Activists protest protected forest leasing regulation

EoF News / 27 February 2008

Pekanbaru (EoF News)--- The Indonesian government regulation allowing conservation area to be rented for economic and business purposes have sparked protests from various sides as it showed the inconsistence of the administration to protect the decreasing forest areas.

Through a Government Regulation (Peraturan Pemerintah/PP) Number 2 year 2008, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration have paved the smoother way for businessmen –not only mining companies- to do business in protected forests.
Rental tariff/fares which regarded low by environmental activists and parliamentarians would attract many investors to use the protected forest for businesses such as mining, telecommunication, energy sector, infrastructure, broadcasting, and others, daily reports said.

“It is blinkered if [we] consider its economic value is greater than environmental service,” said a member of House of Representatives (DPR), Sonny Keraf (Kompas, 21 February 2008).

Agus Setyarso, a lecturer at University of  Gadjah Mada, said the government’s policy is not founded by natural resources audit and better management practices standard which jeopardize the future of ecology and human being, the daily reported.

Several NGOs like Walhi (Friends of Earth Indonesia), JATAM (NGOs network for mining watch), Huma, Sawit Watch, and ICEL released statements condemning the regulation and urged the government to revoke it.

The group said the price of rent tariff is quite cheap as that of a piece of fried banana. “That is the cheapest forest tariff that officially issued in this country in the history,” said Rully Syumanda, forest campaigner of WALHI on the press release issued last week.

Its cost is only Rp 120 to Rp 300 per square meter, which is far cheaper than a piece of fried banana sold by mobile vendors,” Rully analogized. The activists said the government regulation would enable mining companies to convert protected forest and production forest into large-scale mining areas, only by paying fee of Rp1.8 million to Rp 3 million per hectare. It would be cheaper for the other purposes such as broadcasting, energy, water installation and toll road which could decrease to Rp 1.2 million to Rp 1.5 million, the group said on their statement which first issued on 16 February.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono defended his policy saying that PP No 2/2008 is aimed at saving the forests, Antara newswire reported last week (22 February 2008). “This PP is issued as continuation from previous governments [did]. Its effort is good to make our forests well saved, in one side it will obtain state revenue for the economy, for the welfare, and in another side, it is for saving our earth,” said President Yudhoyono following a limited cabinet meeting at the Palace as quoted as saying by Antara.
Responding to the regulation, two governors in Kalimantan said they would reject the idea to allow protected forests for mining and other businesses’ purposes, Kompas reported (22 February). South Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan governors said the central government only sees the aspect of revenue, the non-tax state revenue, but it does not anticipate the ecological impacts that suffered by the provinces. “We will not ever grant recommendations for mining activities inside protected forests,” said South Kalimantan governor, Ruddy Arifin, as quoted as saying by Kompas.