Govt rejects Singapore-based company’s proposals on peat violations

(foresthints.news) - Indonesia's Ministry of the Environment and Forestry has once again shown itself to be consistent and assertive in cracking down on peatland violators by rejecting the proposals made by pulp giant APRIL with respect to peat violations committed by the company in the Kampar Peninsula landscape, Sumatra's Riau province.

The ministry’s recent ground check in a concession belonging to PT RAPP, a subsidiary of Singapore-based APRIL, demonstrated that the company continued to carry out new peat development and new acacia planting in this concession.

In early December this year, the Environment and Forestry Minister ordered the APRIL company concerned to remove the newly-planted acacia and close any new canals that had been opened in the concession.

However, the APRIL company replied to the minister’s instruction in mid-December by proposing that the ministry refrain from ordering the newly-planted acacia to be removed as this would disrupt the ecological functions of the peatlands. This, in turn, would make the area vulnerable to peat fires and encroachment.

In the same letter, the APRIL company also stated that it would not harvest the newly-planted acacia that made up part of its new peat development.

“The findings of the legal analysis and ground checks performed by the ministry clearly prove that PT RAPP has perpetrated peat violations. As such, of course we rejected the APRIL company’s proposals,” San Afri Awang, the Ministry’s Director General of Forestry Planology and Environmental Governance, told foresthints.news (Dec 27) at the ministry complex.

According to the Director General, APRIL has to accept the legal consequences of the peat violations it has carried out. He explained that the rejection was conveyed by letter in response to the letter sent by the APRIL company to the minister containing the rejected proposals.

“The APRIL company should receive this letter before new year,” he said.

In light of this, San Afri continued, it’s obvious that the APRIL company has no other choice but to obey the minister’s order in accordance with the letter signed on her behalf. This letter demands the removal of all newly-planted acacia, the closing of all new canals and the restoration of all damaged peatlands.

He was emphatic about the following point: “The message of the President is clear, in that there will be no compromises when it comes to perpetrators of peat violations. We at the ministry are carrying this out as best we can.”

First-hand observation

Professor San Afri went on to say that in the early December, he observed first-hand the new peat development being undertaken in APRIL’s concession and also witnessed new peat development and newly-planted acacia in some of the Peat Restoration Agency’s targeted peat restoration areas.

To back this up, the Director General produced some evidence in the form of photos and videos from his ground check which took place in the Kampar Peninsula. The following are some of the photos shared with foresthints.news.

Professor San Afri, who also serves as chairman of peat restoration monitoring at the ministry, emphasized that the infringements of the prohibition against new peat development had been preceded by decisive action, in which the minister annulled the revised 10-year work plan of the APRIL company in early October.

“Our minister’s position is crystal clear. No new peat development has been allowed since early November last year for both palm oil and forestry plantation development.”

The DG cautioned that the peat-related law enforcement being implemented by the ministry in this case should serve as a lesson and point of reference for other companies in the industry. In other words, anyone that tries to commit peat violations is likely to face firm action from the ministry.

President Joko Widodo continues to make significant reforms in terms of fundamental peat protection and restoration, particularly in respect of reforming business-as-usual practices in concession areas.

As part of this, the President has repeatedly declared that the annual peat fires which have been a blight on the country over the last two decades cannot be permitted to happen again, starting from 2016.