Sat, 10 Jul 2004

Walhi sues Cabinet minister over Merapi National Park

P.C. Naommy, Jakarta

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) filed a suit against Minister of Forestry M. Prakosa on Friday, for alleged lack of transparency in the establishment of Mount Merapi National Park in Yogyakarta.

"The minister ignored the wishes of locals, who are mostly against the project," said Sofyan, the executive director of Walhi's Yogyakarta office.

The lawsuit was filed with the State Administrative Court in Jakarta on Friday.

Sofyan said the government had failed to inform locals of the legal implications they would face once the status of the forest had been changed.

Laws No. 5/1990 on conservation and No. 41/1999 on forestry stipulate that the public has no access to national parks, except for scientific study.

"The government has only emphasized the economic benefits of national park status, without mentioning other consequences," said Sofyan.

Walhi demanded that the court nullify a decree issued by the Ministry of Forestry which change the status of Mount Merapi forest from protected forest to national park.

The Merapi National Park covers an area of some 6,410 hectares of protected forest in the regencies of Magelang, Boyolali, and Klaten in Central Java Province, and Sleman regency in Yogyakarta.

"The designation of the area as a national park was not based on a feasibility study, and the decree was issued even before the feasibility team finished its final draft," said Sofyan.

Prakosa issued Decree No. 134/2004 on May 4, 2004, while a feasibility team assigned to study the project finished its final draft on May 17.

According to Sofyan, the area did not meet requirements for a national park, since the biodiversity of the forest was not unique and it had no endemic plant or animal species.

"Unlike the Ujung Kulon National Park that has become the habitat of the rhinos, the Merapi National Park has no native animals or plants," said Sofyan.

Walhi suspected that the establishment of the national park was part of the government's effort to reach its target of 12 new national parks in 2004.

The suspicion grew stronger after the Ministry of Forestry issued Decree No. 48/2004, which shortened steps to change the status and function of forests.

Under Ministerial Decree No. 70/2001, the government has to go through nine steps before changing the status and function of a forest, while Decree No. 48/2004 shortens the steps to three.

"It's not that we are against the project, but the government has so far failed to show seriousness in managing existing national parks," said Longgena Ginting, the executive director of Walhi in Jakarta.

Longgena lamented that many national parks were in poor condition due to illegal logging, mining and construction of roads that cut through forested areas.