Jakarta, Indonesia – The Indonesian government’s half-hearted forestland permit review has created a perverse incentive for forest clearing by companies desperate to retain dormant land banks. Greenpeace is calling for the policy to be clarified, to ensure companies whose permits are listed for revocation are not allowed to undertake such panic clearing.
On 6 January, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the cancellation of hundreds of forestry sector permits, including forest release decrees for oil palm plantation companies. A number of them were in Papua and Papua Barat provinces, and had featured in Greenpeace’s License to Clear report.
Among the companies whose forest release permits were cancelled was PT Permata Nusa Mandiri in Jayapura district, Papua province. According to a Mongabay report, Indigenous landowners said there had been no activity at the company’s camp for almost two years, only for forest clearing to suddenly recommence within days after the president’s announcement. Ground and satellite observations show that roads and palm oil planting blocks are being rapidly cleared in the rainforest. Greenpeace estimates that as of 19 Feb 2022, approximately 70 hectares have already been cut out of the forest, valued by local Indigenous people as an ecotourism site for observing Birds of Paradise.
The forest release permits revoked were listed in a Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) Decree No.1/2022 dated 5 January. The basis for choosing which permits were revoked has remained opaque, despite Greenpeace freedom of information requests to MoEF. Greenpeace is concerned that many permits which ought to have revoked under the Palm Oil Moratorium permit review process, were not included. Furthermore, a presentation by Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya to House of Representatives Commission IV has called into question the revocations, qualifying them as “declarative” and suggesting that some of the revocations made via MoEF Decree No.1/2022 may be reversed by a “clarification/verification” desk, before “definitive” revocations are announced.
“I fear the government has given up on the permit review process, which should have protected remaining forests and safeguarded Indigenous rights. Licence revocation must be well coordinated with Indigenous owners, local government (district and provincial) and implemented transparently, and must ensure a stop to company land clearing activities,” said Greenpeace Indonesia Forest Campaigner Nico Wamafma speaking from Sorong, West Papua. “Forest land should be taken back from plantation companies and returned to its rightful Indigenous owners, but this crucial final step is missing from the current process.”
Some of the companies whose forest release permits were revoked also hold other permits issued by other agencies: IUP – plantation business permit; and HGU – land cultivation right. Greenpeace’s freedom of information requests to the National Land Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture regarding the fate of permits for these companies have gone unanswered.
PT Permata Nusa Mandiri, the company that has recently commenced clearing and that Greenpeace has previously linked to tycoon Anthoni Salim, obtained a HGU permit on 15 November 2018, despite the three-year Oil Palm Moratorium having already come into force. With the revocation of the company’s 16,182 hectare forest release permit via MoEF Decree No. 1/2022, its subsequent forest clearing operations within the Forest Estate would appear to be illegal under the Forestry Law. However the central government’s failure to coordinate with local government and the National Land Agency to ensure cancellation of other permits such as IUP and HGU has lead to confusion on the ground as to the legality of such forest clearing.
Syahrul Fitra, Greenpeace Indonesia senior forest campaigner said: “The review of permits under the Palm Oil Moratorium should have been coordinated at all levels of government and across agencies. Unfortunately the MoEF in Jakarta seems to have gone it alone without bringing other agencies and local government along. Now confusion reigns supreme, and a perverse incentive is in place. Companies are reacting by rushing to clear forests, no doubt hoping to appear to be actively operating, and to present a barren landscape as a fait accompli.”
 See pp. 131-132 of Greenpeace’s Licence to Clear report about palm oil permitting in Papua Province.
 Forestry Law (41/1999) Articles 1(c), 1(g), 38, 50, and 78.
Syahrul Fitra, Senior Forest Campaigner, [email protected], +62 819 1989 0505
Igor O’Neill, Indonesia Forest Campaign, [email protected], +61 414 288 424