Tue, 23 Aug 1994

NGOs to sue government over reforestation fund

JAKARTA (JP): Eleven non-governmental organizations announced yesterday their intention to sue the government for using its huge reforestation fund to support the development of the state- owned aircraft company IPTN.

M.S. Zulkarnaen, chairman of the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi), one of the plaintiffs, said a presidential decree issued in June, ordering the forestry ministry to grant a Rp 400 billion (US$190 million) interest-free loan to the company, violated previous regulations on how the funds should be used.

"We plan to file the suit at Jakarta Administrative Court on Aug. 25," Zulkarnaen told reporters.

The other plaintiffs include Yayasan Lembaga Alam Tropika (Latin), Yayasan Study Kependudukan dan Lingkungan Hidup (Forsikal), Yayasan Lembaga Pengembangan Lingkungan dan Sumber Daya Manusia and Yayasan Lingkaran. Lawyers from the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) will represent the plaintiffs. Forty-one other organizations reportedly stand behind the suit.

Zulkarnaen said the government has defied a presidential decree issued in 1990 which clearly stated that reforestation funds should be used only for reforestation programs. Another decree on how the funds should be used was issued in 1993 to revise the old one, he added.

Zulkarnaen explained that the government has denied the presidential instruction issued in 1989 on the use of interest generated from the fund. "Our question is, how can the funds be used for a purpose other than reforestation, while the reforestation programs are not yet fully implemented."

The government has said that the reforestation fund will be used to develop IPTN's newest model, the N-250, the prototype of which will be rolled out in November when leaders of the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum attend a summit in Indonesia.

IPTN is optimistic that it can sell 700 N-250s within 20 years. IPTN also plans to establish production facilities in the United States.

Zulkarnaen said that reforestation funds have now accumulated to a total of Rp 2.4 trillion ($1.11 billion) and are kept at BBD, Exim and Bapindo banks with interest earnings of around Rp 900 billion ($416 million) a year.

The loan granted to IPTN is even bigger than the reforestation funds allocated to the forestry ministry for the 1994/1995 fiscal year which is only Rp 138 billion ($65.7 million), he pointed out.


Zulkarnaen said the NGOs are questioning the government's accountability for granting the funds while its efforts to replant the critical forests have been far from satisfactory.

The government has managed to replant 480,000 hectares of critical forest of the targeted 1.9 million hectares throughout the country in the past five years, he said.

He also said that the process of deforestation is far more aggressive than the government is willing to admit.

Quoting the results of official satellite surveys, he said Indonesia's total forestry area had declined from 119.3 million hectares in 1985 to 92.4 million hectares to 1990.

This, he pointed out, represent an annual loss of 2.4 million hectares of forest, compared to the 600,000 hectares a year declared by the government.

The petitioners in their lawsuit warned that the public would lose their faith on the government's seriousness to protect the forests because of its policy in granting the funds for IPTN.

Zulkarnaen denied the suggestion that the plaintiffs were taking retaliatory measure against the government's plan to issue a decree to control the activities of NGOs.

He told The Jakarta Post however that the move might affect the plan if people become more aware of the "authoritarian" approach employed by the government.

NGOs are aware of the consequences which might occur because of their suit. "I have even dreamt that I'd go to jail because of this," he said.

Zulkarnaen said that if the suit ended in failure, the group would take their case to the House of Representatives (DPR), the Supreme Court or the district court. (par)