Jakarta – At least 39,800 hectares of plantations were looted during 1998, causing an estimated material loss of around Rp 196 billion (about US$26 million), a senior official of the Ministry of Forestry and Plantations has said.
"Most of the looted plantations are oil palm and rubber plantations, the majority located in North Sumatra and East Java," Director General of Plantations Agus Pakpahan said on Tuesday.
He added that the loss was calculated by taking into account the volume of the commodities produced by the plantation firms which had been looted. The figure excluded any loss that had resulted from damage to and arson of facilities.
Looters have hit hundreds of thousands of metric tons of oil palm fruit, latex, cocoa beans and other items as w ell as destroying plantation facilities such as vehicles, processing plants and even employees' houses Agus said.
The plantation security personnel were usually outnumbered by the looters, he said. Agus added that a big plantation company in North Sumatra had to deal with an average of between 30 and 50 cases of looting per month in 1998.
He said that calls from the plantation firms to the authorities for security reinforcements had gone unheeded. "The government will solve these problems and will continue to improve the security of plantation firms," he said.
The country is facing the worst economic crisis in its history. The number of poor has soared, and cases of rampant theft and looting have also increased greatly in certain pockets of the country.
The looters, mostly people from villages neighboring the affected plantations, plundered the plantations because they consider that the firms have contributed nothing to the improvement of local welfare, Agus said.
Agus also said that his office is currently investigating an alleged case of collusive practices in the licensing of 33 plantation firms.
Agus said that 33 plantation companies, whose concessions cover 303,000 hectares, had allegedly obtained their licenses to convert forests into plantations through KKN, a local acronym for corruption, collusion and nepotism practices. "We are currently trying to find evidence demonstrating the alleged violations in the licensing procedures, " he said.
Agus, however, declined to reveal the names of the suspect KKN-connected plantation companies. but said that most of them operated in East Kalimantan, North Sumatra and Riau provinces.