Indonesia Floats Plan to Tackle Deforestation, Fires

Firemen spray water to contain burning wildfire Sept. 5 in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo: Associated Press

JAKARTA — Indonesia's anti-graft commission on Monday said government agencies have agreed on a plan to combat corruption in the forestry industry that costs the state billions of dollars in lost revenue and is behind fires that pollute Southeast Asia.

The attempt to address a longstanding crisis in the management and conservation of Indonesia's prized tropical forests comes after a study by the anti-corruption commission estimated that the commercial value of undeclared logging was USD$60.7 billion to USD$81.4 billion (2.15 trillion baht to 2.86 trillion) baht) between 2003 and 2014. The study released in October estimated the government's loss of revenue from royalties at USD$6.5 billion to USD$9 billion over the same period.

Dian Patria, head of corruption prevention for natural resources at the Corruption Eradication Commission, said top officials from other ministries and agencies have given their backing to the plan.

Protecting extensive tropical forests that are among the largest in the world is a key issue for Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Unreported timber production deprives the Indonesian government of revenue it could use to improve infrastructure and services for its still largely poor population of more than 250 million.

Annual burning of forests and peatland in Sumatra and Kalimantan to clear land for palm oil plantations and other agriculture is a regular bane for Malaysia, Singapore, southern Thailand and parts of Indonesia. The fires produce a smoky haze that is a health hazard, often forcing people indoors and shutting down schools and airports.

Monica Tanuhandaru, the executive director of Kemitraan, which lobbies for clean government and business, said the plan is significant but will require continual support from President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to be fully implemented.

The plan developed by the anti-corruption commission, along with Indonesia's Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Ministry of Finance, Supreme Audit Agency, and financial regulatory agencies, leans heavily on technology to build an accurate picture of where illegal deforestation and conversion of peatland into farmland is occurring.

The anti-corruption commission hopes use of Landsat satellites, drones and LIDAR pulsed laser-based mapping will identify land clearing on a close to real-time basis. That will provide the information for prosecuting companies that log more than they declare.

According to the report released in October, official statistics on timber production capture less than a quarter of what is cut down.

The plan also requires the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to disclose more information about its monitoring efforts. For the first time, it would issue quarterly reports on where deforestation and peatland conversion has occurred and also detail what law enforcement actions it has taken.

Story: Stephen Wright / Associated Press

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