Jokowi Officials Target OKI in South Sumatra: Symbolism for What?



On the sidelines of more global developments, Indonesian officials, in a bizarre strategy of acting more like Greenpeace than a government, are taking ‘”symbolic” actions to uproot Acacia trees in Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) concessions in South Sumatra.

Many moderate observers on environmental policy are astonished by the government’s actions. “Lots of noise, for the feel good moment, but little benefits for the Indonesian people,” one executive noted on the sidelines of an industry gathering on Friday (10 February) in Jakarta, Indonesia.

These actions are increasingly questioning the semi-hysteric policy of fear adopted by government officials who have targeted the two major Indonesian paper, pulp and palm oil corporations and follows a deeply flawed ecological narrative. It raises the question of whether the eagerness of the Jokowi leftist leaning policies benefit society or will backfire.

Industry executives are increasingly opining that the combination of land repossession and forceful redistribution, a move first pursued in 1963, created second class citizens and gave rise to privileged, pockets of fiefdoms that undermine national integrity. In hushed tones, many executives are adopting a wait-and-see attitude; but a backlash for the Jokowi administration should come to no surprise to Jakarta.

“The continuous targeting of one of the few economic engines in Indonesia will backfire,” warn executives. “Why are we adopting African or South American policies?” asks another, adding, “our constitution provides equal rights for all Indonesians, why is the president pushing to create indigenous exclusivity?”

Claims that “forestry communities are better guardians than the industry” are questioned by Toni Engstrom from The Great Lakes Timber Professionals Associations (GLTPA).

“Historically, these claims have little evidence. It is a common mistake developing nations make,” he added. Logging, a type of forest management, creates habitat and vegetation for wildlife. It helps maintain biological diversity through maintaining different forest cover types.

The economically flawed assumptions adopted by Jokowi and his executors in the Ministry of Forestry have triggered a loss to the state coffers. Research conducted by a Japanese university has shown a direct correlation between the Indonesian budget deficit and foreign NGO campaigns, which are the main cause of foreign currency loss to the Indonesian government.

The budget deficit matches the industry losses. Indonesian officials are still unclear about the credibility crisis the NGO community suffers globally.

The “no compromise” directive by Jokowi, much to the delight of the NGOs, is based on the somewhat naive assumption that the redistribution of land, preferably taken away from Asian Pulp and Paper and APRIL, will somehow jump start the agrarian revolution and create an alternative economy. This policy will continue to depress the Indonesian economy.

The Indonesian industry has been concerned for some time over the flawed assumptions made by the Jokowi administration. Frustrations are increasingly turning into voicing anger. “It is astonishing the president and the Ministry has not recognized our contribution to the country,” one source from the largest agriculture companies said on the sidelines in a meeting held on Friday (10 February).

“The general mood not only in the industry but also in the country is getting angrier. We keep on being punished for environmental policies that do not benefit society, our people, or the country,” he added, citing the shortsightedness by officials of the Jokowi administration.

Industry experts argue, “What confidence does the president show if he does not respect the rights of our own home-grown industries that support the economy?” Concern about tenure security for the industry is a constant topic in off-and on-record talks.

The Nasdem executor of Jokowi’s good intended but naive policy of removing freshly planted trees stresses the point of the total power of the Ministry of Forestry. Local residents and managers of concessionaires were visibly upset over the media stunt by the official. It raises the question of whether good media is good policy.

“They all talk about climate change, but now if we plant trees, they want us to leave the land not producing anything?”, quipped one resident at the Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) regency, part of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) subsidiary concessions supplier PT BAP.  “What I am going to eat and how do I feed my family?”, he added.

Examples of radical agrarian policy changes such as in South Africa or in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe have failed horribly and ruined the economy.  The government is planning to push through a series of controversial policies which, if implemented, would represent the biggest shake-up of agriculture in years. At stake is the future shape of farming, and South Africans only have to look to neighbouring Zimbabwe to see the consequences of getting it wrong.

Indonesian Industry experts are  concerned for Indonesia heading in the same direction. Some economic figures suggest it is. A recent report in Tempo suggests the Indonesian economy is showing early signs of de-industralization. “Indonesia’s industry sector is at its lowest point over the last two decades,” Indef researcher Ahmad Heri Firdaus said during a press conference in Jakarta on Thursday, 9 February.

Financial experts are anxious that the social experiments concocted by foreign environmental agendas executed by politicians are expensive and are often borne by the lowest income classes.

“If the economy is replacing a key industry trade, what is the industry that replaces the income?” Woo-jin Kim, from the Korean National University argues, “It is a fundamental question that remains to be answered by the Jokowi regime.”

Residents in South Sumatra, Riau, Kalimantan, and North Sumatra are blaming the “people in Jakarta” and foreign activists who keep on coming to the area disturbing the local people. “The buleh’s (foreigners) and some local guys keep on telling us about the president’s orders, and talk about climate change, but when we ask them if the president is going to give us money for food they all are silent.”

The sentiments are not unique to South Sumatra.  There have been reports of an increasingly angrier number of villagers and communities threatening to burn down the forest surface over questionable strategies proposed by WWF and Greenpeace activists in Riau, Kalimantan and South Sumatra.

The political frictions between the BRG and the Ministry of Forestry officials also plays out in public. In the unusual step of forestry officials, they are openly critical of the BRG, which highlights the tensions within the government.

In the center of the dispute is the head of the restoration agency, Nazir Foead, a former WWF official. Foead, before being appointed by the cabinet, worked for the US industrial-funded front called the Climate Land Use Alliance (CLUA). The CLUA is the front for the ClimateWorks Foundation, which receives money from the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Packard Foundation, and other US industrial interests.

Nazir’s appointment poses the question of whether the former NGO official, now government loudspeaker for the WWF agenda, represents a conflict of interest and is an influence campaign by foreign interests? But so are the current aggressive actions by the forestry officials. Symbolic gestures of destroying trees seems wasteful to many.

Since the US is the gold standard in transparency, is it time to pose the question of whether critical examination of the relationships of Ministry officials are influenced by foreign interests.

Many in the industry, communities, and in Parliament think it is part of a foreign agenda. Documents reviewed show a pattern of foreign funding pressuring the Indonesian industry and policy officials are being funded by many of the actions such as “peer-pressure” the industry.

The video published by a Jakarta-based NGO, which regularly serves as the loudspeaker for the Ministry of Forestry, illustrates the process leading up to the PT BAP location and the removal of the newly-replanted acacia from 2015’s burned peat swamps.

However, despite the symbolism, the underlining populist actions lack economic considerations. It is somewhat bizarre to cut down freshly planted trees to regrow some brush so it looks good. It defeats the concept of reforestation.

In the depositions by experts submitting evidence to the US federal court in a criminal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) lawsuit brought by Resolute Forest Products against Greenpeace, Dr Frederick Cubbage said in his affidavit,

“While forest certification can be, generally, an important overall signal of forest management commitment, a single certification in one discrete forest tract has no global impact (either positively or negatively).”

The comments of Dr Cubbage, a Professor at North Carolina State University’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, should give Indonesian policy officials food for thought.

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