You can't see the forest for the thieves.
Following the publication of the report released last week by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Indonesian conservation group Telapak entitled The Last Frontier
, which exposed the international criminal syndicates behind the massive looting of merbau trees
from Papua, it's encouraging to see some government action.Since 1991
, the species has been recorded as threatened in Indonesia. This very attractive wood is one of the most valued timbers throughout South East Asia. It is stronger than Teak and is one of the most decay-resistant timbers known (when not in contact with the ground). It is used for flooring, furniture, panelling, fine joinery, decorative turnery, cabinet-making, musical instruments, specialty items
and is also a dye source."The profits are vast as local communities only receive around $10 for each cubic meter of merbau felled on their land, while the same logs fetch as much as $270 per cubic meter in China," said the report.
According to the report, 300,000 cubic meters is smuggled out of Papua province every month to feed China's timber processing industry. That represents a 'retail' value of $828 million a year.Last night
, SBY summonsed Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban, Home Affairs Minister Muhammad Maruf, Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) chief of general staff General Adam Damiri (who was representing TNI commander General Endriartono Sutarto), National Police chief General Dai Bachtiar and Immigration Director General Imam Santoso to a meeting and ordered the arrest of illegal logging tycoons and their backers in the military and police.
So, is this good news?
Yesterday, before the meeting, Kaban told a hearing with Parliament's Commission IV on forestry that the judiciary lacks the courage to tackle illegal logging. He said his ministry had reported 59 businessmen allegedly involved in illegal logging to the police and the Attorney General?s Office, but none of the cases had been investigated.
The minister said he believed the powerful tycoons were untouchable because certain officials from his ministry, the police and the Attorney General's Office were involved in their networks. "They run a well-organized network, which is backed up by abundant funding resources. They are as slippery as eels put in a pond of lubricating oil," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara.
The bureaucracy, which is obviously part of that network, reacted passively to the Transparency International
report issued last week which showed that Jakarta is the most corrupt city in the nation. The main problem as stated by Todung Mulya Lubis
, a leading human rights lawyer and member of the TI-Indonesia board, is that businessmen support good governance, but on the other hand many of them voluntarily offer bribes, whether simply to show gratitude or to win contracts.
That there has long been an uncrushable Papuan separatist movement
is understandable. There are parallels with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in that local people have been disenfranchised from a share of their region's wealth. Tycoons, with the military offering protection through spurious claims that they are putting down separatist movements, have no regard for the sanctity of life, whether forests, people or animals
.The customs agency, airport security and the Soekarno-Hatta Animal Quarantine office often work in cahoots with smugglers to bring protected animals out of the country, a source at the Soekarno-Hatta Animal Quarantine office says. "There are a lot of parties involved, you can't just blame one agency," said the source, who wished to remain anonymous, when asked to comment on the smuggling of 50 emerald monitor lizards to Croatia in November.
Jakartass believes ~ but then I remain an unashamed idealist ~ that there are definite signs of improvement. GAM, in talks
with the Indonesian government in Helsinki, is considering the proposal for special autonomy, although it has yet to drop its demand for independence. OPM, the Free Papua Movement
, decided in August last year to lay down arms and pursue self-determination from Indonesia through peaceful means.
Of course, the cessation of armed struggles would attract foreign investors
who, in my humble opinion, can be just as rapacious as gangsters. But with the eyes of the world on Indonesia, and Aceh in particular, and a president prepared to act authoritatively rather than in an authoritarian manner, then true progress is possible.
It's now up to the rest of us to throw away those brown envelopes we keep handy.