Hornbill Unleashed

June 26, 2013

Fingers point to Riau governor on illegal logging permits leading to haze

Filed under: Human rights,Logging — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
Tags: ,

TMI

Corruption and companies taking advantage of lax enforcement and murky regulations to clear forests are the major causes of the haze that is smothering Malaysia and Singapore, an Indonesian-based eco-business writer has charged.

And here is the really bad news for Malaysians and Singaporeans: the hunger for kickbacks increases when elections are around the corner. As elections are due next year, this may be one reason why the burning of forests is worse this time around.

The writer noted that as soon as it became clear the bulk of the burning was taking place in the Riau province, fingers were pointed at the leading suspect in the issuing of illegal logging permit: Rusli Zainal, the governor of Riau.

Writing for a sustainable business website, http://www.ecobusiness.com, Ms Sara Schonhardt quoted Danang widiyoko, chairman of Indonesian Corruption Watch, as saying: “The haze disaster shows the impact of corruption in the forestry sector.’’

The independent graft monitor recently assessed permit processes in regions where heaviest logging occurred and noted five cases of corruption which led to protected forests being converted to plantations.

The forestry sector has long been a source of rampant corruption. When Suharto was president, concessions were given to friends and relatives in return for political backing. As power devolved over the past decade from Jakarta to the local level, corruption has become more fragmented.

The report noted that logging and oil palm companies that cut into virgin forests and peatlands are scaling back conservation efforts – often with the backing of local leaders seeking kickbacks in return for operating permits. The problem gets worse in election years, when officials need money to fund campaigns.

With national elections due next year, this is one reason the burning may be worse this time around.  In many instances, the kickbacks persuade local leaders charged with supervising plantation operations to look the other way when companies burn land in protected forest areas, said Danang.

Even the central government concedes that some mining and plantation companies are operating illegally but say their hands are tied because it is regional politicians who dish out the permits.

Indonesia has one of the fastest rates of forest clearing in the world, much of it done to make way for palm oil. Many Malaysian plantation companies have also opened vast tracts of land there. Many of the forests that are being developed stand on peat lands that release large amounts of carbon emissions when upended. The peat also becomes highly combustible after it decomposes.

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