Indonesia to merge forestry, environment ministries

Indonesia is set to merge its Forestry and Environment Ministries into one entity, in a move aimed at better managing deforestation and the haze.

President Joko Widodo gave notice of this change and a reorganisation of several other ministries in a letter to Parliament obtained by the media.

Dr Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, former head of the presidential delivery unit, told The Straits Times yesterday that the revamp was welcome and would help improve efficiency and law enforcement.

The new Ministry for the Environment and Forestry would be better able to handle forest fires and look at how forests can help tackle climate change, he said.

"But you need somebody with a good understanding of how to manage the sector… and also how to address climate change - a big issue internationally," he added.

In a letter to House Speaker Setya Novanto outlining the changes, Mr Joko wrote: "The changes are based on considerations of improved performance, proportional workload, sustainability, harmonisation and integration in carrying out tasks, as well as the need to manage certain government matters more independently."

MPs met yesterday to discuss the proposed changes. Under the law, a change to the names of ministries must be submitted to the House for consideration, and consideration is deemed to have been given if there is no reply within seven days. This means Mr Joko is expected to announce his ministers only next week.

He will also revamp the Ministries of Education and Research and Technology - the Education Ministry will focus on primary and secondary education; higher education will come under the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education.

Other changes include merging the Ministries of Public Works and Public Housing.

As for the environment, Mr Joko told The Straits Times in August he would enforce measures to fix the haze problem, saying the local authorities knew the culprits and whether they wanted to act was a matter of political will.

Indonesia is the world's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Its forests are also in a dire state. Some 58 per cent of Sumatra was covered by forest in 1985, but the figure fell to 29 per cent by 2009, partly from rampant illegal logging.

Open burning to clear land saw the worst haze on record blanketing Singapore in June last year.

But not everyone is happy about merging the Forestry and Environment Ministries.

Mr Abetnego Tarigan, executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), fears the interests of bureaucrats handling forestry will prevail over those overseeing the environment.

"On the one hand, forestry officials are concerned with the exploitation of natural resources to increase funds for the state," he told The Straits Times. "On the other, environmental officials are focused on conservation, which often incurs costs. We're not hopeful that conservation will win."

Gadjah Mada University political scientist Ari Dwipayana was more optimistic, saying bureaucrats managing forests will be compelled to factor in ecology.

He said: "This will take time, but there will be greater coordination, which will mean better management of issues like the haze."

This article was first published on Oct 24, 2014.
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