Tue, 23 May 2000

Illegal logging rampant along Indonesian-Malaysian border

PONTIANAK, West Kalimantan (JP): The residents of Seriang village, where people usually live in harmony, recently became involved in a brawl with residents of a neighboring village.

The reason was that the stakes indicating the border between this village and the territory of Malaysia were moved by illegal loggers. Seriang village is one of the villages in Badau subdistrict, Kapuas Hulu district, West Kalimantan.

Badau and Batang Lupar subdistricts share a land border with East Malaysia (Sarawak). In these subdistricts, interstate illegal logging is rampant because of the invisible state border.

Timber bosses (locally called cukong) from Sarawak cooperate with certain businessmen and regional administration officials and military or police officers in Kapuas Hulu and can therefore freely run their interstate illegal logging businesses.

How does this kind of business come about? A study by a team of students from Tanjungpura University (Untan) in Pontianak shows that there are three stages involved: (1) approaches made to village community figures; (2) surveys of the potential; (3) logging and sawing; (4) transportation; (5) tallying and (6) selling.

Before logging starts, the boss will meet all the community figures in the villages where logging will be conducted. Negotiations concerning what the village needs ensue.

Let's say a longhouse is needed. If the boss agrees to this request, the villagers will allow logging in the forest area in the village. Apart from building a longhouse, the boss also pays the village Rp 25,000 to Rp 50,000 per cubic meter of timber collected from this forested area.

Each month the boss also pays the village Rp 60,000 for each log taken. The money is divided among all the families in the village. If a village does not get this monthly compensation, it gets, for example, Rp 1 million at the start of land clearing. Payment is usually in Malaysian ringgit.

Then a survey is done of what types of commercial timber is available. Generally, the types of timber preferred are red meranti, white meranti, ramin, kalsaua, bedaru and mabang. Tengkawang, which is protected, is also logged.

After the survey is completed, logging and sawing follows. Illegal logging is found in Tangit I, Tangit II, Tangit IV, Keladan, Guntul, Sumpak, Seraing, Tematu and Kapar villages, all of which are in the subdistricts of Bada and Batang Lupar, Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan.

The timber, after being sawn, is transported by bike, truck or carried on a person's shoulders to the tallying site. If the logging site is close to a river, the timber is transported by boat. At the tallying site, the timber is sorted, given a code and then measured.

Tallying is again conducted at the border between Indonesia and Malaysia by the buyers, who generally come from Malaysia. According to the Untan study there are 14 sawmill owners in various villages in Batang Lupar subdistrict, six others are Sibu residents in East Malaysia. Strangely, a company specializing in land clearance for oil palm estates is also involved in the timber business.

When everything is completed and a buyer is found, the timber is transported by truck. Each day 50 to 60 trucks head for the border area with Malaysia. Logs are usually transported on a raft along Kapuas River and sold to various sawmills in Pontianak.

If there is no buyer for the timber, it is piled up until a buyer comes along. There is a high demand for timber in this area because of the low prices.

Almost 90 percent of the timber from the border area between Indonesia and Malaysia is sold to buyers in Malaysia. This timber is transported overland along a road built on land owned by locals. Every truck using the road must pay Rp 40,000 to the landowner. At the border area, the timber is transported to Malaysia via a road passing through oil palm estates in Malaysia.

Trucks carrying wood from Malaysia freely enter Indonesian territory. Collusion with Indonesia's customs and excise officers at the border area makes this possible.

Once in Malaysian territory, the timber is collected by a legitimate company. It is tallied, after which tax is paid to the Malaysian government, legalizing the timber's entry into Malaysia. No taxes are imposed on this timber in Indonesia.

There are various methods of illegal logging, one of them involving oil palm estates. An Indonesian company, for example, establishes an oil palm estate in the border area. The land clearing contractor would be a Malaysian company. Locals then consent to the presence of this oil palm estate because of rosy promises made by the company. The site chosen would be one with a big supply of timber. The timber is collected during land clearing, after which the oil palm estate is simply abandoned.

Another method involves the establishment of a forest management cooperative. In practice, the cooperative hires a Malaysian contractor, a practice that will legalize tree felling.


Illegal logging in the border area between Indonesia and Malaysia has been going on for a long time. This practice has become more extensive since the economic crisis hit the country in 1997. Illegal logging is difficult to eradicate because many parties enjoy the benefits from this activity. Almost all government officials authorized to eradicate illegal logging -- from the district head level up to the level of neighborhood chief -- get a share.

It seems this illegal business will never be eradicated because a number of top civilian officials and military or police officers allegedly back it. Reportedly, a timber boss built a regional administration office, and the fund allocated by the government for the construction of this office building went into the pocket of the head of this government office.

This dirty business is an open secret. However, if anybody dares to report this illegal logging practice to primary government offices, it is said that the person's life would be in danger. That is why few community members have the courage to report this insidious practice to related government authorities.

Obviously illegal logging has had a considerable adverse impact. Losses have been inflicted on the state and serious damage caused to the environment. As a result of illegal logging, a number of villages will be flooded during high tide, with the ecosystem of swampy forests being damaged.

In 1988, deforestation in West Kalimantan reached a level of 16.04 percent a year. The percentage has since increased, especially because illegal loggers in Kapuas Hulu have encroached upon the buffer forest zones in the conservation areas of Sentarum Lake and Betung Kerihun National Park.

If the area around upstream Kapuas River is fully deforested, the river will run dry during the dry season and overflow during the wet season.

This impact will affect all West Kalimantan people, most of whom depend on Kapuas River in their daily lives. If this illegal logging is allowed to go on unchecked, whither is the sovereignty of the Indonesian state in the eyes of Malaysian businessmen?

--Edi Petebang