Fri, 27 Jun 2003

'Govt lacks will to reduce pollution'

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Environmentalists have said the government must pay more attention to the environment in its development policies, in order to reduce pollution problems at home before it is too late.

"The way the government manages the government is way off track," executive director of the Indonesian Center of Environmental Law (ICEL) Wiwiek Awiati told the Jakarta Post on Thursday.

She said the government was not sufficiently aware of the environment, as evident from its weak environmental policies and poor enforcement of the law against those violating environmental regulations.

"Law enforcement against polluters cannot be upheld, and environmental legislation lacks power to deter them here; therefore, many polluters remain untouchable," she said.

The US$1 million fine imposed on plantation firm PT Adei Plantation for clearing land using slash-and-burn methods was encouraging, but not enough, said Wiwiek.

"What about air, water and waste polluters?" she added.

Wiwiek was responding to the World Bank report on the environment in Indonesia, which said the country was under threat from air, water, solid and hazardous waste pollution.

The Environment Impact Management Agency (Bapedal), which is expected to take a leading role in environmental conservation as a result of its authority to approve environmental impact assessments (Amdal), was powerless, she said.

Worse still, the government managed to allocate only a small budget to the Office of the State Minister of the Environment, thus limiting its scope to chase polluters, she said.

The monitoring of companies that are prone to polluting the environment remained insufficiently thorough, which left the government with inadequate evidence to sue them.

Senior official at the Office of the State Minister of the Environment Masnellyarti Hilman admitted that limited funding was the main obstacle to her office's efforts.

"We even have difficulty in monitoring environmental quality at the sites of large companies such as Newmont Minahasa Raya, Freeport Indonesia and Toba Pulp Lestari," she said.

Wiwiek said there were many confusing regulations related to the environment, which caused conflict between environmental and industrial interests.

Law No 41/1999, which bans opencast mining in protected forest, is still expected, by mining companies, to be amended.

Indonesian Forum on the Environment (Walhi) executive director Longgena Ginting agreed with Wiwiek.

He claimed that environmental management by the government in the last seven years had deteriorated, in view of the huge number of incidents involving pollution and environmental disasters.

Ginting even accused the current government of being a regime without an environmental agenda.

Wiwiek suggested that the government start improving the environment by implementing a system of linked licenses for companies, ranging from operating to environmental licenses.

"Thus, if a company pollutes the environment, the state minister of the environment revokes the environmental license, and the other licenses are automatically revoked, too," she said.

The government should also establish under one roof an environmental enforcement body, comprising civil servants, police and prosecutors, to help simplify the process of legal action, she said.

For the sake of justice, the Supreme Court ought to establish a special court for environmental cases due to the huge impact of pollution on people and the environment.

"The public must also continuously monitor law enforcement on polluters," she said.

She added that companies that managed to protect the environment deserved incentives.