Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Law Empower Ministry to Punish Environmental Offenders by Fardah

       Jakarta, Sept. 10, 2009 (ANTARA) - Indonesia is endowed  with vast forest, mangrove, peat soil and coral areas as well as biological diversity but at the same time facing huge environmental problems, such as forest destruction, water, soil and air pollution.
         However, most of the environmental violators have walked free due to the country's ineffective legal system, corruption and lax  bureaucracy despite the government's efforts to stop environmental destruction.

         Based on an investigation into illegal logging activities in Indonesia, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Indonesia's NGO Telapak in their joint report in 2007 said corruption and collusion happen  at all stages of the justice system, from the police and prosecutors to judges, ensuring that the main culprits behind illegal logging in Indonesia remain at liberty.
        US customs data reveal that over two shipments of expressly illegal Indonesian logs and sown timber entered US ports every day in 2006, worth almost US$14 million, the report said.
        Indonesia lost around 2.8 million hectares of forests annually and about US$4 billion a year due to illegal logging activities since the beginning of the decade, according to EIA and Telapak.
        The report reveals how an unprecedented anti-illegal logging operation in Papua Province in March 2005 failed to snare the powerful timber barons and their protectors in the police and military.   
   Although the operation identified 186 suspects, by January 2007 only 13 convictions had been secured and none of these were the ringleaders. Of 18 major cases which made it to trial, all the defendants were cleared by the courts.
         Another notorious illegal logging case involved Adelin Lis (54) who was declared unguilty by the Medan District Court on November 5, 2007 on a charge of deforestation in Mandailing Natal forest, North Sumatra.
        The Medan court's decision sparked a public outrage which prompted the Supreme Court in July 2008 to punish Adelin Lis with 10 years in jail and a fine amounting to Rp1 billion. But, Adelin Lis has managed to escape from the country, before serving the jail term.
         Hoping to address such problems, Indonesia's parliament last Tuesday (Sept. 8) passed a new environment bill into the  Law on Environmental Protection and Management to replace  Law No.23/1997, in order to give the Environment Ministry the power to revoke polluters' business licenses.
         "In 2010, perpetrators of environmental destruction will be jailed, they will no longer be able to escape the snare of the law,"  Environment Minister Rahmat Witoelar said in West Sumatra recently.  
    "Under the law, we will have to protect the environment and manage it in sustainable ways in the best interest of  our own and the next generations," the minister said.
        The new law will require companies whose operations impact the environment to obtain an environmental license and undergo an environmental assessment process before starting its operations. If the terms of the environmental assessment process are breached, the Environment Ministry can revoke their permit to operate and impose  fines.
        Anyone who deliberately pollutes the environment could face up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to 10 billion rupiah ($1 million).
         "This will affect basically all industries or companies whose activities create an impact on the environment, including manufacturing, construction, mining, pulp factories and others," said Nur Hidayati, Greenpeace's country representative for Indonesia, as quoted by Reuters.
         Before, if a company pollutes, the Environment Ministry could only give a recommendation and there was no enforcement in terms of the minister stopping the operation because their operation license was held by another department, she said.
        The new law, which was approved by the House of Representatives' ten political factions,  also provides for sanctions on local or central government officials who issue permits without following the proper procedures.
         It will also grant power to National Park Rangers so that they can investigate and arrest anyone who harms  the environment, At present, the authority of the civilian rangers is limited to investigating and forwarding any crime reports to the police.
         The environment ministry encouraged all parties to integrate the environmental concept in all of their policies, plans and working programs, Arief Yuwono, secretary of the environment ministry, said in Jakarta recently.
        The new law emphasizes  three points, namely strengthening of the ministry's civilian investigators, environmental licensing, and eco-region development concept, he explained.
         "The civilian investigators will have the authority to arrest, detain, and file reports to the prosecutors," he said.
          Environmental licensing will  improve the effectiveness of the Environmental Impact Assessment (AMDAL).
          On eco-region development concept, the concept will become a base of environmental management for development. "For instance, there will be Sumatra eco-region, Java eco-region, Sulawesi eco-region, and Papua eco-region,"  Yuwono said.
          Environmental experts have warned that if loggers continue to cut Indonesia's forests at the current rate, the  damage they cause  will be beyond repair for 15 years. Greenpeace estimates that 3.8 million hectares of forest are being destroyed each year.
         "We are running out of time," says Togu Manurung, director of Forest Watch Indonesia, one of Greenpeace's partners in the fight to halt the logging. "If this keeps going on, we will facing the reality of total forest destruction in Indonesia in the near future," he said  sometime ago.
         Despite some hopes on the new law effectiveness, there is also pessimism as corruption is  still rampant in Indonesia.

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