JAKARTA: The clear-cutting of forests to make way for oil palm plantations is driving a wave of illegal logging in Indonesia, fundamentally undermining efforts to bring much-needed reform to the nation’s forestry and timber sectors.
A new report released today by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Permitting Crime: How palm oil expansion drives illegal logging in Indonesia, reveals how a widespread culture of corruption and poor law enforcement is generating a flood of illicit timber as plantations surge into frontier forests.
In-depth case studies of blatant violations of licensing procedures and other laws in Central Kalimantan – a hotspot for forest crime – detailed in the report include:
• outright violations of plantation licensing, timber and environmental regulations by firms clear-cutting forests in some of Indonesia’s richest tracts of rainforest;
• clear links between a series of palm oil concessions, a corrupt regent and one of the highest-profile Indonesian political graft cases of recent years;
• attempts by a palm oil firm to pay US$45,000 to police to bury an investigation into its illegal operations;
• local governments selling-out customary communities and facilitating the transfer of millions of dollars of their resources to private firms.
The report explains how almost all palm plantations nationwide are willfully evading Indonesia’s Timber Legality Verification System (Sistem Verifikasi Legalitas Kayu, or SVLK), a mandatory law implemented in September 2010 as a cornerstone of efforts to ensure only legal timber is produced in the country.
“Illegal logging in oil palm concessions is out of control and Indonesia’s revamped timber laws have completely failed to rein it in,” said EIA Forest Campaigner Tomasz Johnson.
“Our investigations have unearthed some of the worst cases, but we should be clear that levels of legal compliance are critically low across the sector. We have found that local governments are colluding with companies to fast-track the permit process. The result is that these clear-cuts do not identify or mitigate social and environmental impacts as they are legally required to do.”
In November 2014, newly inaugurated President Joko Widodo acknowledged the threat, stating: “It must be stopped. We mustn’t allow our tropical rainforest to disappear because of monoculture plantations like oil palm.”
EIA’s report makes clear recommendations for the Government of Indonesia to enforce existing laws and purge oil palm and timber corruption.
EIA Senior Forest Campaigner Jago Wadley said: “The Ministry of Environment & Forests needs to immediately force mandatory legality audits of all logging in palm plantations and revoke permits where firms resist them. Similarly, it must ensure land clearance ceases in all concessions found non-compliant with the 2014 SVLK legality standard, seize related timber and initiate legal proceedings.”
EIA also calls for a Task Force to be established to examine and prosecute corruption in plantation licensing nationwide, beginning with firms named in the report, and further urges the Government to cease allocating oil palm concessions in forests.