Jokowi saves forests, but fails to resolve land and mining conflicts, activists say

   Environment watchdog Indonesian Forum for the Environment said President Joko Widodo's efforts in protecting the environment in the last four years had been "half-hearted".
Environment watchdog Indonesian Forum for the Environment said President Joko Widodo's efforts in protecting the environment in the last four years had been "half-hearted".PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - While praised for its progressive efforts in preserving forests and stopping forest fires, the administration of President Joko Widodo still faces criticism for doing less in preventing the harmful practices of mining.

Environment watchdog Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said Mr Joko's efforts in protecting the environment in the last four years had been "half-hearted".

"It is true that there has been some progress if compared to previous administrations. However, he is still not serious about implementing the point that he stressed in his Nawacita, particularly related to the citizens' rights to safety and land ownership," Walhi research and policy manager Boy Jerry Even Sembiring told The Jakarta Post.

He was referring to the nine-point development plan introduced by Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla during their election campaign in 2014.

Boy said Mr Joko had not overcome the ongoing criminalisation of environmental activists across the country.

Data from the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute in 2017 revealed that criminalisation against environmental activists is rampant, with 50 activists facing legal sanctions in 2017.

The Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) recorded 22 cases involving the criminalisation of 85 environmental activists across the country between 2014 and 2018 in the mining sector, particularly coal mining, gold mining and limestone mining sectors.


Boy said Mr Joko's administration was also still struggling with land conflicts despite major progress in reducing forest fires.

The Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA) recorded a drop in the number of agrarian conflicts occurring throughout last year, with the 410 cases representing a 37 per cent decrease from the 659 conflicts in 2017. But the latest number covered more than 807,000ha of land and involved more than 87,568 households across the country.

Boy credited the decrease to several progressive programmes in agrarian reform, including social forestry, forest fire mitigation, some innovative regulations and concession permits restrictions.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nubaya Bakar said Mr Joko had allowed marginalised communities to enjoy the benefits of forests through social forestry regulations.

In 2015, the government launched an ambitious programme that earmarks 12.7 million ha of forests to be managed by communities through social forestry schemes. These include community forestry, village forests, community plantation forests and customary forests.

Siti said another breakthrough was the President's forest fire mitigation efforts across the country following the 2015 deadly forest fires and haze crisis across Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

"The number of hot spots has reduced," she said in a press conference at the Presidential Staff Office (KSP) on Tuesday (Feb 12).

Siti also said the government had imposed administrative sanctions on companies or institutions that violate regulations.

"These administrative sanctions were implemented for the first time as law enforcement measures in Jokowi's era," she said.

In 2015, the government issued ministerial and presidential decrees that eventually led to the establishment of a national peatland restoration agency (BRG), tasked with reviving, or restoring, peatlands drained for planting as well as those damaged by fires.

Millions of hectares of Indonesia's carbon-rich peatlands have been drained and planted with oil palms and acacia trees for the pulp and paper sector.

Drained and dried out peatlands are highly flammable and produce a thick, acrid smoke when burned. Peatland fires are also hard to extinguish.

The government also issued a regulation in 2016 to end all development on peatland across the country. Another regulation that same year on strategic environmental impact assessment requirements and a regulation in 2017 on funding for environmental protection are among the slew of policies rolled out in the wake of the 2015 disaster.

Food security and supply, natural resources and the environment are among the key topics of debate between Mr Joko and his rival Prabowo Subianto ahead of April's presidential election. Both candidates are holding a series of presidential debates, the second of which is set for Sunday (Feb 17).

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said the President had made reforms in protecting the ocean, as Indonesia aims to play a leading role in maintaining ocean sustainability.

She said the government had been taking stern measures in tackling illegal fishing in its waters in a bid to protect its fish. According to the ministry, 488 illegal fishing boats have been sunk for the crime.

The President, Susi said further, had also called Indonesian fishermen to stop using traditional cantrang (seine and trawl nets) in a bid to promote sustainable fishing habits and prevent the damage of coral reefs and seabed ecosystems.

"Indonesia was praised by other countries for its stern measures in protecting its oceans," she said.