Ministry begins law enforcement phase against major APRIL supplier

(foresthints.news) - As June entered its fourth week, Indonesia's Ministry of the Environment and Forestry began the law enforcement phase with respect to the harvesting carried out by one of APRIL’s major suppliers, PT SRL, in acacia-planted blocks while the company’s permit suspension was still in effect.

PT SRL’s permit was suspended by the Environment and Forestry Minister in mid-November 2015 after serious peat fires had occurred in its concession, for which the company, as the concession holder, was deemed legally responsible.

However, from January to March 2016, during which time the permit suspension was still in force, the APRIL supplier continued to conduct on-the-ground operations, as proved by a spatial analysis performed by the ministry which showed that the concession’s acacia-planted blocks were still being harvested.

Even though at the end of March 2016 the PT SRL permit suspension was lifted, one of the conditions of its lifting was that the APRIL supplier had not violated the terms of its permit suspension while it was in effect.

The harvesting of acacia plantation blocks while the permit suspension was in effect did in fact constitute a flagrant administrative violation which brought with it the potential for the concession permit to be revoked.

“This forms part of the law enforcement supervision being undertaken by our ministry,” said the Director General of Law Enforcement at the ministry in a statement received by foresthints.news at the end of June. This was after the management of PT SRL had been issued with a summons asking them to clarify the nature of the harvesting operations taking place in their concession while their permit was still under suspension.

In the past, APRIL has declared that the harvesting operations carried out in the acacia-planted blocks belonging to its supplier constituted 'unauthorized activity'. However, several NGOs poured scorn on this explanation, claiming it made no sense at all.

The legal action is based on the fact that the Environment and Forestry Ministry decree suspending PT SRL’s permit explicitly stated that if any on-the-ground operations were discovered during the permit suspension period, the permit of the APRIL supplier could be completely revoked.

This whole case, in fact, goes back to last year's massive forest and land fires, a significant portion of which took place in peatland areas, which caused huge economic losses to Indonesia, to the tune of USD 16.1 billion according to World Bank calculations.

In response to this catastrophic situation, the Environment and Forestry Minister, Siti Nurbaya, revoked and suspended the permits of a number of pulpwood and palm oil concessions - PT SRL among them - which were adjudged to have acted negligently by failing to fulfill their obligation to control escalating fires in their concession areas.

The gravity of the issue was also echoed by the Chief of the Peat Restoration Agency, Nazir Foead, as previously conveyed to foresthints.news when he pointed out that last year’s peat fires had a nationwide adverse effect on the Indonesian economy.

He stressed that the recurrence of any such fires, let alone those on the same scale as the 2015 fires, must be prevented. Failure to do this, Nazir added, would have a further negative impact on the economy, especially given how difficult these fires are to extinguish.

In a recent interview with foresthints.news on Friday (Jul 22), Nazir underlined that peat domes spread throughout concession areas had to be saved due to their ecological importance. This, he affirmed, was in line with the President’s instruction and should be carried out as effectively as possible.

This would also apply to PT SRL which operates on Pulau Rupat (Rupat Island) in Sumatra Riau's province, an area largely consisting of peatland. Significantly, peat domes are also located in the company’s concession there.

“We are going to review PT SRL in detail, and by revising the company’s workplans we hope to save the peat domes in its concession. Actually, peat domes really need to be incorporated into protection zones,” Nazir explained.