Tue, 23 May 2000

Tracing large-scale illegal logging business in Kalimantan

By Edi Petebang

PONTIANAK, West Kalimantan (JP): Under a scorching sun and in the presence of a number of West Kalimantan provincial officials, containers containing timber from the KM Clover were pried open on May 5 by activists from the local branch of the Indonesian Students Front and a number of other NGOs.

Of the 42 containers onboard the vessel, only seven had the necessary legal documents. The timber was going to be exported to Singapore. The smuggling attempt was foiled by the student activists after they had taken hostage of HJ Tamtelahi, head of Pontianak Customs and Excise Office; Hapsoro Rahardjo and Soenarno of West Kalimantan forestry office; Captain Salehuddin, the port administrator; Captain Zainuddin, seaport section head; and A. Wahid of the port security unit.

It was the first time ever that an attempt to smuggle timber had been foiled. In fact, the illegal timber business is a public secret in West Kalimantan. Timber smuggling is only a part of a large illegal logging businesses.

To trace the business, one must start from the tree felling and document processing stage. It is in these two links in the chain that dirty logging business is practiced.

Logs are considered illegal if they are not accompanied by necessary documents or if the wood comes from illegal loggers with no forest concessions.

Illegal logging in Kalimantan is either performed traditionally or non-mechanically, semimechanically or fully mechanically.

Individual loggers opt for the traditional method and the wood they target is belian/ulin hardwood and meranti. Usually they will be given one or two chain saws and meal allowances of between Rp 1 million and Rp 2 million by a cukong (a financier in an illegal practice). With approximately Rp 10 million, which includes operational costs, you can begin an illegal logging business.

Most of the chain saw operators are locals living close to the forest. To them this is their way of earning a living. "We do not steal timber. This is our wood because we were raised and live in the forest. We guard this area, in fact. So are we to blame if we also collect the wood?" said Manum, one of the chain saw operators in Ketapang district.

These people usually sell their timber to sawmill companies, which are found along the Kapuas River, Mahakam River, Landak River, Pawan River and other major waterways in Kalimantan. Do they get rich because of this activity? No. Instead, they owe money to the cukong, who is the one that gets richer and richer.

The second type of illegal logging is done in a semimechanical way. This time the cukong are the sawmill owners. Many of them do not have any forest concessions and therefore they have to obtain all their timber illegally. These sawmills also get supplies of timber from other provinces and even from Malaysia.


Mechanical illegal logging is done by forest concessionaires. In every forest concessionaire's basecamp/logpond and sawmill, there is a supervisor from the Ministry of Forestry and Plantations. He is assigned to legalize the annual work plan and log transportation certificates and check the quantity, type, and size of the timber felled.

The document mentions the quantity, the type and the size of the timber and to whom it is being sent to. Usually the types and the diameters of the trees permitted to be felled will be faked.

This document is important because the amount of the Forest Product Contribution Fee and the Reforestation Fund payable will be based on the data contained in it. It also sets forth the time taken to transport the timber from the basecamp to the sawmill to ensure that the volume of the timber does not increase during the journey.

It is at this point that a forestry official and a concessionaire are involved in collusion. Usually the quantity put down on the document is smaller than the real figure so that the amounts of fees to be paid is also smaller.

Apart from this practice, they may also prepare a number of blank forms, which will be used to purchase illegal timber during the journey from the basecamp to the sawmill. That is why the time mentioned on the document is usually longer than it actually is.

The forestry official can also be hand in glove with the concessionaires regarding the annual work plan. If a forestry official of a higher rank happens to conduct a site inspection, he will only be taken to the logpond or basecamp, where he will receive favorable reports and a bribe. That is why no action is taken against illegal logging going on outside forest concession areas.

At a sawmill, the forestry official will check whether data of the transported timber matches that given on the document. Here, there is again collusion between him and the forest concessionaire.

Another collusive practice occurs when forest concessionaires purchase timber from illegal loggers, who usually do not bother about the legal document, arguing that obtaining this piece of paper involves a time-consuming process.

After the timber is processed, collusive and illegal practices occur again when it is going to be exported. According to Naib Tappi, a member of the West Kalimantan legislation assembly, there are at least two kinds of timber smuggling that go on through a seaport. First, physically smuggling the timber and secondly, "administrative smuggling".

The former is easy to detect while the latter is not because it is usually neatly arranged and involves certain personnel in the customs and excise office, transportation company, the port administration, sailing companies, the harbormaster and the sea, river and coastal security forces.

Why are illegal logging and timber smuggling so rampant in West Kalimantan? "West Kalimantan is indeed a fertile ground for these practices," said a timber businessman in Pontianak.

What he means is that the area is suitable for such practices because the forest areas are vast, the transportation easy and certain government officials quite willing to engage in collusive practices.

In the case of the MV Clover, out of 35 illegal containers, 16 belonged to CV Brata, a company which is under the auspices of the police's Brata Bakti Foundation. Despite a denial by the West Kalimantan Police, the fact that CV Brata is involved only confirms the suspicion that security apparatuses are involved in illegal logging practices.