Indonesia struggles to clean up corrupt forestry sector

Indonesia struggles to clean up corrupt forestry sector

BERAU, Indonesia - Deep in the forests of Borneo island, workmen from an Indonesian timber company fell a tree with a chainsaw, stick a red tag with a serial number onto it and attach a corresponding stub to the stump.

This is all part of an arduous auditing process, one of many government attempts to clamp down on illegal logging and clean up one of the country's most corrupt and mismanaged sectors as Western countries demand proof their timber imports are legal.

Following an agreement signed with the European Union in September, Jakarta is rolling out a system under which companies holding government-issued permits are given a certificate to prove their wood is harvested within the law.

Indonesia, Asia's leading exporter of timber to the EU, is hoping the pact will help it double timber exports to Europe to the tune of US$2 billion a year.

But critics say logging permits considered legal are often obtained through illegal means, and laws passed in Europe, the US and Australia to give consumers a clear conscience do little to tackle under-the-table transactions that compromise the sector.

"This system is basically asking, do you have a permit, and if you do, that box is ticked. It's saying anything that the government does is considered legal," said Emily Harwell, lead author of "The Dark Side of Green Growth", a recent report by Human Rights Watch.

"It is silent on corruption."

Indonesia is rapidly losing its forests, mostly to make way for plantations for timber products such as paper and palm oil.

According to a map released by Google Earth in November, two million hectares (20,000 km2) are lost annually, the equivalent of 10,000 football fields every day.

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