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Unified land-use map for Indonesia nears launch, but concerns over access remain

Indonesian rainforest. Photo for Mongabay by Rhett A. Butler.

Indonesian rainforest. Photo for Mongabay by Rhett A. Butler.

  • A unified database integrating all of the land-use maps currently in use in Indonesia is set for an earlier-than-expected launch this August, as the government scrambles to collate outstanding data from various agencies and regions.
  • The one-map policy is seen as key to resolving a host of development and planning problems caused by overlapping and often contradictory maps wielded by different agencies, including the issue of plantations being permitted inside forest areas.
  • The government, however, says access to the database will be restricted, and is drafting regulations that will govern who gets to see it.

JAKARTA — An effort by the Indonesian government to compile a single map of land-use cover across the vast archipelago is nearing completion seven years after it began, but continues to be hampered by the very problem it seeks to overcome: bureaucracy.

The one-map policy, conceived in 2011 to establish a single database for all government maps to eliminate disparities between the various maps currently in use by different government agencies, was initially slated for launch in mid-August this year, to coincide with the country’s independence anniversary. However, the Coordinating Ministry for the Economy has now decided to bring the launch date forward to early August, although no specific date has been set.

The prevalence of mixed and often contradictory sources of reference across the different levels and arms of government is one of the biggest impediments to sustainable development in the country, experts say. This is particularly true for land-use maps, which are just as crucial in the management of Indonesia’s forests and natural resources as they are for infrastructure planning and development projects.

Darmin Nasution, the coordinating minister for the economy, last month highlighted the importance of a unified map by pointing to a major gas leak in Jakarta that occurred after workers building a light-rail line accidentally drilled into an underground gas pipeline.

“The synchronization [of various government maps] is needed to avoid overlapping data, whether they’re for infrastructure projects or others,” Darmin said as quoted by news site Detik.com. “If we have a synchronized [map], then an incident [like the gas pipe rupture] will not happen again.”

In February, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo expressed hope that the one-map policy would be able to resolve the longstanding problem of illegal plantations inside forest areas. He noted that in Indonesian Borneo alone, a region known as Kalimantan, there was an overlap of some 40,000 square kilometers (15,440 square miles) between plantations and forests.

“I’m sure this policy can solve conflicts caused by overlapping [permits],” he said as quoted by Katadata.co.id.

A map of Indonesia. Courtesy of wikimedia commons.

Maps, maps everywhere

With more than 17,000 islands and a combined land and sea area that is the seventh largest in the world, Indonesia has a wide range of official maps, including for mining permits, free-trade zones, oil and gas blocks, and forestry areas.

Under the one-map policy, the government aims to synchronize 85 of these existing and disparate maps, which are currently managed by 19 different government agencies, for all 34 provinces nationwide. Progress on integrating the maps into the unified database varies by region, according to the National Geospatial Agency (BIG), which is overseeing the project.

For Sumatra, where 82 maps are in use, the BIG has integrated 66. (Not all maps apply to all regions.) In Kalimantan, 69 out of 78 maps have been synced to the database. In Sulawesi, it’s 63 out of 80; and in Bali and Nusa Tenggara, 64 out of 79 maps.

Much of the BIG’s work now centers on integrating the maps for the Java, Maluku and Papua regions. In Java, home to more than half of the country’s 250 million inhabitants, only 35 out of 81 maps have been integrated, while the figures for Maluku and Papua are 26 each out of 80 and 81 maps, respectively.

There are also two key maps that don’t exist for all regions: a village border map and a customary land map, according to Lien Rosalina, the head of mapping and thematic integration at the BIG.

She said the Ministry of Environment and Forestry expected to finish the customary land map in July, while the Ministry of Home Affairs was working on the village border map. The issue with the latter, she said, was that while a lot of work had been done to define village borders, there no local regulations had been issued to formalize them.

Nurwadjedi, a deputy at the BIG in charge of the one-map policy, said the government had finished mapping borders for 12,000 out of 74,000 villages nationwide.

“We want to have a complete map that shows village borders, because we don’t have it yet,” he told Mongabay. He added it was “going to be hard work” finishing the village map by August.

“We still have lots of works to do,” Lien said. “Our only concern is time, as we’re approaching August with three more regions [to be completed].”

She said there were teams already on the ground collating the maps from Java, Maluku and Papua.

“So we’re visiting [local administrations] to collect their spatial planning maps, road maps and so on,” Lien said. “And integrating these maps takes time and process.”

Darmin, meanwhile, has instructed all government agencies, at the national and local levels, to speed up the integration of the maps to meet the deadline. He said he hoped the integration could be finished by mid-June.

Despite the tight deadline, BIG head Hasanuddin Zainal Abidin said he was optimistic the agency could meet the deadline.

An adult male orangutan receiving a health check in Indonesia. Orangutans often engage in conflicts with human as their habitats are destroyed to make way for plantations due to lack of unified map in the country. Photo by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

Data disclosure

Lack of transparency about information that should otherwise be publicly accessible has long defined the Indonesian bureaucracy’s governance of land and resources.

To improve transparency, Indonesia passed the Freedom of Information Act in 2008. As a result, information that was previously not disclosed by default and only made public upon request must now be made publicly available by default.

But the government continues to be secretive about maps, particularly those related to the extractive industries, such as mining and palm oil. And the indications are that this will extend to the one-map database too.

One of the many maps being integrated into the database is that on oil palm plantations, which is closely held by the Ministry of Agrarian and Spatial Planning. For years, the NGO Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI) has sought to bring the map to light, only to be rebuffed by the ministry.

In 2016, FWI filed a report with the Central Information Commission, or KIP, which processes freedom-of-information requests to the government. The KIP duly found in favor of FWI, and a series of appeals by the ministry fell flat, with the Supreme Court issuing the final verdict in favor of FWI.

But the ministry has refused to release the information being requested. It says it is obliged to generate revenue from the release of such data, and that the lack of a payment mechanism prevents it from complying with the KIP’s order.

The agrarian ministry also initially refused to provide the palm oil maps to the BIG for the one-map policy, citing the same reason. In that case, however, it finally complied after the anti-corruption agency intervened.

Now, however, it appears the same thinking behind the agrarian ministry’s refusal to release its maps will also inform the one-map policy: The government contends there needs to be a regulation on who can access the unified database.

To that end, the government is drafting ministerial and presidential regulations that will govern data sharing for the one-map policy. Darwin’s office says it will finish drafting the presidential regulation this week, before sending it to Jokowi to sign. That regulation will be high-level in nature, while more detailed guidelines will follow in the ministerial regulation, Hasanuddin from the BIG said as quoted by Kontan.co.id.

Banner image: Indonesian rainforest. Photo for Mongabay by Rhett A. Butler.