The Government of Indonesia has pushed back at attempts by forest monitors to gain access to basic information on natural resource allocation in a move that threatens to “unlock greater potential for corruption”.
On May 29, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) appealed against a ruling by the Central Information Commission that it had to make basic data on the operations of timber and plantation firms available to the public.
The information is essential to ensure that forestry operations, which are scrutinised by the Independent Forestry Monitoring Network (JPIK), are legal.
At a hearing on May 8, the Commission held that the Ministry is legally obliged to provide it under the 2008 Public Information Disclosure Act. But the MoEF is fighting back on the spurious grounds that the data is commercially confidential.
Mardi Minangsari, national coordinator of JPIK, stated: “This is a major step backwards from the Government in terms of openness and transparency of forest management.”
Access to information is also built into a trade agreement between Indonesia and the European Union, the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). Under the VPA, JPIK and other civil society groups must be able to scrutinise forestry operations, providing much-needed legitimacy to the deal.
Both the Public Information Disclosure Act and the Government’s commitment to the VPA process have been regarded as progressive reforms in a state and sector plagued by illegality and corruption. The MoEF’s intransigence is a sign that progress is stagnating.
“The Government has ratified an international timber trade agreement with the EU that specifically supports full transparency in forest management aspects – including the provision of data and information that is now considered confidential by MoEF,” said Minangsari.
“In addition, the Timber Legality Verification System currently in effect in Indonesia regulates the presence of independent monitors who oversee the implementation of the regulation as well as ensuring access to public information for monitoring. It is ironic that MoEF denies its own regulation.”
According to JPIK and Greenpeace Indonesia, the MoEF’s decision suggests it is prioritising corporate interests over those of the Indonesian people. In a statement this week, they called on the Ministry to cease prevaricating and release the information.
Teguh Surya, Greenpeace Forests Politics Campaigner, said: “The MoEF must stand for the public interest and not the interests of a handful of entrepreneurs. The non-disclosure policy increasingly applied by the Ministry will unlock greater potential for corruption.”