Symbolic removal of acacia marks new era of peat-related law enforcement

(foresthints.news) - A firm instruction issued by President Joko Widodo - to the effect that there will be no compromises when it comes to law enforcement related to forest and land fires - has been acted upon by Environment and Forestry Minister Dr Siti Nurbaya in a consistent manner, in particular by instructing her two director generals to ensure that all the newly-replanted acacia in 2015’s burned peatlands is removed.

Last Thursday (Feb 9), in a symbolic gesture, some of this newly-replanted acacia was indeed removed by the top ministry officials mentioned above at two locations in a pulpwood concession belonging to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) subsidiary, PT BAP, located in Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) regency - one of two peat restoration priority regencies situated in the province of South Sumatra.

The following video illustrates the process leading up to the PT BAP location and the removal of the newly-replanted acacia from 2015's burned peatlands.

In line with its previous comprehensive reporting, foresthints.news also had the opportunity to cover the symbolic removal of the acacia at the two locations in the concession. This is the first news report from foresthints.news to derive from the results of an official inspection performed by the ministry.

Not a sudden move

This ministry’s law enforcement action was taken after two letters sent by the Forestry Minister to PT BAP ordering the APP company to get rid of all its newly-replanted acacia from burned peatlands went unheeded. These two letters were sent in early and late December last year.

“This was not a sudden move on the ministry’s part. In fact, we gave the company two whole months to comply with our minister’s order. However, they never took any real action,” Professor San Afri Awang, the Ministry’s Director General of Forestry Planology and Environmental Governance, told foresthints.news at the BAP concession after the removal of the acacia (Feb 9).

Due to this lack of compliance from the APP company, the Director General explained, the ministry was compelled to take the symbolic step of uprooting the newly-replanted acacia from 2015’s burned peatlands.

In the meantime, Rasio Ridho Sani, the Ministry’s Director General of Law Enforcement, who took part in the removal of the newly-replanted acacia, pointed out that this measure formed part of the ministry’s law enforcement efforts associated with forest and land fires.

“The facts on the ground clearly demonstrate that PT BAP’s operations still involve business-as-usual practices, even after major parts of its concession were stricken by peat fires. Of course, this is really disappointing,” lamented Roy, as the Director General is commonly known.

These photos depict the symbolic removal of newly-replanted acacia from 2015’s burned peatlands at the first location in the PT BAP concession by the ministry’s two director generals - San Afri (in white) and Roy (in black). This action was witnessed by a top executive from the APP company.

As previously reported by foresthints.news (Jan 17), Minister Siti Nurbaya has issued as many as eight letters to different APP companies, most notably instructing them to remove all the newly-replanted acacia from 2015’s burned peatlands. These eight APP concessions cover an area of over 850 thousand hectares, more than 13 times the size of Singapore.

Admitting the facts

At the sites where the newly-replanted acacia was removed, the two director generals asked the top executive of APP in attendance directly whether 2015’s burned areas had been replanted with acacia. His answer was yes.

Professor San Afri went on to say that according to BAP’s 10-year work plan, the company’s concession, which covers an area of almost 200,000 hectares, generally consists of peatlands. The two locations from where the acacia was removed, he added, are also composed of peatlands, as spelt out in this same legal document.

“The two removal sites prove that we were right on target in alleging that PT BAP had committed violations by replanting acacia in burned peat areas,” said the Director General.

The following photos show the symbolic removal of newly-replanted acacia from 2015’s burned peatlands being carried out at the second location in the APP concession concerned.

Sanctions imposed

At a press briefing held yesterday at the ministry building (Feb 13), Director General Roy described how the lack of compliance on the part of PT BAP meant that administrative sanctions would be immediately imposed by the Environment Minister, above all as a way of forcing the APP company to dispose of all the acacia recently planted in 2015’s burned peatlands.

“The issuance of these sanctions represents the consistency of the ministry in terms of law enforcement,” the Law Enforcement Director General affirmed.

If PT BAP fails to comply with the administrative sanctions within the stipulated time, Roy continued, it will be given a stronger sanction in the form of a permit suspension.

"If within the period of permit suspension, for example, all newly-replanted acacia in 2015's burned peatlands is not removed, the next step will be to revoke PT BAP's permit altogether," he cautioned.

Director General San Afri also gave a stern warning to all the pulpwood companies which have received a letter from the minister ordering them remove all their newly-replanted acacia in 2015's burned peatlands to immediately obey the order so as not to suffer the same fate as PT BAP.

In addition to the eight APP pulpwood companies instructed to get rid of their newly-replanted acacia, especially that in burned peatlands, PT RAPP, a company belonging to another pulp giant - APRIL, was also ordered to remove the acacia it had recently planted in newly developed peatlands.

At the end of last month, President Joko Widodo explicitly demanded the entire government apparatus to make sure that 2015's forest and land fires, which caused losses of more than USD 16 billion, are not repeated.

PT BAP was the largest concession to be ravaged by the peat fires of 2015. It goes without saying that the peat fires in this APP concession contributed substantially to the 16 billion dollar losses brought about by the catastrophic fires.

All of 2015's burned peatlands scattered within the PT BAP concession are included in the Peat Restoration Agency's targeted indicative peat restoration map. Unfortunately, according to the results of field inspection conducted by the ministry, the peat agency delivered zero action on the ground during 2016.

In early February 2013, APP released its forest conservation policy (FCP). However, to this day, APP has not refrained from replanting burned peatlands. In fact, the policy does not regulate at all for the restoration of burned peatlands across APP's supply chains.

As a result of this FCP's shortcomings, APP companies continue to replant acacia all across 2015's burned peatlands. This serious peat violation ultimately led to the order from the ministry to remove all the newly-replanted acacia from burned peatlands.