Deforestation and Extractive Industries in Indonesia; Shadowing by Corruption

Author: Lengga Pradipta | Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)

Forest is one of the natural resources which are massively degraded around the world. A recent study by Potapov et al. has found that in fourteen years (from 2000 until 2013), global deforestation rate has doubled. Mongabay also reported that the rapid deforestation is caused by the land concessions made for the extractive industries (mining, oil palm and gas). The mining industries are the major cause of forest loss, destroying almost 600.000 km2; it is larger than the total area of France. A similar situation echoes in the Southeast Asia region, where economies of most developing countries depend on natural resources. According to the study by EU Science Hub, by 2050, Southeast Asia’s forest will shrink about by 5.2 million ha, caused by mining, logging, and other land clearing activities.

Indonesia, one of the largest economies in Southeast Asia, is now facing deforestation. A recent data has mentioned that the total area of forests in Indonesia is declining. In 2019, the total forest area of Indonesia was reduced to 94.2 million ha from 128 million ha in 2014. The Indonesian government has classified forests areas into three functions; protection, production and conservation. These classifications seemed ‘fair’ because it still prioritized forests as common-pool resources owned by the society, but the reality is contradictory.  

Forest areas (notably protected forests) are very prone to large – scale deforestation. It then categorized as organized forest crime because some parties or corporations tried to convert forests into extractive industries (such as mining and oil palm plantations). These activities are conducted without considering the social-ecological aspects which will bring a multiplier effect on biophysical disturbances (e.g. climate change and damage to water sources) as well as social impacts on the community (e.g. land conflicts and poverty).

Mining and oil palm industries with the permit to operate in forest lands violate national laws, and customary practises of people living there. Since the New Order Era (Soeharto’s regime), forest laws were diluted to a greater extent.

Corruption and nepotism prevalent during this regime became the major threat for forest depletion. It is contradictory to the Welfare State’s principle because the aim of giving forest permit for extractive industries is to reduce the environmental degradation and social impact as well as generating revenue for the state. Furthermore, since Indonesia sticks with the local autonomy or decentralization system, so the mechanism of forest permit has to go beyond two layers; central government and local government. In the second layer (local government), the forest permit is even worse due to the influence of land mafia.

There are some reasons why mining and oil palm industries are easy to grab forest area for their capital benefit and why corruption could not be avoided;

(1) the impact of local autonomy (decentralization), where the local government easily gives the permit to companies to raise political funds for upcoming local election,

(2) the unclear spatial management and policy in provincial or district level make it easier for local government to do such deception regarding forest areas, and

(3) weak regulations on forest management (both at the national and local government), make it very challenging to arrest the bandits and forest mafias.

How to Eradicate Corruption of the Forest Permit?

Inadequate legal enforcement preserves to make a negative impact on Indonesia’s forest crimes. Only a few perpetrators of forest crimes have been prosecuted and arrested, and they are not the ‘main actors’. The ‘real mafias’ are still hiding behind the curtain; they are the corruptors.

To eradicate corruption in the forest sector, the government has to be more assertive by integrating the issue of corruption in forest policy. Since the current Forestry Law (Act No. 41/1999) is obsolete, has lacuna and does not explicitly mention forest crime and corruption. A new policy regarding forest management is urgently needed to strengthen the authority of government.

Although the government, since 2015,  through Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has initiated the National Movement to Save Natural Resources (GN – PSDA), this movement is not enough. Significant effort must be taken to save and protect the Indonesian forest. Some actions, including strengthening social forestry schemes, must be adopted to create conducive productivity for the community around forest areas (indigenous people or local people). This would help the frequent and required monitoring of the forest. Second, the agrarian reform per the Constitutional mandates must be ensured, not only focusing on ceremonial events of distributing the land certificates. Third; the act of forest grabbing must be stipulated as the criminal act or extraordinary crime not only as an ordinary one. In addition to these actions, amending the forest policy at the national and local levels must be prioritized.

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