Thu, 17 Jul 2003

Indonesian giant sued for illegal logging

Ridwan Max Sijabat and Haidir Anwar Tandjung, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Pekanbaru

A regency in the Sumatran province of Riau is suing Asia's largest pulp producer for the destruction of protected rainforests and neglecting local communities.

Pelalawan Regency legislative council deputy chairman Daslir Maskar said it was suing PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) for allegedly processing illegal timber.

"According to the results of a recent field investigation carried out by the regency, 95 percent of the raw material supplied to the pulp and paper mills belonging to businessman Sukanto Tanoto are sourced from outside the company's industrial estates, including from protected forests," he told a press conference on Wednesday.

Indonesian forests are classified into four categories: Industrial forests planted by companies; natural forests that can be allocated for forestry; reserve forests that is some cases are allocated for forestry and conservation or protected forests.

RAPP, which has strong links to former dictator Soeharto and enjoys the protection of security forces, is no stranger to controversy. Betawi people in North Sumatra have staged violent protests against Toba Pulp Lestari over what they say is widespread environmental damage caused by deforestation and air and water pollution, including to world famous Lake Toba.

Daslir said the legislative council had summoned Sukanto several times to account for the widespread illegal logging but he had only sent staff who knew nothing about the problems.

"So far, the company has not given a satisfactory explanation for the illegal logging in natural and reserve forests and the conversion of conservation forest to natural forest in Kepungan Sialang.

"The logging and conversion of a 22,000-hectare conservation area into a natural forest is illegal as it is against Ministerial Decree No. 5/1996, Law No. 41/1999 on forestry and Bylaw No 10/1994 on natural conservation in the province."

Daslir said the company's industrial estates could not meet the demand for logs in the regency as the company was producing 1.7 million tons of pulp and paper per year, up from 1.3 million tons previously.

"The increase has forced the company to source more logs from outside its own timber estates and natural forests. Illegal logging in reserve and conservation forests has been unavoidable."

He said the investigation had shown that the company had carried out few community development programs to empower farmers, tribespeople and fishermen living around the plant and industrial estates.

"The company has pledged much but delivered little," he said, adding the environmental and social problems caused by the company matched those in North Sumatra.

Indonesian Environment Forum (Walhi) Riau executive director Rully Sumanda concurred, but said RAPP mills were producing 2.1 million tons of pulp and paper in the province per year, up from 1.6 million tons previously.

"RAPP only has 45,000 hectares of industrial estates and natural forests, which cannot meet the mills' need for raw materials since they produce only nine million tons of wood per year. To produce one ton of pulp, the mills require 4.5 tons of wood."

He said Walhi had proof that RAPP had stolen logs from protected forests in Pelalawan and Siak regencies.

He also said that RAPP had no commitment to developing poor communities in the regency.

The company donated packages of financial aid to several groups only after demonstrations, he said.

The company denied all accusations, saying it was ready to face any lawsuit.

RAPP environment head C.P. Munoz said the mills' raw materials were supplied from its 300,000-hectare industrial estates, from local people who grew trees on their properties and other industrial estates that had no pulp and saw mills.

He questioned political motives behind the legislature's move.

RAPP spokeswoman Ratna Indrayani said the company had carried out community development programs for a number of years.