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Illegal logging, palm oil and politics in Central Kalimantan

2016-05-19-172537_1203x1026_scrotLast year, local elections took place in Indonesia. The vote for the governor of Central Kalimantan was delayed, and took place in January 2016. Sugianto Sabran, the candidate with the closest ties to the palm oil industry won – by a very narrow margin.

Ward Berenschot, a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute for South East Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), has written an excellent overview of the election process and the candidates involved.

The results of the election are likely to be challenged in court, Berenschot writes. If Sugianto wins, new palm oil and mining concessions are the likely result.

Candidates closely linked to forest destruction

A look at the candidates reveals close connections to forest destruction:

  • Willy Yoseph: During the 1990s he was manager of an Australian timber company. In 2003, Willy was elected district head of Murung Raya. “This position enabled him to extract rents by issuing licenses to the budding palm oil industry,” Berenschot writes.
  • Ujang Iskandar: Made his fortune from logging before developing close links with palm oil companies. From 2005 to 2010 he was district head in Kotawaringan Barat.
  • Sugianto Sabran: Sugianto’s uncle is Abdul Rasyid, “one of the country’s most notorious former illegal logging kingpins”, as the Environmental Investigation Agency describes him. Abdul Rasyid’s business empire covers logging, shipping, media, and oil palm plantations.

Clearly the links between Indonesia’s political elite and forest destruction remain strong in Central Kalimantan. Political campaigns are expensive. Part of the problem is that candidates in local elections must have the backing of a political party. The parties sell their support to the highest bidder.

Berenschot writes,

There are events to organise in remote and, hence, costly locations. Donations, feasts and other ‘incentives’ to persuade local leaders and religious or ethnic organisations to join up, cost too. In the last week before election day, a candidate can hardly avoid having to buy thousands of votes. Informants estimate that a provincial governor’s campaign can cost up to Rp.100 billion (US$7.2 million). In an economy dominated by natural resource extraction, no candidate can raise that kind of money without either owning or supporting the palm oil and mining business.

Don’t mention the fires

Despite the fact that the election campaign took place at the end of fires that had engulfed Kalimantan for months, the candidates had little to say about the fires. Berenschot reports that at the campaign events he attended there was no mention of measures that would prevent the return of forest fires in the next dry season. The candidates’ election programmes hardly mentioned the fires.

Predictably, none of the canditates put forward any ideas for preventing fires in the future. Neither did they make any suggestions about how the palm oil industry might be better regulated.

Or the illegal logging in Tanjung Puting

In 1999, Telapak and the Environmental Investigation Agency reported on Abdul Rasyid’s illegal logging empire:

Abdul Rasyid started out as an illegal logger in the southern part of Tanjung Puting, and now through his company Tanjung Lingga owns sawmills, plywood and mouldings factories, palm oil plantations, barges, tugboats, and cargo ships.

EIA and Telapak went undercover, posing as timber buyers. They met Sugianto:

EIA/Telapak investigators posing as timber buyers gained an insight into Rasyid’s business practices during two meetings with his nephew Sugianto. During a brief initial meeting at Tanjung Lingga’s headquarters in Pangkalanbun, Sugianto said his company could offer both legal and illegal business, and recommended the second category as a way of avoiding a 30% export tax.

In January 2000, Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto from Telapak and Faith Doherty from the Environmental Investigation Agency went to Tanjung Puting to look into the current state of illegal logging operations.

They found unmarked ramin logs in one of Tanjung Lingga’s sawmills. They visited the Tanjung Lingga office in Pangkalanbun to request a meeting with Abdul Rasyid. Here’s how EIA and Telapak describe what happened in an update to the 1999 report:

On arriving at the office the pair were led to an upstairs room where Mr Sugianto Sabran Efendi, Rasyid’s nephew, and Ms Een Juhaeriyah, both directors of Tanjung Lingga were waiting, flanked by a group of unidentified men. One of the men said Rasyid was in Singapore. Sugianto immediately started shouting and attacked Ruwindrijarto, punching and kicking him to the floor. He also assaulted Doherty, seriously dislocating her finger, ripping the tendons and damaging the ligaments, leaving her to this day with a disability. Camera equipment and personal belongings were thrown around the room and smashed. Een Juhaeriyah also joined in the attack. During the beating Sugianto produced a pistol and threatened to kill Ruwindrijarto.

Rasyid’s brother Ruslan, who at the time was Chairman of the Commission to manage Tanjung Puting National Park, entered the office and hit Ruwindrijarto. Shortly afterwards the local police arrived, responding to a call made by one of the Tanjung Lingga staff. The three plainclothes policemen and one uniformed officer took Ruwindrijarto and Doherty to the police station.

Observer, Telegraph

Central Kalimantan is, of course, the REDD pilot province under the Norway-Indonesia US$1 billion dollar REDD deal. Who better to run a REDD pilot province than the nephew of “one of the country’s most notorious former illegal logging kingpins”?

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