Wahyoe Boediwardhana, The Jakarta Post, Malang
The government will make eight of the 50 national parks in the country autonomous by 2009 in a bid to save Rp 32 billion (US$3.5 million) in state spending, said a forestry official in Malang, East Java.
The move means the parks will no longer receive operational funds of up to Rp 4 billion each year, said director of the forest conservation at the Directorate General of Nature Conservation and Forest Protection (PHKA), Banjar Yulianto Laban.
On the surface, the changes do not seem to favor the parks or their overall management and upkeep, however, Banjar said it was a positive move.
"Other than saving state funds, (this move means) the operators of (newly-autonomous) national parks will eventually be able (to manage their funds independently)," he said.
"They (will be able to grow) their (own) earnings and gain profits of up to three-fold."
The eight national parks to undergo said management change include Komodo (East Nusa Tenggara), Bunaken (North Sulawesi), Bromo Tengger Semeru (East Java), Gede Pangrango (West Java), Mount Leuser (North Sumatra), West Bali (Bali), Meru Betiri (East Java) and Wasur (Papua).
Today, 60 percent of Rp 4 billion is used for security purposes for these national parks, while 40 percent is used to maintain infrastructure and facilities.
"If they manage their own finances, I estimate they will be able to increase profits three (fold) -- and this will amount to around Rp 12 billion annually," said Banjar.
In a bid to realize the plan and as part of the restructure process, 21 of the 50 national parks in the country will become model national parks.
Autonomous national park operators will maintain existing procedures, including public accountability, self-financing and sustainable forest management.
They will independently handle government non-tax revenue and every legitimate income stream so the parks can be managed in a sustainable, effective and efficient manner.
"I'm assured activities that could harm the ecosystem inside the national parks will not become practice.
"Because, under autonomous management, the only losing party will the be management teams when they eventually suffer declining profits," said Banjar.
It's essential park staff work together to ensure the parks are managed professionally, Banjar said.
Funds the government will accumulate as a result of these changes may later be used to upgrade park accessibility, he said.
A study conducted by Hendra Gunawan from the Nature Conservation and Forest Protection Research Center indicates only 32 percent of the 50 national parks in the country have vehicle access up to their offices or gateways.
Hendra said visitors were less eager to visit national parks due to limited access and the long journey required to each park.
"It's a 10-hour round-trip from the provincial capital or nearest airport to get to most of the national parks in Indonesia," he said.
"Those located outside Java can only be reached by air or water, proceeded by hours and hours overland."
Banjar said it was a considerable disadvantage for foreign tourists eager to spend their time in tropical forests -- of which Indonesia boasts the most worldwide.
"It would not cost a great deal should the government want to build facilities, including airports, near the Komodo National Park, which could accommodate flights directly from Australia or Jakarta," he said.
"And tourists can fly directly to Sulawesi from there.
"At the moment visitors who wish to visit the Komodo National Park have to go through Bali and resume their journey by sea to the location.
Those who want to go to Sulawesi have to return to Surabaya or Jakarta first, which I think will be too taxing."