Development Trumps Environment in 2017: ICEL

The environment was sidelined in many government policies this year, with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo pushing for infrastructure development, a new study conducted by the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) has revealed.

The Jakarta-based think tank noted in its annual environmental policy study published Friday that numerous policies were issued this year by various institutions, including the legislative body and the judiciary. But none focused on protecting the environment and local residents.

“The development of mega infrastructure projects and the protection of the environment and natural resources were not proportional in 2017,” ICEL executive director Henri Subagiyo told a media conference.

The report focuses on two regulations issued earlier this year by Jokowi’s administration, allowing a revision to spatial planning documents to pave the way for what the administration calls “national strategic projects.”

In April, Jokowi issued Government Regulation No. 13/2017 on National Spatial Planning, which ICEL said contained significant changes that could affect the environment, such as giving the agrarian and spatial planning minister the right to provide recommendations on spatial planning changes for infrastructure development.

ICEL argued in its report that the regulation did not elaborate on whether the minister had to use “clear parameters” in giving the recommendation.

By issuing the regulation, “the government is expediting massive development that could lead to the violation of human rights, and to environmental damages.”

That document was issued to support Presidential Regulation No. 58/2017 on National Strategic Projects, which details hundreds of infrastructure projects to be carried out during the current administration’s term.

The new regulations, ICEL said, “tolerates efforts to violate the spatial planning of provinces and regencies, as well as coastal areas and small islands,” similar to what had occurred in a controversial coal-fire power plant project in Cirebon, West Java.

The West Java administration issued this year an environmental permit to PT Cirebon Energi Prasarana, tasked with building the plant, after it was included in the National Strategic Program. This led to a change in the province’s spatial planning regulation.

The move contradicted a decision made by the Bandung Administrative Court in 2016, on the grounds that the project had not been included in the Cirebon regency’s spatial plans, which in fact, had designated the area as a protected forest.

“The process has reversed, from the exploitation of natural resources that follows spatial planning, to spatial planning that follows the government’s infrastructure plans,” ICEL deputy director Reynaldo Sembiring commented in the report.

The study also highlights how the House of Representatives had becoming more dubious in deliberating environment-related bills, notably the palm oil bill and the natural biodiversity bill, both of which were included in the national legislation priority list for 2018.

ICEL forest and land policy researcher Rika Fajrini argued that the bill would further support the expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia, where they are considered a major driver of deforestation.


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