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Head on the block - Forestry Minister Jamaludin

DIGEST No. 42 (Indonesian news with comment) - October 4, 1997

Amidst the fires furore, spare a thought for Forestry Minister Jamaludin Suryohadikusumo. As official custodian of Indonesia's vast but shrinking forests, he has both to maximise state revenue from the forests, as well as maintain them for the future. This makes him both partner and policeman to well-connected timber tycoons like Bob Hasan, Prayogo Pangestu and Eka Tjipta Widjaya. Hasan in particular is jokingly referred to as Indonesia's real Forestry Minister.

The policeman role has predominated. Yesterday Jamaludin carried through a threat to remove timber usage licenses (IPK) from a major commercial timber plantation owned by Hasan in East Kalimantan for starting fires. PT Kiani Lestari feeds the giant PT Kiani Kertas pulp factory recently opened by President Suharto (Suharto also gave it a lovely tax break). Kiani Lestari was probably the biggest fish caught in Jamaludin's net, but the list of 158 also contained companies owned by Prayogo Pangestu, Eka Tjipta Widjaya, and Liem Sioe Liong, Indonesia's richest individual. Most were oil palm plantations.

Jamaludin said satellite monitoring showed them starting fires that blanketed the region in smoke for six weeks, despite a ban on burning timber wastes effective since last July. The accusation was a welcome change for the small-time shifting agriculturists of Kalimantan and Sumatra, who have for years been blamed for causing smoke, while large companies walked scot-free. Bob Hasan, on the contrary, fumed about communist environmental NGOs, and continued to blame shifting agriculturists and El Nino for the fires.

Appointed to cabinet in 1993 from an obscure career in the Forestry Department (he is not even listed in Tempo's Who's Who of 1986), Jamaludin now joins Minister for the Environment Sarwono Kusumaatmaja as the cabinet members most respected by Indonesia's environmental movement.

One reason among many: he has backed proposals for eco-labelling put forward by environmentalists worldwide, saying it would help trace the origin of Indonesian timber. Unfortunately, the project has been stalled since 1995. Bob Hasan is not happy with it.

Some of his early attempts to assert himself against the flood of untaxed timber leaving the country were amateurish. Nothing was heard again, for example, about his 1994 curbs on the sale of chain saws. But Jamaludin's confrontation with Hasan's Kiani Lestari was by no means the first clash with big business.

In 1993 Jamaludin publicly resisted an attempt by tycoon Prayogo Pangestu to list forest concessions as assets for his Barito Pacific Group, reeling under bad debt. Later, Jamaludin took over two Barito logging concessions to be run by the state. Barito is well-known for its cowboy-ish attitude to government regulation. It was fined by the Forestry Department in 1991 but only ever paid 10% of the fine.

In the same year - soon after taking office - he tried to fine the pulp factory Indah Kiat, owned by tycoon Eka Tjipta Widjaya, for using illegal timber. Like many of his confrontations with the powerful, the attempt failed and he was forced to back down publicly.

To track down timber criminals he got together with the Armed Forces Commander, the Police Chief and the Attorney General to form special teams (TPHT). But since April 1995 Jamaludin has complained repeatedly that, despite being offered up to 50% of the proceeds of auctioned illegal timber captured, the military-backed teams have produced no meaningful results. In any case, if it gets to auction at all (more often it 'disappears' well before), captured timber is mostly bought by the thieves themselves.

In October last year he refused to renew 60 of the 90 forestry concessions (HPH) whose contracts had expired, citing their poor management (clear-felling, cutting outside the concession, building illegal roads). Those companies allowed to continue had to accept government participation in their forestry operations through Inhutani, owned by the Departments of Forestry and Finance. Even so, it was revealed last April that some of the banned forest concession holders had merrily gone on exploiting their patch of forest, as if nothing had happened.

Under his leadership the Department of Forestry has somewhat bucked the trend towards deregulation and privatisation. In March this year he blocked new Malaysian investment in palm oil, apparently because the Malaysians ignored local community interests. He has been trying to slow the speed at which logged forest is converted to palm oil plantation, fearing oversupply.

In July this year he tried to block a new cement factory at Gombong in Central Java, to be built by a company (Medco) partly owned by the late father-in-law of Suharto's daughter Tutut. The plant was to use limestone under state-owned forests. He faced strong opposition from Central Java's governor and from Trade and Industry Minister Tungky Ariwibowo, and again the attempt appears to have failed.

The next month he ordered a financial audit of Menara Hutan Buana, a commercial timber plantation company owned by Suharto's half-brother Probosutejo for misusing Reafforestation Fund money. Nothing more was heard.

Politically the most explosive has been the Reafforestation Fund (Dana Reboisasi, DR). Little is known about this extra-budgetary fund, but it contains billions of dollars drawn from timber taxes. Administered via presidential decree, it has long been a convenient fund for many other purposes beyond restoring forest cover. It has funded the development of new aeroplanes, the destruction of a million hectares of Kalimantan forest in favour of irrigated rice, and has lately propped up the plummeting rupiah. Allegations that it was used to fund Tommy Suharto's 'national car' have been denied.

Its major use has been to provide cheap loans to commercial timber plantation companies (HTI), which replant logged forests with quick-growing pine or acacia for pulp factories. The tycoons have been major consumers of this credit. Jamaludin says he will refuse to fund HTI companies who burn forest.

Making a career of checking up on powerful tycoons, in the name of the state treasury as much as of the rain forest, has brought Jamaludin many enemies. The fires may have provided the pretext they were looking for. Last Tuesday, the day after he threatened to cancel Kiani Lestari's timber usage licence, a call went up in parliament for Jamaludin's resignation. It came from two parliamentarians - both deputy chairmen of parliamentary commissions dealing with tourism and the environment - and was backed by three other individuals close to the government. The five individuals are not known as stooges, and it is still unclear how much backing the unusual call will receive. Environmentalists have spoken out in Jamaludin's defence. Jamaludin went to talk with the president on Thursday, with results thus far unknown.

[Gerry van Klinken, editor, Inside Indonesia magazine]