Agreement with APRIL company cancelled by Forestry Minister

JAKARTA ( - Indonesia's Minister of the Environment and Forestry, Dr Siti Nurbaya, has decided to cancel a cooperation agreement between the Ministry's Riau Conservation Agency and the APRIL company with immediate effect. The agreement was signed on 29 June at the ministry building without any prior consultation with or approval from the minister.

The decision to cancel the agreement was made directly by the minister after finding out about a misleading claim made by APRIL (Jul 21) that her ministry would be collaborating with the pulp and paper company in the management of Zamrud National Park. APRIL's claim came out on the same day that this national park was officially declared as Indonesia’s 52nd national park by Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Friday (Jul 22).

The inauguration of this national park was held in Siak Regency in Sumatra's Riau province - the administrative location of the national park - as the culmination of a series of events marking World Environment Day 2016. The Vice President was accompanied by the Environment and Forestry Minister at the event.

“The official letter of cancellation of this cooperation agreement will be issued by our ministry without delay on Monday (Jul 25). The agreement is inconsistent with certain aspects of legality and contains numerous irregularities,” Secretary General of the Ministry, Dr Bambang Hendroyono, told on Saturday (Jul 23) while in Riau as part of the minister’s entourage.

The ministry, according to Bambang, is very open to collaborating with all stakeholders, including those from the private sector, but any such collaboration must conform to all existing aspects of legality and be free of any irregular elements.

“We also deeply regret that a press release was made by APRIL, dated 21 July, the substance of which sought to completely mislead the public with respect to the claim that APRIL is collaborating with our ministry in the management of Zamrud National Park. Whatever was claimed by APRIL in this press release was not subject to our approval,” said the Secretary General.

Further to this, Bambang went on to say that the minister had already ordered an investigation into officials at the Directorate General at the Ministry suspected of involvement in this matter, and if it is found that any rules or procedures were violated, the guilty party/parties would be sanctioned in line with bureaucratic regulations.

Bambang then asked that the private sector remember its position when collaborating with the government, keeping in mind that the permits they hold are granted by the government. As such, there are necessarily rules and procedures that need to be heeded, particularly in a legal sense.

“Entering into an agreement to collaborate with the government doesn’t put companies on an equal footing with the government. APRIL needs to understand this, both legally and in terms of substance. There are rules and procedures that have to be followed by all parties. Even our ministry has to comply with these.”

He cited the example of how his ministry had also not given its approval to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) Landscape Conservation Initiatives which sought to claim conservation areas and protection forests as part of its own conservation landscape.

“APP wanted to obtain an FSC certificate, a requirement of which was that they had to conserve a forest area of around one million hectares. To meet this requirement, they came up with the idea of an APP Landscape Conservation Initiatives of one million hectares into which would be incorporated conservation areas and protection forests. This concept was clearly wrong in a legal sense and thus we rejected it.”

Expanding on this issue, Bambang made a firm request for APRIL and APP not to claim conservation areas and protection forests as part of their business interests, especially as a means of gaining an FSC certificate.

“We will be writing a letter of objection to the FSC soon expressing the ministry’s misgivings in this matter.”

Similarly, the Ministry’s Director General of Forestry Planology and Environmental Governance, Professor San Afri Awang, also strongly criticized the cooperation agreement between the Ministry's Riau Conservation Agency and the APRIL company, adjudging it to be an agreement in conflict with the prevailing regulations.

“The cooperation agreement violates all the principles of good forestry and environmental governance as it was made outside of the usual procedures and is not based on the prevailing legal regulations,” Professor San told on Saturday (Jul 23).

He also brought up APP Landscape Conservation Initiatives which had been refused by the ministry, saying that APRIL was now trying a similar trick.

“What these two giant pulp and paper groups are doing needs to be stopped because conservation areas and protection forests can’t just be turned into “collateral” for their business in the global market or be used to fulfil the requirements for obtaining an FSC certificate. If we simply allow this to happen, we are essentially supporting practices which are in contravention of Indonesia’s laws and regulations.”

Professor San explained that the ministry was in the process of strengthening good governance in the forestry and environment sector. He concluded by saying that the support of all parties was essential, and that the private sector was no exception in this respect.