There have been few convictions among hundreds of cases since the president’s first call to stamp out illegal logging in 2005. (Antara Photo)
After deriding President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s call to go after the “mafia” involved in illegal logging last week, some environmentalists are now applauding his decision to assign the Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force to help tackle the issue by targeting legal system flaws that block convictions.
“Illegal logging is a serious crime, meaning that it’s an organized crime,” said Rhino Subagyo, executive director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law. “It has very complex elements, including corruption, money laundering and environmental disasters. It cannot be handled just by one institution, like the KPK [Corruption Eradication Commission], because they are only equipped to deal with corruption issues.”
In 2005, Yudhoyono issued a presidential instruction involving 12 ministries, the Attorney General’s Office, National Police, Army, State Intelligence Agency (BIN), governors and district heads. The instruction was meant to herald the start of a concerted campaign against illegal logging, but resulted in few convictions among hundreds of cases.
Critics took his April 7 announcement as a sign that his previous efforts to halt illegal logging had been a complete failure
“There’s nothing wrong with the instruction as it had a good purpose: To ensure his subordinates coordinated with each other to make sure the massive policy movement supported the action. But its implementation turned out to have little effect because too many conflicts of interest between sectors and ministries caused them to only halfheartedly [execute the instruction],” Rhino said.
One of the most visible examples of lack of coordination and conflict of interest, Rhino said, was when the police closed active investigations into 13 major pulp and paper companies in Riau that were allegedly committing serious violations.
“That is a blatant example of a dispute between the forestry ministry and police,” Rhino said.
Indonesia currently has about 10 percent of the world’s remaining rainforests, but officials estimate the country has lost over 10 million hectares to illegal logging. Indonesia Corruption Watch estimates state losses from the practice could be as high as Rp 30 trillion ($3.33 billion).
Hariadi Kartodiharjo, a forestry expert at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, said the missing link in addressing illegal logging lies in the justice system, where the Ministry of Forestry rarely wins cases.
“We already have the institutions who are in charge, but they don’t effectively work because there’s something wrong in the legal process, including at regional levels,” Hariadi said, adding that the country’s legal system has not revised its burden of proof requirements for environmental and forestry cases, making it difficult to obtain convictions against large-scale illegal logging enterprises.
“Illegal logging cases are treated like regular criminal acts, where they require eyewitnesses to really see that someone chopped down the trees. It’s obvious that there is a gap [in the law] between everyday rationality and legal rationality. You can’t eradicate illegal logging within the conventional system,” he said.
However, Hariadi said, the task force should not busy itself with policy matters, which are supposed to be the domain of the government, including permit issues, but should rather focus on aggressively targeting illegal logging’s major players.
“Just use intelligence data and information and aim at one big target, whether in Sumatra, Papua or Kalimantan, because many players in illegal logging are actually the [legitimate companies], considering that it’s actually an expensive business that only those with lots of money are able to join in,” he said.
Mas Achmad Santosa, a member of the anti-mafia task force, said the team was assigned to fight organized criminals operating in the forestry sector, meaning that they will be working in the context of legal enforcement.
“We will be there to help ministries to deal with the ‘bottleneck’ concerning plenty of failed illegal logging cases as a result of the legal process. Our job is to seize on any indications that those failures are being caused by case brokers,” Mas said.