JAKARTA • President Joko Widodo has criticised the lack of progress in reforming the forestry sector, calling for better management that benefits both the environment and the economy.
Mr Joko, who studied forestry in university, said there had to be "corrective action" to make breakthroughs in the management of forests, a sector he is banking on to support his flagship agrarian reform and social forestry schemes.
"For a long time now, I'm sorry to say, our forest management has been a monotonous routine. There have been no breakthroughs," Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, said in his remarks during a belated commemoration of Environment Day at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. He also kicked off the ministry's national working meeting, which gathers ministers, lawmakers and non-governmental groups to discuss issues ranging from forests to climate change.
"We have been doing project-oriented programmes for a long time. I can mention the cases one by one, but if I opened them here it could cause a furore," Mr Joko said.
The harsh appraisal comes as the country faces a continuous threat from forest and peatland fires in numerous provinces, which result in haze that causes health problems.
The National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan) revealed on Sunday that there were 239 hot spots in the country, mostly in West Kalimantan, Aceh and East Nusa Tenggara.
Activists blame the slash-and- burn farming method for the forest and peatland fires, with a prolonged dry season making the fires spread quickly. The current threat from fires has painted a challenging outlook for the government, which has strived to implement policies on forest and peatland protection since the deadly forest fires in 2015, in which 19 people died.
For a long time now, I'm sorry to say, our forest management has been a monotonous routine. There have been no breakthroughs.
PRESIDENT JOKO WIDODO
For peatland protection alone, the government has issued six regulations, including the latest one in July, which obliges industrial forest companies to exclude protected peatland from their concessions.
Mr Joko did not go into detail about his definition of "monotonous" forest management, but said there had to be a clear distinction between protected forests and production forests, and that better management of permit issuance could ease the problem.
"Permit issuance must be correctly managed. Don't easily issue a permit. Stop that. I say, stop that," he said in a harsh tone.
The practice of encroaching into national parks cannot continue, he added, stressing that conservation areas and primary forests must be properly protected.
"Hundreds to thousands of hectares of land (in national parks have been encroached upon). In the future, I will reveal everything in a closed-door forum," he said, adding that given his experience in forestry, he was fully aware of how this practice was carried out.
In Tesso Nilo National Park in Riau, palm oil companies and farmers have been operating illegally, destroying more than half of the habitat of the park, which is home to elephants and near-extinct Sumatran tigers.
The President further stressed that forest management must have a trickle-down effect for locals, especially those living around forests.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK