Desy Nurhayati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Attempts have been made to push forest rangers to the front line in the battle against rampant illegal logging to make use of their knowledge of forestry practices and activities.
"Forest rangers, who are equipped with investigative skills and knowledge on forestry affairs, should be able to take stricter action against illegal loggers since they have the same authority as the police," Nanang Roffandi Ahmad, chairman of the Indonesian Forestry Association, said Friday during a discussion on illegal logging.
"Moreover, with their knowledge of forestry matters, they will be able to determine the type of violations."
Illegal logging has been a constant and acute problem in Indonesia in terms of both the environment and the law. In an effort to curb such activities, the government issued a 2005 presidential instruction on the control of logging activities and the distribution of logs.
The regulation stipulates that forest rangers should cooperate with police to tackle illegal loggers.
However, Nanang says responsibilities to be shared between the police and forest rangers were not clearly defined.
"Police should take action only if the illegal logging activities violate the Criminal Code. But to some extent, illegal logging does not always violate the code ... sometimes it is more of an administrative violation," he explained.
"If they are only administrative violations, it is the forest rangers that should take action against the perpetrators by imposing administrative sanctions, such as fines and by revoking their (logging) licenses," he said.
"But if the activities are categorized as a violation of the Criminal Code, it is the police's responsibility to take legal action."
To effectively combat illegal logging, Nanang said, the government needs to more clearly assign authority and responsibilities to the police and forest rangers so as to prevent an overlapping of duties.
National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Sisno Adiwinoto said, however, that the police, not rangers, should constitute the front line in combating illegal logging activities.
"The authority to enforce the law against illegal loggers is only granted to the police, while forest rangers can only help us in relation to the technical aspects of forestry affairs," he told The Jakarta Post.
He added that although the police had taken serious action against illegal loggers in the past, a majority of the perpetrators are eventually acquitted in court.
"We're committed to combating illegal logging activities and we always conduct serious investigations into such cases. But, frequently, many of the illegal loggers are eventually freed of any charges," he said.
"As an example, of the recent 28 illegal logging cases in Papua, there were only seven that ended in convictions, and only with minor charges being laid, while the rest were acquitted."