LONDON: Systemic law enforcement failings threaten to make a mockery of Indonesia’s pledge to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions by enabling plantation companies to destroy carbon-rich peatlands with impunity, a report released today reveals.
Testing the Law, jointly produced by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Indonesian NGO Telapak, highlights how a well-connected oil palm firm has been allowed to continue operating in Central Kalimantan in clear breach of the law for almost five years.
Evidence gathered by EIA/Telapak shows that Government officials have been aware of the activities of PT Suryamas Cipta Perkasa (PT SCP) for years and, despite statements to the contrary, have failed to take action.
The crimes committed by PT SCP, part of the BEST Group, have led directly to the destruction ofthe habitat of hundreds of endangered orangutans andlocal livelihoods,generating millions of tonnes of carbon emissions in the process.
In March this year, EIA/Telapak submitted a dossier of evidence to a range of authorities in Indonesia, detailing how PT SCP had broken numerous laws governing land allocation, access to resources and environmental management.
The dossier provided the authorities with sufficient evidence to prompt a criminal investigation into the illegal conversion of more than 23,000 hectares of peatland and peat swamp forest, while giving notice to the Government that its response would be made public.
Although the Government has openly admitted the concession is illegal, today the illicit proceeds of the crime continue to flow. Meetings between EIA/Telapak and the authorities have raised serious concerns over the likelihood of any prosecution.
EIA Forests Campaigner Tom Johnson said: “This case clearly demonstrates the gulf between the rhetoric on reducing deforestation and the reality on the ground. The Government has been aware of the illegality for years but has demonstrated no intent to do anything to protect the environment or the local community in line with the law.
“Companies such as PT SCP are operating with extraordinary levels of impunity. A key reason for that is because government officials don’t appear to feel they have any obligation to enforce the law.
“The state bureaucracy is prioritising the continuing operation of plantations over enforcement of the law. As a consequence, progressive elements of the Government are pushing for reforms and new legislation that are simply being undermined.”
Although the PT SCP case is among the worst in Central Kalimantan, it is far from isolated. Government investigations have exposed the high levels of illegal plantation expansion in the province, yet there is no evidence that such illegal expansion is likely to be curbed without effective law enforcement.
More than US$1 billion has been pledged by the international community to support Indonesia’s strategy for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) through a range of governance reforms. The protection of peatlands from plantation expansion forms a core part of the strategy, but the case of PT SCP suggests these reforms cannot succeed without prosecuting the worst conversion criminals.
Johnson added: “So long as this company continues to profit from its illegal activities with impunity, the Government is effectively sending out the message that it is open season on Indonesia’s peatlands.”
EIA/Telapak has called on the Government of Indonesia to properly investigate and prosecute the crimes of PT SCP andexamine the role of officials, particularly at the kabupaten (regency) level, in facilitating illegality.
The report further calls onbuyers to cease sourcing crude palm oil from the BEST Group until allegations of illegality are properly investigated, and on REDD+ donors to pressure theGovernment of Indonesia to take appropriate action and to monitor its response.