Mon, 12 Jul 2004

A desert island ?

The year 2004 is a special one for Indonesians as this country has had two national events that will determine its future, notably the legislative election and the country's first- ever direct presidential election. Those elections were held on April 5 and July 5, respectively.

The hurly-burly of people watching the vote counting on April 5 and July 5 and the preparations for the elections, including the campaigns, put police and security forces throughout the country on full alert. However, we did not anticipate one thing: an increase in smuggling and illegal logging.

The discovery of smuggled rice, sugar, textiles, cigarettes, liquor and cars, mostly thought to belong to Malaysian businessmen, has been reported by most dailies in Jakarta, including The Jakarta Post.

And on May 11, it was reported that hundreds of trucks laden with wood (belonging mostly to Malaysian companies) were every day being smuggled from West Kalimantan into Malaysia via the Entikong border crossing, without the slightest effort by Indonesian security and government officials to stop them.

On the other hand, a staggering report revealed that as a result of unchecked illegal logging on Sumatra island, the country was losing Rp 15 trillion a month (The Jakarta Post, July 7), which means Rp 180 trillion (US$20 billion) a year.

Indeed, this country's pristine and virgin rain forests have been damaged considerably since exploitation started three decades ago. Severe environmental degradation has been done, resulting in natural disasters such as landslides, flooding, forest fires, etc. Yet, the government, in particular the Ministry of Forestry, has failed to deal with the problem.

Of course, the minister of forestry is not alone in coping with environmental degradation and the disasters that follow. Together with the National Police chief and the armed forces commander, he signed a memorandum of understanding last year to deal with illegal logging, but, in fact, to no avail.

However, apparently after reading a touchy story in Kompas on June 28 titled Get prepared for the desert island of Kalimantan, illustrating the grave condition of its forests, the East Kalimantan Police chief urged the central government on June 30 in the same paper to close down the Indonesian-Malaysian border crossings for at least four months to stop logs being sent to Malaysian wood factories. He wanted to teach the Malaysian wood producers a lesson that without a supply of logs from Kalimantan their factories would go bankrupt.

M. RUSDI Jakarta