Tue, 04 Sep 2001

Concessionaires responsible for forest destruction

By Edi Patebang

PONTIANAK, West Kalimantan (JP): Sasak Pekawai village in Sintang Regency, West Kalimantan, has been witnessing alarming rates of forest and environmental destruction since regents were recently given the right to issue concessions over areas of forest of greater than 100 hectares. The prospects of conflicts over resource management are also now looming large.

A recent conflict involving the PT. Erna Djuliawati timber company in the province confirmed the public's fears over the issuance of the concession. The company's spokesman Lukman Nulhakim said that the conflict broke out in early July between PT. Erna Djuliawati, as the concessionaire, and its cooperative members on the rights to manage the forest.

The rift began when Sintang's regent, Elyakin Simon Jalin, issued Regional Decree No. 19 of 1999 which gave the right to local cooperatives to benefit from forest resources, including the timber within the 100-hectare area.

The enraged villagers threatened to launch attacks, then closed the road to the area at kilometer 56 using only a thin piece of plastic rope. Unprepared to take any risks, none of the cooperative's members dared to touch the rope, forcing the company to close down its operations for three days. Only after a deal with the villagers had been made was the company able to resume its operations.

"The villagers shouldn't have closed the road as the company had nothing to do with the conflict. It was an internal problem with the cooperative," Lukman complained.

The incident was sharply criticized by Tommy Ria -- a member of the Provincial Legislative Council from The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) -- who regretted Simon's careless decision in issuing the decree.

"He (the regent) should have first drafted the regency's spatial plan prior to the issuance of the decree."

Tommy urged the regent to postpone issuing further similar decrees due to the increasing problems in forest areas, but he said Simon had disregarded his call and was persisting with his original plan.

A special coordination meeting on Aug. 2 in Pontianak -- which was attended by officials from the West Kalimantan Police, the Ministry of Forestry's provincial office, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce's provincial office, the local administration, the immigration office, and customs and excise -- revealed that out of 49 concessions, 14 of them were non- existent, six were in protected areas while the rest were in locations belonging to businesspeople who had previously obtained concessions from the New Order regime.

West Kalimantan Police spokesman Suhadi said that the vast area involved, the difficult terrain and a lack of funds made it virtually impossible for them to eradicate the problem of illegal logging.

Forest exploitation

The Sasak Pekawai conflict is only one of a number of cases confirming that the granting of these concessions is a controversial and conflict-prone policy. Using the justification of boosting regional income, many regents in West Kalimantan seem bent on handing out concessions. It is a form of abuse of power which will certainly encourage local officials to demand sopoi (bribes) from timber businessmen to help them advance their businesses.

Up to July of this year, Kapuas Hulu regency had processed 123 concessions for 123 cooperatives. Forty one of them have received permits, 40 are still waiting for the permits and 42 are in the process of submitting requests.

In Sanggau regency, three out of the 12 concessions issued by regent Michael Andjioe are facing revocation due to breaches of the regulations.

Over large areas of West Kalimantan, many companies have been taking advantage of their already-expired concessions to continue exploiting forests. They work in tandem with local businessmen in paying all costs for permit and operating fees, including providing access to the area, building mini sawmills, acquiring tractors, chain saws and dump trucks plus other additional expenses.

In return for the services rendered by them, the local businessmen sell their timber to the major concessionaires or have it processed at their sawmills. But it is the concessionaires who export the timber.

On the West Kalimantan border with East Malaysia -- Sanggau, Sambas, Bengkayang and Kapuas Hulu -- big businessmen from the neighboring country are allegedly helping local businessmen in selling the timber in Malaysia.

Lecturer in the school of forestry at Tanjung Pura University in Pontianak, Gusti Hardiansyah, said rampant illegal logging (including uncontrolled deforestation by villagers who then sell the timber to concessionaires) was costing the country between Rp 10 billion and Rp 12 billion (US$1-1.3 million) per month. An estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million cubic meters of logs are derived annually from illegal logging in various areas including productive forests, limited productive forests, conservation areas, protected forests and national parks.

Arsen Rikson, a member of Commission III on agriculture, forestry, transmigration and food affairs of the West Kalimantan provincial legislative assembly, pointed out that regents' lack of knowledge of forest conservation programs when they granted forest concession rights for areas of greater than 100 hectares was leading to accelerated deforestation throughout the country.

"This lack of knowledge has even made them make the wrong decisions. They sometimes even grant concessions over conservation forests."

He further said that both businessmen and local people frequently abused their rights using heavy equipment such as tractors and bulldozers in concession areas, which was against the regulations.

To prevent further devastation both in productive and conservation forests, all those involved, including the regents, Ministry of Forestry, Ministry of Industry and Trade, and provincial legislative councils, must review all of the concessions that have been issued to date.

It is strongly recommended that regents temporarily stop granting concessions before establishing the necessary regulations governing them. Otherwise, the dangers of environmental destruction -- including floods and drought -- will be in store for us, with nothing left of our forests save for lonely tree stumps.

The writer is chief editor of the Kalimantan Review, monthly magazine published by the Pontianak Dayakology Institute.