President Suharto's right hand man, Bob Hasan, was awarded the prestigious Indonesian environment prize – the Kalpataru – by Environment Minister Sarwono on World Environment Day (June 5th). The Kalpataru awards were created by the then Environment Minister, Emil Salim, over fifteen years ago to acknowledge the achievements of ordinary people and public figures who had protected the environment. Past winners include the radical journalist, environmentalist and academic George Aditjondro, now in exile in Australia.
It is hard to imagine a less appropriate recipient of this prize than Mohammad 'Bob' Hasan. Best known as Indonesia's top timber tycoon, who controls numerous trade and producer associations in the forestry industry, Bob Hasan has recently been playing an increasingly prominent role in the country's strategic business affairs. Under his reign, Indonesia's forests have been mercilessly plundered by a handful of well-connected businessmen with total disregard for the environment and the rights of indigenous forest-dwelling communities. Indonesians joke that he – not Djamaludin – is the Minister of Forestry.
At least one Indonesian NGO is convinced that Hasan was awarded the Kalpataru to counter publicity generated by the recent award of the 'environmental Nobel' – the US Goldman prize – to the Bentian Dayak people of East Kalimantan. There has been a long-running dispute between the Bentian and Bob Hasan's logging company PT Kalhold Utama. The Bentian are skilled agro-foresters who have been managing their traditional lands sustainably for generations. Their rattan gardens, fruit trees and other forest resources plus ancestral graves have been destroyed by the company in order to establish a timber plantation and transmigration site. Indigenous landowners have been intimidated by the authorities and some have been forced to hand over their land. Others continue to protest. The villagers of Jelmu Sibak in Kutai district have appealed to the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission to protect their lands.
Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, Ministry of the Environment
The following article is taken from 'Bob Hasan centre-stage' in issue No 33 of Down to Earth's newsletter
Bob Hasan began his assault on the forests in 1972 when, on the recommendation of friends in the military, he was given a 10% stake in the local subsidiary of US-based loggers Georgia Pacific. he soon acquired the remaining 90% of the company and went on to build his Kalimanis timber empire. In the 1980s he founded APKINDO, the state-sanctioned cartel that controls Indonesia's plywood exports.
On several occasions Hasan has attempted to counter critics at home and abroad by launching aggressive campaigns to convince the world that Indonesian forests are being well-managed under in the timber industry's capable hands. Such campaigns have included organising 'seminars' in consumer countries, advertising in newspapers and TV channels in Europe and the US. The UK television advertisement was withdrawn after complaints from environmental organisations, including DtE, that it was highly misleading. 'Uncle Bob' has also accused NGOs campaigning against destructive logging and violation of indigenous rights of being stooges of timber producers in their own countries who want to gain a larger share of world markets.
The Indonesian Environment Forum WALHI is currently taking the Indonesian President to court for approving a loan of Rp250 billion (over US$100 million) from state reforestation funds to help build Bob Hasan's PT Kiani Kertas paper and pulp plant in East Kalimantan. The funds were transferred in December by Presidential Decree. This is almost half the government's total revenue of reforestation funds for last year.
Hasan's influence is extending to other strategic areas of the Indonesian economy. In February he took over as chairman of car-maker conglomerate Astra International. He also brokered the deal to settle the interminable squabble over the Busang gold mine, securing a free 30% stake before the hoax over the samples was exposed. Bob Hasan, who is 66, has been a friend of the President for more than 40 years and his role as Suharto's closest confident has increased since the death of the leader's wife, Tien, last April.
Hasan's prominent role means that his word carries more weight even than ministers in the Indonesian government. In forestry, and now in other areas, his and the first family's business interests are paramount. Hasan is well and truly centre-stage and, as long as he stays there, this can only mean bad news for forests, forest-dwellers and many others whose interests conflict with his own.