Indonesia: Red tape hampering efforts to deal with forest fires

The Jakarta Post 31 Aug 15;

The government knows how to solve the problem of forest fires but has yet to implement the solution, a senior Environment and Forestry Ministry official has said.

Nur Masripatin, the director general for climate change with the ministry said that the government would continue conducting feasibility studies before taking action.

“More than 90 percent of forest fires in Indonesia are caused by humans. The government already knows this and the solutions, but we have yet to implement them. I’ve studied your recommendations. Some can be carried out, but we need to see the feasibility and consequences of doing so,” Nur said in a high-level policy dialogue, called Finding and Mainstreaming Long Term Solutions to Fire and Haze in Indonesia, held by the ministry and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

CIFOR recommends the government allocate a higher proportion of the national budget for fire prevention. Currently the budget for forest fires reserves 90 percent for fire fighting and preparedness and 10 percent for prevention. The institution suggests the government also allocate more toward peat land restoration.

CIFOR found in research conducted in 2014 and 2015 that 70 percent of forest fires in Indonesia are caused by the draining of peat lands for agriculture use.

“Allocate a large part of the national budget to restore peat lands to hydrological equilibrium. The government may use rehabilitation funds or the commodities export tax to pay for peat land restoration on a large scale,” David Gaveau, a landscape scientist of CIFOR said.

Nur said that she agreed with the proposal, but added that, at least in the next two years, the government should still allocate more for fire fighting effort. “For example in Jambi, we still need Air Tractors,” she said.

CIFOR also recommended the establishment of an emergency task force to address the immediate risks that over time would evolve into a designated official multi-level coordinating committee to follow up on fire prevention.

Nur said that the government opted not to establish a new task force because it already had all the institutions it needed.

However, she acknowledged that bureaucratic red tape slows down the implementation of programs.

“For example, according to the regulation, the BNPB [National Disaster Mitigation Agency] can only take actions after approval from the central government,” she said.

In its recommendation, CIFOR also wanted the government to mandate companies not to buy commodities produced on land cleared with the slash-and-burn method.

The director for Strategic Stakeholder Engagement of Sinarmas Agribusiness and Food Agus, Purnomo, however, said that such a ban would not be enough since small-scale palm oil producers could still sell to markets in China and India.

“When we don’t buy from them, they still sell it to China and India. The government needs to control this. Besides, a lot of them may not pay tax,” Agus said.

A fire expert from Bogor Agriculture University, Bambang Hero Saharjo, meanwhile, emphasized the need for the government to ensure companies have proper fire detection equipment and systems.

“From the results of a ministry audit in Riau in 2014, none of the 17 big companies audited there were equipped with proper facilities for fire prevention. Even the regional agencies do not know the qualifications for the proper facilities,” Bambang said. (rbk)