Tue, 18 Mar 2003

West Kalimantan unable to halt illegal logging

Bambang Bider, Pontianak, The Jakarta Post

I was sitting at a food stall somewhere in Jagoi, Jagoi Babang district, Bengkayang sub-district, West Kalimantan, some four kilometers from the border between Indonesia and Malaysia. Against the noisy background of the repatriation of Indonesian migrant workers from Malaysia, I caught sight of something strange some 12 meters away from the stall, still on the Indonesian side of the border area: Logs were being loaded onto a Volvo truck bearing a Malaysian license number plate.

The food stall owner, Jessil, looked nervous when I inquired about the truck but said that it was a common sight there. He said such a truck could arrive at the Indonesian area of Jagoi three or four times a day, to illegally carry timber to Sarikin, Malaysia, a practice that had already gone on over the past three years. The wood came not only from Jagoi but also from as far afield as Sambas and Pontianak regency, he added.

"The truck owner is Sugeng. He comes from Landak regency and has a wife from Sarikin. He runs a sawmill in Sarikin with some locals," Jessil said.

Strangely, the local customs office and police have done practically nothing about this smuggling, which has gone on almost every day for the past three years, although the smuggling site is about 8 kilometers (km) away from the local -- Seluas -- police station and the local customs office.

In the border area of Entikong and Tebedu, timber smuggling is increasingly rife and openly practiced. Timber from logging in West Kalimantan can easily be sold in Sarawak every day.

Between Jan. 6 and Jan. 9, 2003, members of Commission B on forestry from the West Kalimantan legislative assembly made a working visit to Entikong border checkpoint, located in Indonesia's Sanggau district and Malaysia's Sarawak. They found that every day some 50,000 cubic meters of timber from West Kalimantan was smuggled into Malaysia, through Entikong.

Records show that between early November 2002 and Jan. 8, 2003, about 4,700 truckloads of timber were smuggled to Sarawak, according to secretary of Commission B of West Kalimantan legislative assembly Naib Tappi.

Accompanied by two staff members from West Kalimantan forestry service, Tappi went on to say that although the timber smuggling had a simple pattern, local authorities were as yet unable to stop it.

Timber smuggled by truck through Entikong comes from illegal logging in West Kalimantan regencies, with timber estates in Ketapang, Pontianak, Landak, Bengkayang, Sanggau, Sintang and Kapuas Hulu.

A truck carrying timber can leave Entikong against a payment of Rp 600,000 to Rp 800,000 to a self-styled timber association from the Sanggau regency chapter of the traditional community (APMA). When the timber arrives in Sarawak, it is kept temporarily in the open air some 4 km away from the Tebedu border area. Here, it is given a legalization stamp by the company purchasing it. Then it will be sold to Malaysian companies.

Ironically, Malaysia's envoy to Indonesia Dato' Rastam M. Isa, when visiting West Kalimantan in connection with the smuggling of Malaysian-made automobiles into this province, denied knowledge of this timber smuggling.

But the ambassador's statement received a skeptical response from member of Commission B of West Kalimantan legislative council Riza Munawar, who said that illegal logging in West Kalimantan made a significant contribution to the timber business in Malaysia.

Munawar is convinced that collusion exists between officials and businesspeople of the two countries. He said there had to be a timber-smuggling syndicate operating in the area.

Timber smuggling to Malaysia is inseparable from illegal logging that has long been "condoned" by the West Kalimantan authorities.

The HPHH forest concession policy was introduced after the start of the reform movement began, while the implementation of regional autonomy has only worsened the timber sector. The locals, who in the past 32 years could only watch the depletion of their natural resources by the central government, have exploited whatever remains of these resources, therefore bringing about a dilemma in natural resources management in this region.

Ding Paraan, 32, an illegal logger in Betung Kerihun National Park, Kapuas Hulu Regency, said, "We have collected only what remains around our fields." He works with a cooperative in Putusibau to market the timber but sometimes sells it directly to the largest timber company in Pontianak.

Illegal logging has made West Kalimantan liable to a variety of natural disasters like flooding and haze. This illegal practice also reflects the delinquency of some local companies.

Data compiled by studies on illegal logging and illegal sawmills in West Kalimantan carried out by an investigation team led by Gusti Hardiansyah of the School of Forestry, Tanjungpura University, shows that 80 percent of the timber obtained from illegal logging was sold to Malaysia and only the remaining 20 percent to local buyers.

As a result, the forest in West Kalimantan is becoming endangered. The investigation team said, as a result of its study, that the remaining forested areas, including former logging areas, measured only 6,312,314 hectares (ha). Meanwhile, according to the 1997 data complied by the Ministry of Forestry, forested areas in West Kalimantan shrank by 20 percent between 1985 and 1997, from 8,700,6000 ha to 6,713,016 ha. Kompas daily, of Nov. 16, 2000, wrote that the forested areas in West Kalimantan had shrunk at a rate of 165,631 ha per year.

Chief of the West Kalimantan police command center for operational control Sr. Comr. Wayan T. Budhijaja said that the provincial police had carried out special operations that involved civilian investigators and forest rangers between 2000 and 2002. Unfortunately, no loggers had been detained, let alone taken to court.

Assistant for general crimes at West Kalimantan provincial prosecutor's office Toyib Saman said that only a few illegal logging cases had been taken to court, while illegal logging was on the increase.

Often, he said, community and customary leaders were involved in illegal logging, leading to a duality of interest in their attitude toward measures against illegal logging. Another constraint was that there was no proper storage place at which to hold confiscated illegal timber.

One of the members of Tanjungpura University investigation team Gusti Hardiansyah said that smugglers involved many parties in their activities, including community members and people from government agencies. The collusion between provincial bodies, timber bosses and community members played a key role in the illegal business, he said.

A field observation that the team has made shows that to ensure that these practices run smoothly, timber bosses and officials from the authorities concerned collude to protect each other. The bosses, for example, pay money (sopoi, in the local language) to officials in charge of places through which illegal timber has to pass. The owner of a truckload of smuggled, illegal timber from Sintang to Entikong has to pay money to the officials in charge at Sanggau, Simpang Tanjung and Entikong. If you go from Sintang to Pontianak, you have to bribe those in charge at Sanggau, Simpang Tanjung, Ngabang, Senakin, Mandor, Anjungan, Sungai Pinyuh and Jungkat.

Clearly, this neat arrangement ensures that it is unlikely that any of those involved in the smuggling of illegal timber will ever be arrested.