Illegal loggers: Shoot them, Jakarta says

Jul 6, 2004

Illegal loggers: Shoot them, Jakarta says Source: Copyright 2004, Asia Times Date: July 7, 2004 Byline: Bill Guerin JAKARTA - Indonesia can no longer be accused of not taking illegal logging seriously. Amid accusations from environmental groups and the country's Forest Ministry that Indonesia has not done enough to tackle the problem, Environment Minister Nabiel Makarim said in Kuala Lumpur last week that under a new law the crime of illegal logging would become a capital offense. President Megawati Sukarnoputri introduced the law, the first in independent Indonesia ever to prescribe the death penalty as punishment for a crime of commerce. Although it could take months before it is passed by the House of Representatives (DPR), it will be preceded by a temporary law signed by the president. Greenpeace has slammed illegal logging as a global catastrophe that fuels civil wars, undermines regional security, involves human-rights abuses, causes biodiversity loss, and contributes to deforestation and climate change. According to the Ministry of Forestry, rampant illegal logging cost the state some Rp355.8 billion (US$33 million) in 2002 and 2003. The World Resources Institute, Global Forest Watch and Forest Watch Indonesia estimate that Indonesia loses some 2.6 million hectares of natural forest every year, most of which is cut down illegally, threatening the remaining 40 million hectares. The Indonesian Association of Forestry Companies (APKI) estimates that during the past few years illegal logging has also caused the closure of more than 300 companies in the timber-processing industry, due to decreases in supply. The government has launched several crackdowns and prosecuted some guilty loggers, but illegal-logging cases investigated by police in the first quarter of 2004 have almost doubled compared with the same period of 2003. Given that capital punishment is carried out by firing squad, there may be a need for a lot of bullets. Police investigated 246 cases involving 169 suspects in the first quarter of the year, up from 125 cases in the same period in 2003, national police director of special crimes Brigadier-General Suharto said last month. Suharto said the increase in illegal-logging cases showed that police efforts alone were not enough and required the support of other agencies such as customs and excise, forestry, the military and local administrations. Only 30 of some 150 cases of illegal logging filed in 2003 were actually investigated. The Forestry Ministry suspects thousands of other cases were never reported. Many of the illegally cut logs and timber products are smuggled to Singapore, China and Malaysia, where the wood is allegedly "laundered" for the export market. Malaysia has accused Indonesia of maliciously attempting to slander its wood-product industries, which generate some $1.5 billion annually in export revenues. Malaysia's primary industries minister said, "I'm angry and running out of patience with Indonesia. They are not doing anything, and their agency is pointing the finger at us." He was referring to a call for a worldwide boycott of both Indonesian and Malaysian wood products by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, which, like other environmental groups, says Jakarta is simply not doing enough. Kuala Lumpur says Indonesians, not Malaysians, drive the timber-smuggling trade in the country, and because the timber enters Malaysia illegally, it is not the country's responsibility. The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Indonesian non-governmental organization Telapak collectively take the view that Jakarta has sought to make political capital out of exposing Malaysia's role in laundering illegal timber. While this is partly understandable, it is also a ploy to deflect attention from Indonesia's abject failure to tackle illegal logging and enforce its own forestry laws, say EIA and Telapak spokespersons. Though several laws and regulations on sustainable forest management exist at the central and regional government levels, Minister of Forestry M Prakosa has blamed the lack of law enforcement, particularly on the part of the police and the navy, for the scale of the illegal logging. Port authority agents and local government officials have also been implicated. Prakosa has advocated a complete logging moratorium, though most regional governments oppose this. Still, the minister deserves credit for his fight to restructure the forestry sector drastically by removing many of the sacred privileges gained under ex-president Suharto's New Order regime, when the country's forests were exploited to the hilt to reap as much foreign exchange as possible. Pulp production increased exponentially during the country's rapid growth period throughout the early 1990s, but the timber fueling this growth was cut from virgin natural forests and rainforests. Timber from plantations, most of which is taken from these natural forests, can supply only about 20% of domestic demand for wood from the country's pulp plants, sawmills and plywood factories, which is in excess of 80 million cubic meters per annum. The ministry has attempted to preserve the forests by gradually lowering logging quotas from 6.5 million cubic meters in 2003 to 5.74 million cubic meters this year. At the same time, domestic timber and pulp-and-paper companies are being pressured to address inter-related issues such as biodiversity and the livelihoods of indigenous communities. Next year the quota will be set at 5.45 million cubic meters, and Transtoto Handadhari, a spokesperson for the Forestry Ministry, said it is expected that in "several years to come", the quota will be down to only 2 million cubic meters per year. That decision has sparked protests from industry players who claim the industry needs 30 million to 40 million cubic meters of timber per year. The government has urged the industry to lower this capacity to 20 million cubic meters per year to cope with the declining supply of local raw materials. The huge gap between actual timber demand and the national logging quota explains why unchecked illegal logging has spread across the archipelago. But illegal logging, most of it on the big islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua, also feeds an equally rampant and illegal global timber trade. If illegal loggers cannot market their logs or timber freely, the enterprise becomes much less profitable, or commercially unfeasible. Greenpeace has persistently campaigned for market-based solutions by pressuring US and European importers to suspend purchases of Indonesian timber in the hope of prompting strong action from Jakarta. However, forestry-related products are still major export earners, last year contributing about $4 billion in foreign-exchange revenue. The Indonesian Wood Panel Association points out that the price of such products has shot up considerably due to the continually diminishing supply. The price of plywood in the United States has soared from $240 to $500 per cubic meter. The price of wood panel has risen to $350 per meter, from $230, and short fiber pulp now costs $500 per tonne, up by $100 from the start of the year. European Union environment ministers have also requested that the European Commission act "without delay" and implement legislation to control imports of illegal timber. Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace and Earth Justice have all demanded trade sanctions from the US State Department over the illegal trade in timber. The National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), an influential military think-tank, has called on the government to establish an armed task force to combat illegal logging, mining and poaching. Lemhanas estimates the combined losses due to illegal logging, illegal fishing and illegal sand and fuel smuggling come to more than $8 billion a year. This is almost 40% of the expected domestic revenue for the year, and is three times as large as the amount allocated to servicing foreign debt. After amendments to last year's Anti-Money Laundering Law, a joint initiative was launched in March by Indonesia's Financial Transaction and Report Analysis Center (PPATK) and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Under the initiative PPATK is authorized to analyze and investigate reports of suspicious transactions and of persons and financial institutions that fail to report suspicious transactions. Meanwhile, CIFOR, based in Bogor, West Java, will use its large global network to help sniff out those companies and individuals engaging in illegal logging and other forest crimes. This will make it very difficult for businesses and individuals to launder money from illegal logging profits through banks. Last weekend, less than 48 hours before the country's first-ever direct presidential elections, Amien Rais became the first candidate to make illegal logging a poll issue by pledging to stop rampant deforestation if he becomes the next president. But it is President Megawati, currently trailing ex-General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in presidential polls, who may be the one to gain fame as the first modern world leader to introduce the death penalty for a crime of commerce.