NGO coalition raises concerns about bureaucracy, ministry responds with evidence

(foresthints.news) - A number of NGOs which are members of the Anti-Forest Mafia Coalition have raised critical concerns regarding the need to step up the restoration of the country's peatlands (Feb 2). Their unease about the current situation is certainly very relevant and cuts to the essence of why the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) was formed by President Joko Widodo in early January last year.

The NGO coalition delivered an emphatic statement imploring for the acceleration of Indonesia’s peat restoration not to be burdened with excessive bureaucracy, in this case allegedly stemming from the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

The coalition stressed that Indonesia’s peat restoration agenda is a matter of the utmost urgency and, in light of this, called for it to be implemented more swiftly, including by seeking further legal breakthroughs to assist the process.

This is the seventh news report compiled by foresthints.news with respect to the performance of the peat agency as it marks its first year of peat restoration efforts.

Acceleration reliant on plan

For the acceleration of peat restoration efforts in Indonesia to take place, a peat restoration plan, as the basis of the peat restoration, first needs to be completed in a timely manner.

As such, the peat agency was tasked with finalizing the 2016-2020 peat restoration plan, based on the presidential regulation which established the agency.

According to the Peat Restoration Agency Chief Nazir Foead, peat restoration plans for the regencies of Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) and Musi Banyuasin (Muba) - two peat restoration priority regencies whose pulpwood concessions were severely affected by peat fires in 2015 - are scheduled for completion in April 2017.

“The completion of peat restoration plans is entirely the duty of the peat agency, and has nothing to do with any bureaucracy in the Environment and Forestry Ministry,” Professor San Afri Awang, a member of the peat agency’s steering team, told foresthints.news (Feb 3).

In the initial months of the peat agency's operations, added San Afri, the ministry supplied all the data that was required by the peat agency.

“Indeed, I have asked the agency to speed up the completion of the 2016-2020 peat restoration plan, considering that as of October last year this plan was still unavailable. Even by the end of the year, the peat agency was apparently unable to finalize it,” bemoaned San Afri, who also serves as a director general at the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

Professor San Afri went on to explain that any pertinent concerns about the acceleration of peat restoration should be directed at those behind the delay in the completion of the peat restoration plan. “Let’s not wait until April 2017 again. When will the plan begin to be accelerated?” he asked.

Law enforcement measures

"The ministry has taken law enforcement measures against companies that have committed peat violations over more than 1 million hectares during 2016. We can prove this, it's not just talk," San Afri explained.

He elaborated further, saying the ministry had also demanded that eight pulpwood companies belonging to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) remove all their newly-planted acacia from 2015’s burned peatlands as well as drained peat domes. The concessions of these eight companies cover a combined area of almost 850,000 hectares.

These law enforcement measures, he continued, were taken after the ministry had conducted field inspections in the APP concessions in Riau and South Sumatra provinces, two of the country's seven peat restoration priority provinces. The following photos show the peat violations perpetrated by the APP companies.

The Director General then described how the ministry had cancelled the 10-year work plan of PT RAPP, a subsidiary of another pulp giant - APRIL. The ministry, he added, also instructed the APRIL company to get rid of the acacia it had recently replanted as part of its new peat development. The size of the APRIL company's concession alone is in excess of 335,000 hectares.

The following photos depict evidence of new peat development in the APRIL concession which was ordered by the ministry to remove its newly-replanted acacia.

San Afri underlined that the ministry's firm action was not only confined to the pulp and paper sector. In fact, he said, the ministry also sealed off the operations of a listed company that had carried out new palm oil plantation development in 2015's burned peatlands in its concession. The concession area of this palm oil company stands at more than 39,000 hectares.

The following photos demonstrate the massive scale of 2015's burned peatlands which were subsequently developed into a new palm oil plantation in OKI regency, one of the peat restoration priority regencies designated by the President.

The Director General was eager to stress that the law enforcement steps outlined above were unprecedented in the history of the forestry ministry.

Forestry governance

The peat agency did assign 25 companies, the majority of which are pulpwood companies, to undertake peat restoration themselves. This initiative was recognized by the ministry which sent a letter to the peat agency (Jan 20) expressing its appreciation for this effort to encourage forestry companies to take responsibility for peat restoration in their concessions.

Nevertheless, the letter also pointed out that the the revision of the 10-year work plans of the companies concerned should be enforced, and ultimately legal authority for the matter lies with the ministry.

“Forestry companies require a clear directive from a single authority so as not to give rise to confusion,” explained the Ministry’s Director General of Sustainable Production Forest Management, Putera Parthama, in the letter to the peat agency.

The substance of the letter from the Director General refers to a 2008 government regulation governing the legal position of 10-year work plans of forestry companies, in which the legal process for the revision of these work plans takes places under the auspices of the ministry.

In the letter, the ministry also stated that it expects recommendations from the peat agency, especially with regard to the revision of the 10-year work plans of forestry companies required to undertake peat restoration efforts.

Furthermore, the ministry also issued a revised ministerial decree at the end of March 2015 regarding the revision of the 10-year work plans of forestry companies. The decree included a reference to the findings of a Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) study conducted in the context of forestry governance.

“Since the peat agency issued its indicative targeted peat restoration map (Sep 14, 2016), we have been waiting for recommendations from the peat agency as to efforts to revise the 10-year work plans of the forestry companies concerned. However, until today, we have yet to receive any such recommendations from the peat agency,” Putera lamented in early January when speaking to foresthints.news.

Peat Agency Chief Nazir Foead told foresthints.news (Feb 2) that the agency would respond to the letter from the director general immediately and would include peat restoration recommendations involving the forestry companies in question.

“We will be conveying some technical recommendations to the ministry very soon as part of our response to the letter from the director general. These recommendations, among other things, will pertain to the acceleration of the revision of the 10-year work plans of the forestry companies which are obliged to restore parts of their concessions,” Nazir explained.