Sat, 25 Mar 2000

Logging companies ready to share revenues with locals

JAKARTA (JP): The Association of Indonesian Forest Concessionaires (APHI) supported on Friday the government's call to give part of their revenues to locals as a solution to end growing conflicts over land ownership.

APHI chairman Adiwarsita Adinegoro said, however, the revenue- sharing arrangement should be stipulated in a government regulation so that all timber companies would have clear guidelines to carry out the program.

"A clear regulation is important to avoid similar conflicts from reoccurring in the future," he told The Jakarta Post.

Adiwarsita said logging companies would likely agree to contribute some part of their revenues to local communities as long as the amount was reasonable, and the procedures in the fund allocations were clearly defined.

He was commenting on a statement made earlier this week by Minister of Forestry and Plantation Nur Mahmudi Ismail, who called on logging firms to distribute some part of their revenues from timber sales to local communities in order to resolve the recently escalating conflicts between the two parties.

The ministry's secretary-general, Soeripto, said on Friday the minister's suggestion would be discussed with the troubled logging firms in the next couple of days.

At least 50 timber companies, which control about 10 million hectares of forests in Irian Jaya, Kalimantan and Sulawesi, are currently involved in heated conflicts with local residents, who claim ownership of the firms' concessions, according to APHI's report.

The association said that the 50 firms had to stop their logging activities because the locals had threatened their workers.

Meanwhile, some 77 loggers in East Kalimantan have also threatened to stop their operations, saying that residents in Kutai and Bulungan districts have seized some of their heavy equipment and demanded compensation amounting to billions of rupiah.

According to Adiwarsita, some of the 50 logging firms had entered negotiations with local communities to end their conflicts.

"I heard about 20 firms, some of which are operating in Kalimantan, are near to concluding the negotiations. Some of them have offered to help the locals to develop infrastructures such as irrigation," he said.

Soeripto said the active involvement of logging firms in the development process in local areas was also a good alternative solution to the conflict.

"By participating in the development of local areas, logging firms can reduce the social gap. It is the social gap, social jealousy that makes locals angry and expropriates the companies's concession areas," he told the Post.

He said many local communities had bottled up their anger and jealousy of the logging firms, which they claimed had seized their ancestoral properties without proper compensation.

Soeripto acknowledged that the conflict between local residents and logging firms was partly the result of wrong policies in forestry management made by the government in the past, which had mostly benefited the logging companies.

According to official data, more than 80 percent of the country's forests are controlled by the family and close friends of former president Soeharto.

Although many parts of their concessions overlap with local residents' farmland, they often allegedly seized the areas without giving any compensation. Residents were unable to do anything but accept their presence due to threats from security guards at the companies.

With the downfall of Soeharto in mid-1998 and the rise of a more democratic government, people have begun to feel more courageous about expressing their opinions and voicing their demands, albeit at the risk of violence.

For example, villagers of Rambang Lubai in the Muara Enim regency of South Sumatra have recently demanded that PT Musi Hutan Persada, an industrial estate developer partly owned by Soeharto's eldest daughter Siti Hardijanti Rukmana and timber magnate Prajogo Pangestu, return their land and pay Rp 301 billion in compensation for losses which occurred due to their inability to produce any crops since the company took over their land without proper restitution in 1991. (cst)