Govt cracks down on five more APP peat violators, bringing total to eight

JAKARTA (foresthints.news) - At the end of December 2016, Indonesia's Ministry of the Environment and Forestry acted without discrimination by issuing two ministerial letters instructing five more Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) companies to remove all the acacia they have recently replanted, particularly that in 2015's burned peatlands.

Of these additional five pulpwood companies concerned, one of them is PT RHM which operates in Musi Banyuasin in the province of South Sumatra, one of four designated peat restoration priority regencies. Another three of the APP companies - PT TPJ, PT SHP and PT BPP - lie in the same landscape as the PT RHM concession.

Meanwhile, the fifth company is PT SPM whose concession lies in Sumatra’s Riau province, one of seven designated peat restoration priority provinces.

As also previously reported by foresthints.news, the minister also issued a ministerial letter demanding that the three APP pulpwood companies (PT BMH, PT SBAWI and PT BAP) operating in a single peatland landscape in South Sumatra’s Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) regency, the landscape most severely affected by 2015’s massive peat fires, remove the newly-replanted acacia from the burned peatlands in their concessions.

As such, the total number of APP companies ordered to remove all their newly-replanted acacia by the Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, due to peat violations they have committed, now stands at eight.

The ministry has been conducting extensive peat restoration monitoring since early November last year, including making ground level inspections on the progress of peat restoration efforts, both those being undertaken within and outside of concession areas.

These photos demonstrate the peat violations perpetrated by PT RHM.

The conclusion reached by the ministry based on the results of its ground checks, as previously reported by foresthints.news, reinforced their suspicion that no peat restoration efforts at all have taken place across APP’s supply chains. On the contrary, the inspections uncovered many examples of the replanting of acacia in 2015’s burned peatlands.

In fact, the replanting of acacia in 2015’s fire-ravaged areas has been outlawed by a ministerial regulation since mid-December 2015. Not only APP pulpwood companies have fallen foul of the law - a listed palm oil company was also instructed by the minister to get rid of the palm oil it had planted in its concession’s burned peatlands.

The minister's order to remove the newly-replanted acacia sparked a controversy, because it was interpreted by some as authorizing the APP companies involved to carry out replanting in 2015's burned peatlands. However, two letters of request from two of the APP companies (PT BMH and PT SBAWI) to the ministry served to completely clear up the confusion.

It turns out that the two letters of request from the two APP companies sought permission from the ministry to clear and replant burned non-peat areas - as opposed to burned peat areas - as part of prevention efforts against future land and forest fires. The ministry subsequently approved these proposals.

However, after ground check were performed, it was found that these two APP companies had actually replanted acacia in 2015’s burned peatlands, rather than in non-peat areas.

A number of leading NGOs have thrown their support behind the minister as they appreciate that her actions are aimed at stepping up law enforcement efforts and are also expected to deter companies from committing further peat violations, such as land clearing and replanting.

President Joko Widodo has been consistently firm and transparent in asserting that his administration will not compromise when it comes to actors and companies who breach the rules on peatlands. In early September last year, the President’s strong message was reiterated by Minister Siti Nurbaya in response to cases of peat violations in Sumatra’s Riau province.

“What the ministry is doing, particularly with respect to cracking down on anyone involved in peat violations, forms part of our duty to implement the orders of the President. Everyone know just how highly committed President Jokowi is to (protecting) peatlands,” Minister Siti Nurbaya told foresthints.news (Jan 13) during a discussion held at her office.

FCP position unclear

In early February 2013, APP declared its forest conservation policy, known by the abbreviation Forest Conservation Policy (FCP). The essence of this policy was the adoption of zero deforestation and no-peat development practices.

When the FCP was declared, almost all of the natural forest and forested peatlands across APP's supply chains had been cleared and largely converted into pulpwood plantations. Several prominent NGOs concluded, however, that there were too few conservation gains from the implementation of the FCP.

Furthermore, the implementation of the FCP was not allowed to be in conflict with Indonesia's laws and regulations. With regard to the minister's order for the removal of all acacia that has been replanted by APP in 2015's burned peatlands, the position of the FCP has become unclear.

In light of this, it is not unusual for one of the ministry's top officials - as previously reported by foresthints.news - to question the peat violations committed by a number of APP companies in the context of the content and implementation of the FCP.

Unusually, APP did not provide a response when foresthints.news asked them for an explanation of the minister's letter ordering them to eradicate all newly-replanted acacia in 2015's burned peatlands.

With respect to the peat violations carried out by the APP companies in question, none of the NGOs which support the FCP have released a statement of any kind declaring their disengagement from the giant pulp company.

In contrast, the peat violations perpetrated by APRIL, another pulp and paper giant, caused both Greenpeace and WWF to disengage from the company by leaving their positions on APRIL's Stakeholder Advisory Committee.