Yuliasri Perdani, Jakarta – The latest study from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Indonesia found that the local administration in Aceh is the worst performer when it comes to protecting the country's remaining forests.
Of the country's top 10 provinces with the largest forest area Aceh scored the lowest on the UNDP's forest government index.
The index measures the performance of each local administration in its spatial planning, forest regulation and protection, and its participation on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). Under the REDD+ scheme, Norway allocated up to US$1 billion over seven or eight years to finance Indonesia's emission reduction programs.
Recently, the provincial government in Aceh proposed a new spatial planning bylaw that would allow for the conversion of protected forests into non-forest zones.
The Coalition of Aceh Rainforest Movements claimed that the bylaw would change the status of around 1.2 million hectares of Aceh's existing 3.78 million hectares of protected forest into non-forest areas. The converted land could be used for palm oil plantations and logging concessions. The Forestry Ministry has defended the move saying that Aceh would only convert 119,000 hectares of forest.
The UNDP survey, conducted last June shows that South Sumatra, Riau and newly-established West Papua also got low scores for their forest management.
The survey put West and Central Kalimantan at the top of the list. "These provinces are relatively good, although their scores are still low," Abdul Wahib Situmorang, a project manager of UNDP Indonesia, said in Jakarta on Monday.
He said that none of the 10 provinces surveyed had achieved the ideal score of 3.5 out of a maximum 5 points.
The UNDP found that most of the provinces were consistently unable to protect their forests from illegal logging due to weak law enforcement and the high cost of getting forest concession permits. "Because local administrations charge a high price for concession permits, some companies decide to engage in illegal logging," Abdul said.
Last year, the country's law enforcement agencies only solved six of 128 forest crime cases.
Aside from improving transparency, Abdul suggested that local administrations give a greater role for civil society organizations (CSOs) and indigenous communities in the planning stage of forest protection action. "We must ensure that the public can participate in spatial forest planning. The administrations are obliged to provide capacity building for citizen involvement in spatial planning," Abdul said.
Marthe Hotvedt, Forest and Climate Counselor of the Royal Norwegian Embassy, said that Indonesia should extend the moratorium on forest clearance, which will expire on May 20, considering its key role in protecting the country's forests.
"The moratorium has been an important initiative for improving management of forest resources by 'pausing' business-as-usual patterns in order to give more time to establishing adequate regulation and the proper institutions for efficient control and enforcement," she said.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is considering extending the moratorium, which was issued after Indonesia and Norway agreed the REDD+ scheme.