Permits Clear Way for Forest Graft: NGO
Fidelis E Satriastanti
Jakarta. Environmental activists have voiced suspicions of forest-clearing permits being issued illegally to palm-oil producers, raising the specter of even more corruption within the industry.
Sawit Watch, a nongovernmental organization, said 18 million hectares of rainforest had been cleared for oil-palm plantations, but only six million hectares had been planted.
It linked the expansion to a government target to boost crude palm oil output to 23 million tons this year, up from 20.3 million tons in 2009.
“We have strong suspicions that with this massive demand for palm oil will eventually lead to forestry related corruption, especially the issuing of permits for forests to be cleared for plantations,” Sawit Watch campaigner Edi Sutrisno said on Thursday.
“We’ve lost around 3.2 million hectares of peat lands to oil-palm plantations already, and most of the permits granted for those plantations were illegal.”
He said planters usually bypassed the necessary permit for clearing forests by getting another permit for land release, which changes the status of the land from a forest to a plantation.
“The most common method is to get a land release permit from the Forestry Ministry,” Edi said. “That means the land is theirs to manage, and allows them to skip the mandatory step of getting a permit to fell the trees.”
He added many oil-palm plantations only submitted an environmental impact analysis after they were already set up, and not before, as required by law.
“Another permit they’re supposed to get is a business permit that obliges them to pay tax for exploiting their land,” he said. “However, they get around this through backdoor deals with local officials. So that’s another loss to the country, this time from taxes.”
Febri Diansyah, a researcher from Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), said graft in the forestry sector was “very complicated” because it did not always take the form of a straightforward money transactions, but rather of permits issued.
“However, that doesn’t mean such cases can’t be tried on corruption charges, because they still lead to state losses,” he said. “Local authorities who abuse their power in issuing illegal permits can also be charged with corruption.”
Febri added another complication was the overlap of regulations between local authorities and the central government.
“ICW has been tracing this corruption trail for a while, and we’ve discovered there are so many legal inconsistencies between the local and central governments, which makes things very complicated,” he said.
“There should be a specific solution for this, which is why we want to remind the KPK [Corruption Eradication Commission] about their commitment to tackle corruption in the forestry sector, one of their four target sectors.”