05 October 2007

[sobat-hutan] 'Fruit from a Poison Tree'

TEMPO
No. 06/VIII/October 09-15, 2007
Law

'Fruit from a Poison Tree'

The Joint Team Against Illegal Logging formed by the President remains ineffectual. Before the team, the Riau Police Chief unveiled the forest devastation in the province.


WHAT it has done still falls far short of expectations. Its multi-sector membership including forestry experts, economists, police authorities and prosecutors provides no guarantee for fast teamwork. This is how the Joint Team to deal with Riau's illegal logging, set up by the President in early September, has been fated.

Headed by Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal & Security Affairs, Widodo A.S., the team was expected to settle the logging case in Riau, a crisis that led the Forestry Minister and National Police Chief to a tense debate. Sixteen echelon I officials are in this team.

Besides police, forestry and prosecution institutions, the Environment Minister's Office, the Industry Department, the Home Affairs Department and the State Intelligence Agency are also represented. The President asked the team to settle three main issues: the collection of accurate data on Riau's forests, utilization of seized timber, and legal action against illegal-logging suspects.

A great task was indeed ahead of the team members. Apart from holding meetings, they flew to the location where piles of timber were sealed by the Riau Regional Police in the forest of Sungai Gaung, Indragiri Hilir. The wood produced by PT Bina Duta Laksana, a partner of PT Indah Kiat Pulp & Paper, had some problems. The license was for chipped wood but a lot of logs over 30 centimeters in diameter were discovered, which was against the rule.

The license issued to Bina Duta by Riau Governor Rusli Zaenal when he was Regent of Indragiri Hilir was seen as procedurally flawed. The Riau Police Chief had sent a request that the President allow the examination of the governor. Rusli himself denied having issued an illegitimate license. "My God, I will explain everything about it later," Rusli told Tempo.

The Joint Team has met already at least nine times to thoroughly resolve Riau's timber looting case, most frequently in the Bima Room, the main room at the Coordinating Minister for Security's Office. A Tempo source attending the meetings disclosed that the most heated meeting was on September 7. The guest star at the time was Riau Police Chief, Brig. Gen. Sutjiptadi.

At this meeting Sutjiptadi unveiled the forest devastation in Riau. He brought a bundle of documents to be shown to team members. The papers among others contained schemes of the process of police investigation, satellite imagery sheets describing forest destruction in Riau, photos of ravaged forests and Riau's animal species, such as elephants, perishing due to rampant forest plundering.

The documents revealed in detail the modes of illegal logging from upstream to downstream operations. The process from licensing to field operational activities was faulty. The changing regulations of the Forestry Minister were blamed for weakening law enforcement.

According to Sutjiptadi's papers, overlapping regulations created loopholes for entrepreneurs to steal wood. The granting of operational licenses to pulp plants, said the documents, generally did not start from the supply of land for forest industrial estates (HTI). Consequently, the pulp factories faced a big shortage of raw materials from the existing HTIs.

So the problem of wood demand began to spread. Through subsidiaries or working partners of pulp plants, timber firms then engaged in random tree felling in natural forests. "Forest destruction was thus taking place at an alarming rate," indicated one of Sutjiptadi's papers submitted to the Coordinating Minister.

The Tempo source at the meetings continued that a tense argument followed Sutjiptadi's exposure of the Riau forest devastation. Moreover, Sutjiptadi pointed to forestry personnel who failed to grasp the contents of their Minister's decrees on the dos and don'ts for logging. This, said Sutjiptadi, prompted most HTI license holders to cut down natural forest trees at will. "We are handling 189 cases," Sutjiptadi told the Joint Team as quoted by the Tempo source.

One of those arguing against the Riau Police Chief's description was Arman Mallolongan, Director-General of Forest Protection & Nature Conservation, Department of Forestry. Arman, said the source, even regarded Sutjiptadi as uninformed of the regulations and less conversant with the Forestry Law. According to Arman, business licenses and logging activities have been specified by regulations issued from 1990 up to 2007.

The police, said Arman, could not impose criminal provisions on forestry cases as they wish. The Forestry Department is authorized to regulate and determine forest zones while forest commodities should not be trivialized. To Tempo, Arman stated that in any violation, administrative penalties and civil aspects should come first.

Another Tempo source also spoke of the heated discussion with Sutjiptadi. "But in spite of being cornered, he had high self-confidence," said this source. Sutjiptadi, he added, also stood tall when notifying the reasons for declaring four ex-forestry office heads in Riau as suspects and the plan to examine several regents.

Since the launch of operations against illegal logging, the Riau Police have in fact held thousands of cubic meters of logs suspected of being unlicensed products. Sutjiptadi has also brought a number of directors and managers of companies allegedly involved in the pillage to court.

According to Sutjiptadi, the Environment Law is among those that have guided him to take action against illegal loggers. In his view, it is too lenient to punish environment plunderers only with administrative sanctions. He also quoted a legal principle that such practice was "fruit from a poison tree," meaning it was equally poisonous. Sutjiptadi meant that if forest exploitation licenses were not properly applied for, the ensuing operations would go wrong and be dangerous.

It was not only the session with Sutjiptadi that proceeded with tension. The September 17 meeting was a tense affair too. Its agenda comprised the formulation of the team's field findings to be presented to the President. It turned out that until it wound up, the team had failed to reach consensus on the timber issue. The meeting was continued the next day, with the same outcome.

The latest meeting was on September 21. Joint Team Executive Chairman Budi Utomo could not yet make any conclusion. The timber seized by the police, for instance, was proposed for immediate utilization to prevent its economic value decline. But when the operational method and the authorized agency were to be determined, the talk was deadlocked.

Forestry Department spokesman Fauzi Mas'ud said the police could just proceed with the court trial of illegal logging cases. However, added Fauzi, all the logging business licenses in Riau were legitimate. "We know best about forests," he claimed.

Under the prevailing conditions, it seems impossible for the Joint Team to speedily complete its task. Riau's illegal logging case is not that simple. Presidential spokesman Andi Alfian Mallarangeng acknowledged that there was as yet no agenda for the President's announcement of the Joint Team's conclusion. "I haven't been informed of the announcement yet," he said.

Elik Susanto, Bobby Triadi (Riau)

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