Fadhil Haidar Sulaeman, Jakarta – The Indonesian Ombudsman has urged the Agriculture Ministry and other government bodies to solve a horticulture imports conundrum that has been dragging on for weeks.
In a press conference on Monday, the Ombudsman recommended that the agriculture minister instruct the Agricultural Quarantine Agency (Barantan) executive to release detained horticultural imports "as soon as possible".
"Indonesia is just about to rise, [as] we have passed COVID-19, and one of the efforts to create economic growth is to provide legal certainty and comfort for business actors," Ombudsman member Yeka Hendra Fatika said in the briefing.
The Ombudsman explained that it had begun a consultation process with the Law and Human Rights Ministry regarding the issue on Sept. 16 and had received a legal opinion on Sept. 20 stating that Barantan's detainment was "not right" for goods that had arrived before May 18.
May 18 is the date the Trade Ministry issued regulation No. 5/2022 on horticultural import recommendations (RIPH).
The Ombudsman sent an inspection letter to the agriculture minister on Sept. 22, but the minister could not attend the summons and instead sent the horticulture director general to offer "conditional terms" explained in a press conference in the afternoon of the same day.
The terms stipulate that the Agriculture Ministry will allow the release of imported products that have not been RIPH-certified but have obtained an import approval letter (SPI) from the Trade Ministry, as long as these products pass inspections.
Moreover, the Agriculture Ministry also opened the RIPH issuance process to importers on the night of Sept. 22. Previously, the portal was off-limits to the importers.
Businesses are required to sign a statement that they will not distribute horticultural products before the results of laboratory tests and RIPH are in, and all imported horticultural goods arriving after Sept. 30 must be RIPH-certified.
The release of products was to start on Sept. 23, and the Ombudsman confirmed on Sept. 24 that Barantan had begun the inspection process.
However, the Ombudsman said that none of the detained imported goods had been released by the quarantine agency as of Monday and gave the ministry five working days to move ahead with the release process and report back.
The Ombudsman said the importers had in fact applied for an RIPH certificate, but their requests had been "denied by the system" in the ministry.
"If there is actually no problem with the lab test, there really is no need for [the detainment], because the Ministry of Agriculture's position is clear," Yeka said. "If it turns out that Barantan insists on the detainment, it means the problem is in Barantan."
With around Rp 30 billion (US$1.9 million) worth of imports detained, demurrage, utility costs and other expenses so far amount to some Rp 8 billion in losses incurred by the importers, the Ombudsman said in the briefing.
Yeka noted that, as of Monday, the importers had not yet demanded compensation for the losses suffered, and questions regarding possible lawsuits should be addressed to "their lawyers."
Speaking at the same event, Agriculture Ministry horticulture director general Prihasto Setyanto said the RIPH certification was "important" to protect domestic farmers, aside from regulating import quantity and food security.
Prihasto explained that the detained products were types of fruits not produced in Indonesia and hence were not in the staples category of food with significant implications for domestic food security.
He claimed that the number of importers that had filed for RIPH far outweighed those that had not but that the ministry would abide by the solution agreed upon a week ago.
Ombudsman findings on Monday showed that while the RIPH requirement was well-intentioned, it did not have a "strong legal standing", based on Government Regulation No. 26/2021 on agricultural affairs.
"If it all works out [as agreed], of course, the items that were held up should be released immediately," Prihasto said.