2016-05-26

No whitewashing of illegal palm oil plantations operating in state forest areas, says DG


JAKARTA (foresthints.news) - Indonesia's Ministry of the Environment and Forestry has reaffirmed that it continues to pursue the path of law enforcement with respect to palm oil plantations located in state forest areas whose owners do not qualify for forest release permits on these plantations as they are unable to fulfill the necessary legal requirements.

These legal requirements consist of certain criteria which are clearly stipulated and strictly governed by Indonesian government regulations. These regulations leave no room for operating outside of the legal avenues.

The ministry certainly has specific legal steps at its disposal - most notably through agrarian reform - to deal with palm oil plantations owned by local communities located in state forest areas as long as the presence of these plantations is legally provable and accountable.

San Afri Awang, the Director General of Forestry Planology and Environmental Governance, brought up these issues when announcing the tenth update to the existing moratorium map on the suspension of new permit issuances for primary forest and peatland at the ministry’s office (May 25).

This tenth update of the existing moratorium map covers an area of 65.27 million hectares, an increase of more than 190 thousand hectares from the previous update.

"The legally-based chronology of palm oil plantations located in forest areas, whether within or outside of the existing moratorium map, is going to be studied in detail. Sumatra's Riau province is one of the priorities in terms of law enforcement,” he asserted.

The Director General revealed that the state has incurred huge losses due to the operations of palm oil plantations in state forest areas - in this case, those owned by a handful of palm oil business groups – which should be paid for and put into the state treasury.

Professor Awang pulled no punches in relating the following story: “A partnership-based group called PISAgro involving a number of palm oil business groups approached our minister about signing an MoU aimed at accelerating the process of releasing state forest areas in which oil palms had already been planted. The proposal in the MoU was, of course, flat out rejected. In fact, such attempts at coercion using an MoU are patently unethical and illegal.”

The Director General added that, “Cases of palm oil plantations in state forest areas can only be resolved through legal procedures. We are not prepared to use any other kind of procedure, least of all dealing with MoUs from palm oil business groups. The presence of palm oil plantations in state forest areas is a legal issue. There is no way it can be expedited simply through an MoU. This issue can only be resolved on a legal basis.”

As to palm oil plantations situated within the existing moratorium map, Professor Awang confirmed that his team was still performing an in-depth spatial and legal review of this matter.

“We have already delineated palm oil plantations located within the existing moratorium map, whether they are in state forest areas or outside of them. We have also delineated palm oil plantations located in state forest areas which are outside of the existing moratorium map,” the Director General pointed out.

He elaborated further, declaring that palm oil plantations which can legally prove that they are located in state forest areas as a result of the overlapping of spatial plans between regencies/municipalities, provinces and the ministry's map of state forest areas still had a legal opportunity for their forest release permits to be processed, provided that they compensate the state for its loss of forested areas from the operations of the palm oil plantations concerned.

“However, we found many cases involving palm oil plantations operating in state forest areas which constitute straight out violations and are not associated with any kind of overlapping of spatial plans. We immediately hand these cases over to the Ministry's Directorate-General of Law Enforcement. That’s the mechanism currently in place.”

Closing a lot of loopholes

Previously, Indonesia's Minister of the Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, said that up until the second round review of the palm oil expansion moratorium conducted on state forest areas lying outside of the existing moratorium map, almost 1.6 million hectares were subject to the moratorium.

This area, however, did not include the millions of hectares of state forest areas classified as convertible production forest areas currently situated outside of the existing moratorium map, in which the palm oil expansion moratorium is also applicable.

“The palm oil expansion moratorium currently in force includes areas outside of the existing moratorium map so as to close a number of loopholes present in the existing moratorium map. This is the reason the President Joko Widodo imposed the palm oil expansion moratorium outside of the existing moratorium map,” the Director General explained.

To illustrate his point, he described how under the previous administration, parts of areas in the existing moratorium map were cleared for palm oil expansion as the existing moratorium regulations had many loopholes that could be exploited.

“For this reason, a moratorium on palm oil expansion outside of the existing moratorium map is necessary,” the Director General concluded.