Indonesia: Government to mend peatland ruling amid protests

Tama Salim, The Jakarta Post 31 Dec 14;

The government will revise the government’s newly issued regulation on the protection and management of peatland amid growing protests from the business community, which said that the new ruling hurt plantation activities.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has confirmed that the state will revise Government Regulation No. 71/2014 on the protection and management of peatland, which would be implemented in May 2015 to replace the outdated Law No. 31/2009 on environmental protection and conservation.

Siti said that the government would consider the demands of the business community, which heavily criticized the rule for being unaccommodating to most commercial interests.

The regulation stipulates that the minimum water level in peatland must be maintained at 40 centimeters. Water levels in the country’s 1.7 million peatlands are mostly below the required level to grow oil palm and eucalyptus trees. Therefore, most peatland areas accommodating oil palm plantations will have to be rehabilitated, according to the Indonesian Palm Oil Producer Association (Gapki) and Pulp and Paper Producers Association (APKI).

“Peatland is a definite source of water and it has already shrunk from 7 million hectares to 5 million ha. We just want to conserve what’s available, so let’s see if we can modify the provision,” she said, without elaborating on any possible solutions.

With regard to land use in peatland areas, Siti said that the government would guarantee the continuity of current commercial permits, but refused to issue any new ones. She said that priority would be given to companies that have fulfilled the necessary environmental sustainability requirements and have already been utilizing peatlands for plantations.

“We’re looking into this not only because it affects the wood-based industries but also because it affects the oil palm industry. We don’t want any of these companies to close because of the new regulation,” Siti explained.

When contacted separately, pulp and paper businessman Rusli Tan said that he welcomed the government’s decision to evaluate the Peatland Regulation, since the regulation brought more harm than good.

According to Rusli, who was also APKI’s deputy chairman, the regulation poses a threat to industrial forests owned by the pulp and paper industry.

“The government should be protecting local businesses, not shutting them down,” he told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

Rusli said that the government might experience the greatest impact, since these corporations not only invested heavily in capital but also provided employment for the surrounding community.

- See more at: