Indonesia: Jokowi saves forests, but fails to resolve land, mining conflicts

The Jakarta Post 13 Feb 19;

While praised for its progressive efforts in preserving forests and stopping forest fires, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration still faces criticism for doing less in preventing the harmful practices of mining.

Environment watchdog Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said Jokowi’s efforts in protecting the environment in the last four years had been “half-hearted”.

“It is true that there has been some progress if compared to previous administrations. However, he is still not serious about implementing the point that he stressed in his Nawacita, particularly related to the citizens’ rights to safety and land ownership,” Walhi research and policy manager Boy Jerry Even Sembiring told The Jakarta Post.

He was referring to the nine-point development plan introduced by Jokowi and Vice President Jusuf Kalla during their election campaign in 2014.

Boy said Jokowi had not overcome the ongoing criminalization of environmental activists across the country.

Data from the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute in 2017 revealed that criminalization against environmental activists is rampant, with 50 activists facing legal sanctions in 2017.

The Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) recorded 22 cases involving the criminalization of 85 environmental activists across the country between 2014 and 2018 in the mining sector, particularly coal mining, gold mining and limestone mining sectors.

Boy said Jokowi’s administration was also still struggling with land conflicts despite major progress in reducing forest fires.

The Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA) recorded a drop in the number of agrarian conflicts occurring throughout last year, with the 410 cases representing a 37 percent decrease from the 659 conflicts in 2017. But the latest number covered more than 807,000 hectares of land and involved more than 87,568 households across the country.

Boy credited the decrease to several progressive programs in agrarian reform, including social forestry, forest fire mitigation, some innovative regulations and concession permits restrictions.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nubaya Bakar said Jokowi had allowed marginalized communities to enjoy the benefits of forests through social forestry regulations.

In 2015, the government launched an ambitious program that earmarks 12.7 million ha of forests to be managed by communities through social forestry schemes. These include community forestry, village forests, community plantation forests and customary forests.

Siti said another breakthrough was the President’s forest fire mitigation efforts across the country following the 2015 deadly forest fires.

“The number of hotspots has reduced,” she said in a press conference at Presidential Staff Office (KSP) on Tuesday.

Siti also said the government had imposed administrative sanctions on companies or institutions that violate regulations.

“These administrative sanctions were implemented for the first time as law enforcement measures in Jokowi’s era,” she said.

In 2015, the government issued ministerial and presidential decrees that eventually led to the establishment of a national peatland restoration agency (BRG), tasked with reviving peatland that have been drained for planting as well as those damaged by fires.

The government also issued a regulation in 2016 to end all development on peatland across the country. Another regulation that same year on strategic environmental impact assessment requirements and a regulation in 2017 on funding for environmental protection are among the slew of policies rolled out in the wake of the 2015 disaster.

“President Jokowi has also urged us to educate the communities about the dangers of forest fires,” Bambang said.

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said the President had made reforms in protecting the ocean, as Indonesia aims to play a leading role in maintaining ocean sustainability.

She said the government had been taking stern measures in tackling illegal fishing in its waters in a bid to protect its fish. According to the ministry, 488 illegal fishing boats have been sunk for the crime.

The President, Susi said further, had also called Indonesian fishermen to stop using traditional cantrang (seine and trawl nets) in a bid to promote sustainable fishing habits and prevent the damage of coral reefs and seabed ecosystems.

“Indonesia was praised by other countries for its stern measures in protecting its oceans,” she said. (das)