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Illegal logging down in Indonesia, but still fuelled by corrupt officials

18 August 2010 2 Comments
By Nicholas Jones | Pacific Scoop

logging

Illegal logging continues to eat away at Indonesia’s forests, despite the efforts of both the Indonesian government and international environmental groups. The reason? Widespread corruption, according to a new report.

Although illegal logging in Indonesia is decreasing, forests continue to be felled with the support of corrupt officials, says a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Telapak.

According to the “rogue traders” illegal logging report, released this month, forests in Indonesia’s West Papua and Papua region “constitute the third largest remaining tropical forest wilderness in the world, after the Amazon and Congo Basin.

“As such Papua’s forests are of global significance.”

With scientists sounding repeated warnings on the threat of global warming, the work of groups such as Tiri, an international NGO dedicated to the eradication of corruption, has taken on new significance.

Murray Sheard joined Tiri’s London offices in 2007, after earlier completing a PhD in environmental ethics and political philosophy from Auckland University.

His job was to direct an ethics training programme for public servants in countries plagued by corruption, including Indonesia.

“We designed a DVD training resource for the Nigerian government, which could be rolled out through their public servants with scenarios on corruption-related problems. And the programme then provides training on how to address those,” Sheard says.

An Indonesian version of the DVD is currently being filmed, using focus groups to identify local issues.

Common ethics

“But when it comes to the public service, there are professional roles that give an ethics which is common all over the world. So we definitely indigenise, but there is a core that’s transferable.”

Kevin Evans, Tiri’s senior integrity governance coordinator based in Jakarta, says it is often necessary to reconstruct local notions of integrity.

In societies where there is limited trust in the state, nepotism can be seen as the only way to survive, Evans says.

“To not make use of influence to help ‘one’s own’ is indeed a sign of poor integrity.”

Sheard says the focus on practicality is a reason why Tiri split from larger anti-corruption NGO Transparency International in 2003.

The belief at Tiri is establishing common “best practice” standards and passing anti-corruption laws are necessary, but only part of the solution, he says.

“You have to turn the coin and ask, ‘How do you actually build integrity within organisations?’ And that’s been Tiri’s focus. The idea that if you can build the integrity and robustness of an organisation, then you make it more resistant to corruption.”

Role of youth

One acknowledgement that apparently cuts across all anti-corruption NGOs is that younger generations are the key to lasting change.

Anna Thayenthal, programme coordinator for Transparency International’s Asia Pacific department, says nearly one-fifth of world’s population is aged between 15 and 24 years old, and mostly live in developing countries.

“Young people have the sheer numbers needed for social change,” she says.

That is already becoming apparent in Indonesia, Sheard says.

In 2009, a Facebook campaign helped the board members of the corruption eradication commission (KPK) get off “completely made-up” charges, he says.

“Eventually the charges were all dropped and the politicians that pushed them were actually discredited themselves.”

Tiri promotes tertiary anti-corruption content through a group of 150 universities worldwide called the Public Integrity Education Network, which Sheard also directed.

University network

The Indonesian network of 30 universities is coordinated by Paramadina University, where staff are passionate about anti-corruption.

“They have this amazing course, which is compulsory, where they send out as an assessment groups of three or four with hidden cameras to document corrupt practices. It’s a bit dangerous really, because they could be caught by the firm’s security and the firm wouldn’t want to be exposed. But they seem to get away with it,” Sheard says.

Navigating the bureaucracy to get teaching materials approved can be frustrating, according to Adi Prasetya, programme manager at Tiri’s Indonesia governance reform office.

“Everything should come through the Central Education Authority, but the progress of support process is very slow,” he says.

For Evans, who has a long history of anti-corruption work in Indonesia, the biggest challenge is to distinguish the difference between integrity and morality.

“Integrity is too often seen as a personal, not institutional, issue and failing of integrity are seen as reflecting poor personal morality.”

He says integrity must be recognised as the best answer to the challenges of government. A focus on corruption is useful to raise public awareness and anger, but will not lead to long-term change.

“The integrity approach, while less sexy, does offer a clearer way of seeking out systemic answers, rather than focusing on ‘rotten apples”.

Political will

Sheard says Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (popularly known in Indonesia as “SBY”) should be commended for his anti-corruption agenda, including setting up the KPK commission.

“He’s also been criticised. And he does want to leave a legacy as the father of the nation, so he’s sometimes reluctant to offend or prosecute people. But he has been quite remarkable compared to other countries in what he’s been able to do,” Sheard says.

Transparency International also stresses the importance of political will, according to Thayenthal.

“In most countries it is not new constitutions, laws or treaties which are needed but the political will and strong, independent institutions to implement them,” she says.

Analysis outlined in the EIA/Telapak report showed that of 205 illegal logging cases between 2005-08, only 10 resulted in a jail sentence of two years or more.

Earlier this year, President Yudhoyono expressed dismay with the judiciary’s record in dealing with illegal logging cases, and ordered a taskforce to review suspicious verdicts.

Corruption and forestry

President Yudhoyono’s efforts to stop illegal logging have strong international support.

This year, Norway and Indonesia signed a US$1 billion agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.

Transparency International has established a Forest Governance Integrity Programme (FGI) to target the corruption that enables illegal logging.

The manager of the FGI Regional Management Centre in Aceh, Ilham Sinambela, says the programme’s first phase will identify where corruption exists, and where institutions are weak.

But countries importing timber must ensure they know where the logs come from, Sinambela says.

According to the EIA/Telapak report, raw Indonesian merbau hardwood continues to be smuggled from Papau to China. It is then processed into products that fetch a high price in Western countries.

Maire Leadbeater, spokesperson for Auckland-based Indonesia Human Rights Committee, says together with Greenpeace her organisation found most merbau (also called kwila) in New Zealand came from West Papua.

Legal framework

Some stores have since agreed to stop selling merbau products. The group is talking to Trade Me about banning sales of merbau on their website, Leadbeater says.

Dr Satu Limaye, director of the East-West Centre Washington, says he believes the size of Indonesia makes the fight against corruption more difficult.

“And it’s a developing country too. Mechanisms like government reach and the regulatory and legal framework, all these things tend to be inadequately developed. Even advanced countries have corruption.”

Evans says corruption has a higher profile in developing countries like Indonesia.

“In many developed countries the debate is masked behind terms like embezzlement, fraud or a dozen other legal euphemisms,” he says.

Sheard says Indonesian culture is not inherently corrupt. Rather, the causes of corruption are complex, but the interaction between Indonesian culture and the West is one major factor.

“Especially when the public service was developed for the first time. And they were paid very, very little. So there was massive incentive to try and get by, including misusing your position.

“In 30 years it’s hard to get rid of corruption in a liberal democracy which sits on top of a tribal system. After all, it took Europe centuries to do the same thing,” he says.

This article was originally published on Pacific Scoop on Aug 14, 2010. Nicholas Jones is a Graduate Diploma of Communication Studies student in the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.

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  • budgeon

    Even if the US, EU and countries like Australia do all they can to stop illegal wood from being imported (as raw timber or veneer) – it would be very hard to stop it coming in within things like plywood as a lamination, or within the various components within flat-packs and furniture. People need to be aware that now, certainly in Australia (and probably in much of the EU if not the US also), most of our imported timber comes in as furniture and pre-cut/flat-packed fitouts and plywood/MDF, not actually as timber any more.

    All that will tend to happen (with the (US) Lacey Act, the EU regulations or the likely upcoming Australian regulations), because it is far easier to determine if timber is illegal compared to determining if a highly processed product like furniture has illegal timber in it, is that we will just see more illegal timber being re-routed from Indonesia and PNG, to manufacturing countries like China and Vietnam (where these are no “timber origin” illegal logging regulations). Then this product will be sold to the US, the EU and Australia. It will not be realistically possible to tell what timber is in these products, they could contain a great mixture of things like ply, MDF, veneers, mouldings, timber, etc, from many origins and countries. No factory in China or Vietnam documents this sort of thing

    In this way timber importers and manufacturers in countries like the US, the EU and Australia will be punished for “doing the right thing” and not using illegal timber, whilst manufacturers in countries where there are no illegal logging laws will be rewarded for on-supplying illegal timber “hidden” within finished products.

    There are three answers:
    • Improved education in “wood origin countries” (as pointed out in this article)
    • Improved governance in these countries
    • Decrease the incentive to be corrupt, by raising the living standards in these countries, so that people can make a decent living by having a proper job.
    • Work with China and Vietnam to try to encourage them to instigate illegal logging laws (but I suspect this is just about as easy as it is to get China to sign up to reasonable CO2 emissions reductions ie this would become the “failed Copenhagen” of Illegal timber!)

  • budgeon

    Even if the US, EU and countries like Australia do all they can to stop illegal wood from being imported (as raw timber or veneer) – it would be very hard to stop it coming in within things like plywood as a lamination, or within the various components within flat-packs and furniture. People need to be aware that now, certainly in Australia (and probably in much of the EU if not the US also), most of our imported timber comes in as furniture and pre-cut/flat-packed fitouts and plywood/MDF, not actually as timber any more.

    All that will tend to happen (with the (US) Lacey Act, the EU regulations or the likely upcoming Australian regulations), because it is far easier to determine if timber is illegal compared to determining if a highly processed product like furniture has illegal timber in it, is that we will just see more illegal timber being re-routed from Indonesia and PNG, to manufacturing countries like China and Vietnam (where these are no “timber origin” illegal logging regulations). Then this product will be sold to the US, the EU and Australia. It will not be realistically possible to tell what timber is in these products, they could contain a great mixture of things like ply, MDF, veneers, mouldings, timber, etc, from many origins and countries. No factory in China or Vietnam documents this sort of thing

    In this way timber importers and manufacturers in countries like the US, the EU and Australia will be punished for “doing the right thing” and not using illegal timber, whilst manufacturers in countries where there are no illegal logging laws will be rewarded for on-supplying illegal timber “hidden” within finished products.

    There are three answers:
    • Improved education in “wood origin countries” (as pointed out in this article)
    • Improved governance in these countries
    • Decrease the incentive to be corrupt, by raising the living standards in these countries, so that people can make a decent living by having a proper job.
    • Work with China and Vietnam to try to encourage them to instigate illegal logging laws (but I suspect this is just about as easy as it is to get China to sign up to reasonable CO2 emissions reductions ie this would become the “failed Copenhagen” of Illegal timber!)