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JAKARTA - This year we have still to see the worst of the floods. Former state minister for the environment and professor in business ethics Sonny Keraf, who served in the Cabinet of former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, shares his views on environmental policy with The Jakarta Post contributor Dwi Iswandono.

Question: What is your comment on the recent floods?

Answer: The floods have been caused by human behavior. The root of this disaster is morality, as displayed in the form of bad practice in government, private enterprise and society. Such actions have ignored all the regulations we made to safeguard the environment.
Violated regulations particularly relate to permits -- which has resulted in illegal logging. As far as I know the issue (of illegal logging) was highlighted three times in Cabinet meetings (under Gus Dur) and once within the office of the coordinating minister for security and political affairs, given the wide extent of the problem -- affecting legal, security and political matters.
Another root of the disaster is corruption, related to members of the military (TNI) and the police. I assume the corruptors felt secure due to military backup. At that time, the perpetrators continued to reap benefits from those practices.
As long as the TNI and police leadership do not take any serious action with their members, the disasters will continue.

Q: Do you see other causes of the floods?

A: A third factor is foreign debt, which has also played a significant role in deforestation and environmental destruction. Foreign debts eventually became a heavy responsibility, which compelled us to take short cuts to be able to pay debts and interest by exploiting natural resources -- our forests and mines bordering forest areas. Hence floods and landslides have continued to occur.
The licensing of Pantai Indah Kapuk, a luxury housing development scheme on Jakarta north's coast, which has caused flooding annually, is another striking example of abuse of power.
Despite continual denials from the Jakarta municipality, I agree with the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs): The floods that afflicted thousands of residents living along the toll road to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport were closely linked to the project.
The floods were not natural disasters, but manmade ones. It's the inevitable consequence of our mistakes in handling nature, especially forests. It is, quite simply, bad governance.

Q: How would you evaluate the government?

A: There are some opportunities. I see that Pak (Muhammad) Prakosa (Minister of Forestry) has taken some positive measures. We need to wait for his consistency in coordinating cooperation between the parties responsible for environmental maintenance, especially via the office of the coordinating minister for security and political affairs. Resolute steps are required to punish perpetrators of mass deforestation or illegal logging. So, he needs support from the President and the coordinating minister (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono).
As acknowledged by legislators, the "mafia" in this area is very hard to eradicate. One positive step that Prakosa has made has been to implement "corrections" within his own ministry. But again it will only be successful if other parties are also equally committed and consistent. It's not that easy as the style of government, both under President Megawati Soekarnoputri and Gus Dur, has not yet changed. Its moral commitment toward law enforcement is so weak that it has become the main obstacle to punishing the perpetrators.
Law enforcement is in the hands of the judiciary and the police, not Prakosa or the state minister for the environment (Nabiel Makarim).

Q: What other opportunities are there to act on environmental destruction?

A: Another opportunity is regional autonomy. Despite problems, the district courts will gain enough autonomy to make breakthroughs, with a higher moral commitment toward handling such cases. An example is the Bangkinang district court in Riau province, which succeeded in sentencing the guilty party in the case of the forest fires that occurred in September last year.
This was a result of our efforts in working with the district courts in the regions so that they would have the moral courage to punish guilty parties.
So, despite so many problems in the face of slow bureaucratic reform there is a chance of a breakthrough. The efforts of the ministry of forestry and the state minister for the environment must continue, to encourage regional officials in their tasks.
Therefore, by the time the handling of such cases is no longer under the authority of the central government, the district and high courts will have acquired much more courage.

Q: The NGOs that have worked within the environment during all these years still seem to be ineffective. Your comment?

A: This is because the government's paradigm has not changed. The government claims it is the most knowledgeable agent in reaching decisions. The NGOs simply shout without being able to influence public policy -- and the result is that all government policies tend to prioritize economic considerations. Not that I'm against development, but if environmental protection is not part of those policies we'll always get the same (environmentally damaging) results.
The Gus Dur government continued to follow a proindustry approach. Investment was always the higher priority. It therefore accommodated private parties that damaged the environment and ignored the aspirations of society at large.

Posted in Flooding @ 31 January 2002 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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