Indonesia: New Environment and Forestry Ministry - A Force for Good or Bad?

Kennial Caroline Laia Jakarta Globe 28 Oct 14;

Jakarta. Activists questioned President Joko Widodo’s commitment to the environment as the new president merged two separate ministries with very different roles into one under his new administration.

Joko on Sunday named National Democrat Party (NasDem) politician Siti Nurbaya to lead the Environment and Forestry, which was previously two separate ministries. But activists said the two should remain separate.

Abetnego Tarigan, executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the Forestry Ministry had two opposing roles: protecting Indonesia’s forests and handing out concessions and permits to logging and plantation firms.

However, Abetnego said, despite the fact that Yudhoyono’s Forestry Ministry played various roles, the Environment Ministry had only one: protecting the environment, which means that technically it served to oversee the Forestry Ministry’s policies and programs.

“And now with the merger, the conflict of interests and overlapping authorities have just gotten more complex,” he said. “The environment is an important issue which deserves its own ministry to counterbalance the exploitative side of the Forestry Ministry.”

Teguh Surya, political forest campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia said the merger leaves Joko’s stance on environmental protection unsure.

“Earlier, we were hoping that the president has a specific program for the environment. The Environment Ministry should be given more power and full coordinating roles,” he said.

“So far he hasn’t explained why [he merged the two] and what the mechanism of this merger will be.”

Environmental activists are hoping that Joko will continue to keep the forestry ministry’s exploitative side separate from environmental protection.

One way is to hand over the power to issue concession permits to the Industry Ministry while the merged ministry focuses on managing and designating natural reserves and protected forests as well as overseeing the logging industry.

Activists also questioned Joko’s pick. Siti Nurbaya “has experience in the bureaucracy. But for the environment?” asked Walhi’s Abetnego.

“We will wait and see her programs and policies. In the meantime we are setting indicators to evaluate how well she will perform. We don’t want Joko’s working cabinet to be no more than a slogan. There must also be measurable outputs.” Kennial Laia Caroline