Black Trail of The Green Governor

This article originally published in TEMPO Magazine in July 17, 2012
Free translation by Adji Darsoyo

Tripa Peat Swamp Forest, one of the many “treasures” of Aceh Province, is on the edge of total destruction. Joint Forces form Jakarta continue investigating the legal violation leading to the destruction.

Amongst the scattered tree trunks and branches burnt into charcoal, Basuki Wasis again asked his staff to drill the soil with a pipe. The first pipe went into the ground. The second and the third pipes, both connected to the first one, each of 1 m long, drilled in without any resistance. Only the fourth pipe left 40 cm above the ground surface.

After collecting sample from the drill bit, Basuki made a note in his note book:  peat depth in that area measured 3.6 m. “This is the evidence of violation of the regulation restricting planting on peatland,” said the researchers from the Lab for Forest Influence of the Forest Ecology Division of IPB Bogor to Tempo, following the drilling, on Thursday two weeks ago.

On that day, Basuki and his team drilled on 6 different spots within the Village Aloe Batang Bruek of the Sub district Darul Makmur in Aceh’s Nagan Raya District. From that particular area within the concession of PT. Kallista Alam, the team also collected samples of burnt trees, charcoal and ashes. “Those are evidences for the lawsuit against Kallista,” said Bayu Hardjanto, an investigator from the Ministry of Environment.

This is the x-time that investigators from Jakarte “flew over” to Tripa Peat Swamp. The first visit on last May 4, investigators from the Central Police and from the Attorney General joined the team. After the inferno of the destruction of thousands of hectares in Tripa was published both in national and international media, joint investigator team from Jakarta moved back and forth to Tripa. They acted directly under the supervision of UKP4.

Now, Tripa Peat Swamp Forest is on the edge of total destruction. In the early 80’s, this particular peat swamp forest areas on the west coast of Aceh covered no less than 62,000 ha. Now, it remains not more than 17,000 ha only. And continues to shrink, since a number of companies continue relentlessly to burn the forest and turn it in oil palm plantations.

Even at the time Tripa was struggling, the Governor of Aceh Irwandi Yusuf has issued a permit for additional 1, 605 plantation area to PT Kallista Alam. PT Kallista is the most active company in Tripa after the peace agreement of Aceh in 2005.

And this despite the Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011 issued by SBY, known as “Inpres Moratorium”, just several months before Irwandi issued the permit. Through the instruction dated on May 20, 2011, the President instructed all Ministries and related agencies to temporarily halt any permit to clear peat swamp forest.

So, according to the Head of UKP4, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the area of Tripa Peat Swamp has been included in the moratorium map. “The status of Tripa has been determined as a non-convertible area,” said Kuntoro, who was also the Head of the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency for Aceh and Nias.

Irwandi’s move breaching the moratorium has confused many circles. Because, he was well known as the “green” figure or pro-environment. In 2010, for example, Irwandi received an award from the Ministry of Environment based on his dedication towards the environment.

WALHI refer to the case of Tripa as a portrait representing various cases of Indonesian forest destructions. “There is collusion between top officials and private companies to claim community’s land, abandoning the importance of the environment,” said Executive Director of WALHI Aceh, T.M. Zulfikar.

On November 23, 2011, WALHI filed a lawsuit against the issuance of the permit for PT. Kallista Alam by Irwandi. But the panel of Judges rejected the case last April with the reason that both parties have previously not undergo a mediation process outside the court room.

Environmental activist also pointed out that the police and the national military are behind Kallista. According to Halim Gurning, the Coordinator of Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari in Nagan Raya, the field office and the plantation area of Kallista are so far protected by the police and the military. They also forbid the community and environmental activist from entering the area of PT. Kallista Alam. Their commander threatened us and he sent his men to spy on our office,” said Halim.

According to Tempo’s source, the “trace” of those forces was still smelled during the visit of the joint investigators. At that time, there were three gate huts standing in a row, the Mobile Brigade on the left, the military in the middle and the police on the right. In front of those huts stood a signboard “Police and Military Post”. Besides, the team of investigators has also found an official military vehicle. But, as Tempo visited two weeks ago, the police and military attributes have already been cleaned up.

The team of investigators has presenter their findings before the Head of UKP4 consisting of 5 different kinds of legal violations in Tripa. The investigators stated that they’ve found the fact that PT Kallista Alam has conducted land clearing before granted with plantation permit by Irwandi. This is considered to be a violation against the Law on Plantation.

To the investigators, the legal staff of Kallista Alam admitted that the company has started clearing the land since 2009. A year after they start planting oil palm saplings. Same confession has been addressed by Kallista’s field staff to the Ministry of Forestry and the Vice Chairman of the People Assembly, Farhan Hamid, who is originally from Aceh, during their site visit last May.

The next violation is that Kallista carried out clearing by burning activities. According to an investigator, clearing by burning is much cheaper, since the company only pays for IDR 2 million per ha. In the contrary, appropriate land clearing in accordance with the regulation can cost IDDR 60 million per ha. Even though it is cheap, clearing by burning violates Plantation and Environmental Laws. According to the investigators, the 1,605 ha of Kallista also lies within Leuser Ecosystem, which is appointed as National Strategic Area. Land clearing within this area also violates the Law on Spatial Planning.

Field investigation also proved that the permit of Kallista Alam does not fulfil the requirements, since the permit was issued for an area of peat more than 3 m deep. In this case, the joint investigation suspected that the permit documents were manipulated.

Even though the case is bright and clear, no suspect has been announce by the investigators. According to Deputy VI of the Ministry of Environment, Sudarijono, so far they’ve just interrogated a number of witnesses. “They are either from the Office of Forestry, plantation manager or from the community, who all have witnessed the fires,” he said.

One of Kallista’s project leader, Alvis, said that his company has fulfilled all procedural requirements to obtain the land clearing permit in Tripa Peat Swamp. Concerning the shrinking area of Tripa, he complained why only Kallista was exposed. “There are many companies operating here,” said Alvis.

Irwandi has indeed not been investigated. Since he failed in the last April’s governor election, he spent more time in Malaysia. Before leaving for Malaysia, he told to a number of journalists that he has rejected Kallista request many times. He claimed that he knows that the plot of land requested by Kallista is situated within Leuser Ecosystem. Irwandi signed the permit after having the recommendation from various parties, such as the Bupati, the Office of Forestry and the Police.

Therefore, from the legal perspective, he is sure that the permit for Kallista was not problematic. But, “Personally,  I prefer to revoke the permit,” said the former high rank figure of the Free Aceh Movement as quoted by Modus Aceh Magazine of June 10. “At that time, I acted against my own conscience.”

The Central Police’s Crime Director, Brig. Gen. Gatot Subiyaktoro, considered that the permit issued by Irwandy was stained with awkwardness. For example, Governor Irwandi issued the permit based on the principle license issue by the Bupati of Nagan Raya on February 5, 2008, which was expired on February 5, 2011. “How come he referred to expired license?” said Gatot, who visited Aceh wo weeks ago.

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About endoftheicons

The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia is in grave danger. Local politicians want to allow logging, mining and palm oil plantations in this vulnerable area. Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers are already hanging on by a thread. They will not survive the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem.

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