Jakarta court rules in government's favour in case involving pulp company April

The dispute between PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry involved differences over government efforts to speed up the pace at which plantation companies shift off flammable peatlands. PHOTO: PEATLAND RESTORATION AGENCY (BRG)

JAKARTA - An Indonesian administrative court on Thursday (Dec 21) rejected a petition by a major Indonesian pulp and paper company that challenged a government decision to void the firm's 10-year business plan.

Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (Rapp), the operational unit of Singapore-based pulpwood company Asia Pacific Resources International (April), said on Thursday it would adjust the plan, which governs its daily operations, to meet Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) directives.

The dispute between Rapp and the MoEF involved differences over government efforts to speed up the pace at which plantation companies shift off flammable peatlands. Rapp has large areas of peatlands within its Sumatra concessions.

The ministry had accused the company of failing to comply with new peatland protection laws, which aim to prevent choking annual haze and encourage plantation firms to move their operations to non-peatlands through land swop deals.

April has said it protects large areas of peatland, which are a major source of haze in the dry season, in its concessions. But it called on the ministry to agree to a more measured move off peatlands to avoid major business disruption and job losses.

The ministry disagreed and wanted Rapp to revise its 10-year work plan, which all plantation companies must submit for ministerial approval. Failure to comply means a company must halt operations.

Rapp had challenged the ministry's decision earlier this year to cancel the firm's business plan and sought the East Jakarta Administrative Court's help to mediate in the dispute.

A three-member panel of judges ruled against the company's petition on procedural, not legal grounds, on Thursday.

In a statement after the verdict, the company said: "Rapp intends to adjust the company's general working plan (RKU), as per directives from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF)."

"The newly revised (plan) will significantly impact our business activities. Nevertheless, we will comply with the directives from the MoEF."

In the meantime, the firm's pulp mill can keep operating, but no planting and harvesting on the concession areas covered by the work plan can be carried out, affecting thousands of jobs.

Rapp was also challenging the ministry's reliance on a 2017 law that decreed plantation firms must quickly switch to non-peatlands via land swops. The Supreme Court in October struck down the ministerial regulation, saying it was ambiguous and could cause legal uncertainty.

In its statement, the firm said: "We will continue to work to meet our commitment to conserve 1ha for every hectare planted (one-for-one goal), which currently stands at 83 per cent - or 419,000ha - of forest under conservation and restoration."

The company's concessions under the work plan cover a large area of fast-growing pulpwood trees such as acacia in Riau province, directly across the Malacca Strait from Singapore. More than half of this area is planted on peatlands.

Dr Bambang Hendroyono, secretary-general of MoEF, told The Straits Times the ministry gave Rapp 14 working days from Dec 8 to revise its work plan.

"We have set a target to have all work plans that are peatland ecosystem-based completed within this year. That is the ideal deadline," he said.

"We are facing dry weather ahead, and in 2018, we have the Asian Games. We don't want to see any more fire, haze then."

He said plantation companies, overall, did well in the recent prevention measures, adding: "But they have to reflect those in their respective work plans. Show us your plans for each year in your 10-year work plan.

"Now only about 40 per cent of the total 85 plantation companies have completed their work plans. If the April group, which consists of more than 30 companies, complete their work plan, we will have 80 per cent of the 85 companies having completed their work plan."

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