Another day another allegation against ‘notorious’ Indonesian forestry

Another environmental NGO has published a report condemning rampant illegal logging in Indonesia’s forestry sector.

The Environmental Investigation Agency in partnership with Indonesian group Telapak claim to have exposed businessmen Ricky Gunawan and Hengky Gosal as the kingpins of the illegal trade in merbau logs.

The rare hardwood is stripped mainly from forests in Papua and shipped illegally as logs to China, the groups say in a report released last week.

It gives credit to the Indonesian government for making some progress against illegal logging since an EIA report in 2005 exposed the “breathtaking” scale of the illegal trade in merbau, used in flooring, doors and furniture.

But those gains appear to be piecemeal, selective and pathetically inadequate given the size of the illegal logging mafia that exists in the country.

While unwittingly speaking with investigators, Gosal admitted smuggling up to 50 containers a month of merbau square logs (called flitches) to China, in contravention of Indonesia’s log and sawn timber export bans. He also claimed to bribe customs officers to ensure safe passage out of Indonesia.

Another illicit timber trafficking hotspot is the city of Surabaya, in East Java, the base of operations for prominent merbau smuggler Ricky Gunawan. EIA/Telapak have submitted several reports on his activities since 2007 to Indonesian authorities, but he has yet to be investigated; as recently as December 2009, he was still shipping illegal merbau flitches to southern China.

Utilising a variety of methods to circumvent the authorities, Gunawan wields such influence that when one of his China-bound merbau shipments, falsely purporting to be ‘bridge components’, was detained by Indonesia customs in April 2009, swift intervention on his behalf by some government officials and members of local parliament ensured the timber was released for onward shipment.

The businessmen should be given the right of reply, and there’s no presumption of their guilt, of course. None of the allegations have been proven in a court of law.

And that’s the sad thing about Indonesia: the law is not enforced and the courts are a national disgrace. Just ask President Yudhoyono, who has condemned the “court mafia” just as he has condemned the “logging mafia”. The problem remains however that very little appears to be getting done in the fight against these mafia-type interests.

Why? One can only assume it’s because of the protection these criminals gain from corrupt officials, police and military officers. It is well known that crime is endemic in Indonesia’s forestry sector, which the EIA calls “notoriously opaque and corrupt”.

That’s bad news for endangered species like Sumatran tigers, Javan rhinos and orangutans, and for people who live on this warming planet. Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, mainly through deforestation.

EIA Campaigns Director Julian Newman said: “While the huge quantity of illegal timber flowing from Indonesia during the first half of the decade has declined, effective law enforcement against those responsible – the financiers, company bosses and corrupt officials – has been woefully inadequate”.

Hapsoro of Telapak said: “It is no wonder the Indonesian President has ordered the country’s judicial mafia eradication taskforce to scrutinise illegal logging cases. It should certainly focus its attention on two merbau smugglers named in this report – Ricky Gunawan and Hengky Gosal. It is time for Indonesia to redouble its efforts to combat illegal logging and timber smuggling by going after the main culprits”.

The signs aren’t looking good for Papua’s forests, with foreign reporters and aid workers banned from the eastern region and massive palm oil and food projects in the works.

The EIA says a quarter of Papua’s forests — “part of the last significant tract of intact tropical forests in the Asia-Pacific region” — has been destroyed in the past 12 years.

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