, Riau, Jokowi stated that he believed the protection of the environment should be entrusted with the local people. Further he stated that he believed the moratorium on land clearing permits, which expires in May, should be continued under his watch.
|Extend moratorium and strategy on natural resources
|During the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), and encouraged by the LoI with Norway, Indonesia established a moratorium on deforestation. However, even with the moratorium in effect, Indonesia has seen high rates of land clearing.
The complex bureaucracy within the Ministry of Forestry and other government agencies has allowed a sub-culture of corruption and bribery to grow within the system. Many believe that major reform is needed before any advances in environmental protection can be made.
|Jokowi has identified 4 strategies for protecting natural resources that will be implemented by the Natural Resources Anti-Mafia Task Force:
1) One Map policy to review permits and improve governance of natural resources;
|Forest people, land allocation policy and agrarian problems
|Under law 6/2014 local villagers have been given official recognition of their right to manage the land and forest surrounding their community. In order to be eligible for up to IDR 1 billion / year in assistance, they must submit an application to the government to gain formal standing. The Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of Agriculture need to develop a common system to review and manage the applications.
|Ferry Mursidan, head of the ministry of Agriculture and Spatial Planning, has stated they will review land area claims by 13 indigenous put forward by a coalition of NGOs within six months.
|A lack of transparency and oversight of the former Ministry of Forestry has been blamed as a source of corruption and mismanagement of forest use permits. The issues appear to affect the current system at all levels of government.
For example, the Koalisi Anti Mafia Hutan, an NGO, has reported on extensive bribes the APRIL group allegedly paid to the Riau government during 2002 to 2006.
|The new administration has indicated it plans to shift most of the concession permitting from the Ministry of Forestry to the cabinet-level Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) which is directly answerable to the president. However making this shift will require extensive changes to existing regulations and the permitting structure.
|New Structure of MoEF
|The merging of the Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of the Environment into one mega-ministry has several groups concerned that the increase in size and power will only exacerbate issues with dense bureaucracy and corruption. The new MoEF has also absorbed the cabinet-level BP REDD+ and the National Council on Climate Change, which some fear will severely limit the government’s ability to police itself and compel the enforcement of climate policy.
Environmental NGOs and citizen rights groups fear that creating an even larger ministry will simply compound the difficulty already encountered when working with the Ministry of Forestry.
|Siti Nurbaya, the head of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, has stated the merger was necessary to streamline the government and reduce the overlap of agencies.
|Presidential Decree on Peatland Management
|Late in his term, the former president issued a peatlands protection law that has been criticized by both plantation companies as well as environmentalists.
At issue is the depth to which peat swamps may be drained as they are being converted to plantations. Companies claim the law will result in massive economic damages to the industry, while scientists and environmental groups argue that draining to any depth will continue to result massive releases of atmospheric carbon.
|The head of the newly merged MoEF has indicated the ministry will review the law stating that they don’t want any plantation companies to have to go out of business due to the peatlands protections.
|Fire on peat land, haze and law enforcement
|Land burning and persistent hot spots have destroyed peatlands, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and polluting the air of Southeast Asia. In 2014, Singapore passed the Trans-boundary Haze Bill allowing it to sue companies responsible for air pollution affecting the country, regardless of where they were operating.
BP REDD+, now disbanded, had previously signed MoUs with 12 provinces to combat the problem, and several companies had been charged for failing to control fires on their plantations.
|Jokowi has stated that in 2015, forest fires in Indonesia must be drastically reduced—particularly in Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi and West Kalimantan. He has stated that his administration will revoke the permits of companies unable to control fires on their land, and take legal action against those who start fires.
|Policing private commitments
|Under pressures from buyers, financiers, and the international community, several large pulp and paper companies (APP, APRIL) and oil palm plantations (GAR) have made highly publicized deforestation commitments, but have been criticized for not following through.
The companies have indicated they would be open to monitoring of their progress, but as of yet the government has chosen not to do so.
|Jokowi has stated he will revoke the licenses of any companies that violate established laws, including those concerning burning, environmental degradation, and the conflict with, or harm of, surrounding communities.
|Indonesia is currently a net importer of rice, the staple food of the majority of its population.
|Jokowi has set a 2 year goal for Indonesia’s rice crop to be self-sustaining. The new administration has stated it will focus on food scarcity within Indonesia by opening 1 million hectares of previously degraded land to agriculture.
Amran Sulaiman, the Minister of Agriculture, has asked the Ministry of Forestry to allow the conversion of 1 million hectares of currently protected forest into agricultural lands. The MoEF has yet approve this, and is instead looking for appropriate ‘neglected forested land’ for the proposal.
In addition, the administration has said it will work to revitalize of neglected water diversion and irrigation systems.
Further, the Minister of Marine Fisheries, Susi Pudjiastuti, has promised to establish a sustainable fisheries program.
|Oil palm plantation
|The country is the world’s leading exporter of palm oil, with the commodity accounting for 11% of Indonesia’s export income. However, plantations are a major cause of deforestation in Indonesia, leading to habitat loss, massive releases of carbon into the atmosphere, and conflict with local and indigenous communities.
The industry is plagued by issues with overlapping permits, violations of the deforestation moratorium, and even a regulatory system that prevents well-intentioned companies from protecting high conservation value forests that the government has zoned for exploitation.
|Illegal fishing and law enforcement
|Although Indonesia is the biggest maritime nation, its fisheries have long been neglected as the political system tended to ‘look to the mainland.’ Fishing vessels from foreign countries have been able to illegally harvest marine commodities throughout Indonesian waters, depleting fisheries and driving local small fishermen out of business. The situation exacerbated by a regulatory system deeply entrenched in bribery and corruption.
The situation is even more concerning in the eastern end of the archipelago where fisheries are among the most biodiverse in the world. However, due to their remoteness, monitoring and law enforcement has been weak.
|Susi Pudjiastuti, Minister of Marine and Fisheries, signed an MoU with the Center for Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center/INTRAC to help identify money laundering and corruption within the fisheries industry. The ministry will provide data to the center which will analyze transactions to find evidence of illegal activity.
|Endangered species conservation
|Populations of threatened or endangered species continue to decline despite being officially protected. Poor staffing and the high cost of monitoring, combined with differing cultural attitudes toward conservation have all been blamed for the historic lack of enforcement.
Manta rays, sharks, elephants, rhinos, tigers, bears and hornbills are among the species harvested illegally for export—primarily to the thriving traditional Chinese medicine markets. The utilization of the internet to connect traders with exporters has resulted in an increasingly porous border.
|The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has begun tackling wildlife trafficking rings within Indonesia. With the help of the Wildlife Conservation Society trained Wildlife Crimes Units, there have been several high profile busts of traders in recent months.
|Mining, land use, and social impact
|A recent mining ‘bonanza’ in Indonesia has been fueled by high demand from China and India for cheap raw coal and nickel. Seemingly uncontrollable small mining operations have spread rapidly throughout most regions of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku and other parts of the country. The health and environmental issues impact both rural areas as well as cities.
Local government officials often issue permits for high personal gain without considering the potential social and environmental impacts of mining. Permits are issued under the pretense of increasing local tax revenue, or creating employment opportunities. Enforcement of existing environmental regulations is often limited or non-existent.
|On a visit to Kalimantan, Jokowi stated that conflicts and environmental damage resulting from poorly-issued licenses is a top priority of his cabinet. He asked NGO’s to help provide concrete solutions to stopping the issues that arise from within permitted areas.
The head of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, has stated they will review and improve the regulations which govern the relationship between the local people and private enterprise. She confirmed that people have the right to live in a healthy environment and have access to the forest.
|Man-made disaster and human health
|Haze, small air-born particles from mining operations, polluted tailings ponds, and toxic chemicals released into the local waterways are only some of the increasing hazards faced by local populations as mining and plantation operations become more widespread..
A rise in the frequency of respiratory diseases, cases of mercury poisoning, and children drowning in abandoned mining pits are only some of the increasing health effects suffered as result of the these hazards.