in Indonesia

Indonesia is “open for big business” and failing to protect its people and forests

“You can find almost everything in Indonesia,” said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the first Indonesia Investment Day in New York last month. “Oil and gas, coal, geothermal energy, tin, copper, nickel, aluminum, bauxite, iron, cacao, coffee. When it comes to oil, we have oil underground, under the sea and even above the ground: palm oil.”

Needless to say, this is the same President Yudhoyono that only a year ago who told us that “Forests are so dear to my heart.” But then he was talking at a conference organised by CIFOR and the focus of the conference was protecting Indonesia’s forests. Yudhoyono promised that he would, “dedicate the last three years of my term as President to deliver enduring results that will sustain and enhance the environment and forests of Indonesia”.

Except when he’s talking to investors, that is.

In 2011, investment in the oil and gas industry in Indonesia was US$12.8 billion and the industry contributed US$34.4 billion to State Revenue, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. More than 30 new oil and gas contracts were signed during the year.

Also in 2011, Indonesia overtook Australia as the world’s largest coal exporter, with exports of more than 300 million tons.

Meanwhile, the palm oil industry threatens to destroy vast areas of forest. In Kalimantan, if the oil palm plantation concessions that have already been issued were to be developed, the greenhouse gas emissions from the sector between 2010 and 2020 would be almost five times the emissions between 2000 and 2010.

As the Environmental Investigation Agency points out, “Indonesia is open for big business”. EIA describes what is happening in Indonesia is a “neoliberal dream”, which for the people on the receiving end is a nightmare.

EIA and Telapak have been supporting communities in Muara Tae in East Kalimantan who are attempting to defend what remains of their forest. They have lost more than half their land to mining and oil palm concessions.

Two companies are currently clearing Muara Tae’s forests: PT Munte Waniq Jaya Perkasa (MWJP) and PT Borneo Surya Mining Jaya (BSMJ). MWJP is owned by TSH Resources Bhd, a Malaysian company. BSMJ is owned by First Resources Ltd, an Indonesian conglomerate whose CEO, Ciliandra Fangiono, is one of the richest people in Indonesia, with a net worth in 2011 of US$1.2 billion.

EIA has set up an action alert to stop the companies from bulldozing the forests of Muara Tae. The village is inhabited largely by the Dayak Benuaq, indigenous people. One of the problems here is that the Indonesian government fails to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples.

Gekko Studio and Telapak recently produced a video about Muara Tae, describing the villagers’ struggle to protect their forest:

Of course, REDD is supposed to stop this sort of thing. Isn’t it?

Yesterday, the REDD+ Task Force put out a press release stating that it was prioritising 12 forest-related crimes. It’s not clear whether Muara Tae is one of these cases. Neither is it clear, in a country where a bribe for a 2,000 hectare logging concession costs US$25-30,000, why only 12 cases are prioritised.[*]

Last week, the Governor of East Kalimantan, Awang Farouk Ishak, pointed out that officials had awarded mining and oil palm concessions that overlapped protected forests.

“This must stop. Evaluate the issuances of existing permits. The problematic [concessions] must be stopped and their licenses revoked.”

Last month, the government found 1,461 overlapping concessions in Kalimantan. A review of existing concessions is desperately needed in Indonesia, and would go further than the moratorium under the Indonesia-Norway US$1 billion REDD deal, which does not look at existing concessions.

But as well as concessions overlapping other concessions and protected areas, concessions also overlap indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ land. Any meaningful review of existing concessions must also take this into account if it is to help communities such as those at Muara Tae, rather than rich businessmen such as Ciliandra Fangiono.

UPDATE – 24 October 2012: I asked Achmad Santosa, the Head of the Working Group for Legal review and Law Enforcement at the REDD+ Task Force, whether Muara Tae was one of the 12 cases and why only 12 cases were chosen. Here’s his reply:

“The 12 cases are mostly in central kalimantan. It was chosen from 63 cases idnetified by MoF and Task force on anti judicial mafia in 2011. It is a matter of time and priority to target in other areas. The names of the companies cannot be disclosed until the time comes. All defendants will be announced by enforcement agencies when the cases are ready to be prosecuted in court.”

I also asked him, “Is this part of a review of the legality of existing forest concessions in Indonesia?” He didn’t reply to that question.

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  2. @ILMARINEN G. VOGEL (#1) – Indigenous Peoples have been trading forest products for centuries. Your suggestion of “banning forest products from reaching our markets” would also have serious impacts on Indigenous Peoples’ livelihoods. I’m currently reading Michael Dove’s book, “The Banana Tree at the Gate”, which provides a fascinating history of the Kantu’ Dayak in Kalimantan and their farming of pepper and rubber as cash crops.

    P.S. Please don’t comment in capitals. It looks like you’re shouting. Thanks!

  3. Indigenous and local communities, and other vulnerable groups in Indonesia, has always been a victim of development that makes the natural resource as a sources of investment.

  4. Natural resource= money resource. The government didn’t forget about the moratorium under the Indonesia-Norway. Money is the only one reason of everything they have done.