In Indonesia’s Relentless Infrastructure Push, Taint of Corruption Weighs on Environment

Local houses on Bungkutoko Island in Southeast Sulawesi province, Indonesia. Photo by Kamarudin for Mongabay Indonesia
  • Investigators in Indonesia have arrested the mayor and former mayor of the city of Kendari for allegedly taking bribes in the awarding of a contract to build a land bridge to a new port set to open next year.
  • While the investigation is centered on corruption in the bidding process, activists have urged a thorough look into likely environmental violations, given that the project involves sea reclamation and forest-clearing.
  • The project continues, but has already claimed the livelihoods of the fishing community on whose tiny island the new container port is being built.


KENDARI, Indonesia — Like most residents of the tiny island of Bungkutoko in Indonesia’s Southeast Sulawesi province, Mahrudin and Nurhaeti are a fishing family. But their boat has remained beached recently, and the couple stay inside their small house.

The island sits just 100 meters (330 feet) from the Sulawesi mainland, but the strait — and the fishing grounds it represents for the Bungkutoko islanders — is disappearing as developers reclaim the sea to build a road to a new container port being developed on the southeastern tip of the island.

The Kendari Newport is expected to go into operation by next year, replacing the old port in Kendari, the provincial capital. The project is part of the government’s wider “maritime highway” program, meant to revive existing ports and build new ones across the far-flung Indonesian archipelago.

“You can see for yourself, [the sea] has turned into land,” Mahrudin tells Mongabay.

Read moreIn Indonesia’s Relentless Infrastructure Push, Taint of Corruption Weighs on Environment

Environmental Defenders Fear Backlash as Defendant Sues Expert Over Testimony

Basuki Wasis (third from left, holding a mic), an environmental expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), speaks during a press conference at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI)’s office in Jakarta. Photo courtesy of YLBHI.


  • Basuki Wasis, an environmental expert whose testimony helped convict a provincial governor of abuse of power, now faces a lawsuit brought by the latter for alleged inaccuracies in his calculations of environmental damage.
  • The lawsuit against Basuki is similar to one he faced last year from a palm oil company that was fined for setting fires on its concession. The earlier lawsuit was dropped, but the company now appears to be targeting another expert witness who testified against it.
  • The litigation has sparked concerns among environmental experts and activists alike, who fear it will have a silencing effect and allow environmental crimes to go unpunished.
  • They also worry that without financial assessments of damages caused to the environment, prosecutors trying corruption cases in the natural resources sector will not be able to push for longer prison sentences and heavier fines.


JAKARTA — Environmental experts and activists are closely watching a lawsuit filed against an academic whose testimony helped convict a governor on corruption charges, in a case many fear could set a worrying precedent.

Basuki Wasis, an expert on environmental degradation from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), has testified in more than 200 cases involving environmental crimes such as forest fires and pollution.

On Feb. 14 this year, he testified as a prosecution witness against Nur Alam, the suspended governor of Southeast Sulawesi, who was charged with abuse of power in the issuance of mining licenses. Basuki told the court that the illegal mining activities by one of the companies that received a permit from Alam had led to deforestation and resulted in 2.7 trillion rupiah ($196 million) in combined ecological losses, environmental economic losses, and the cost of repairing the damage.

On March 12, Alam’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against Basuki, questioning the accuracy of his calculations and his credibility. (Alam was convicted on March 28; he was sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay fines and damages totaling 3.7 billion rupiah, or $268,000.)

Read moreEnvironmental Defenders Fear Backlash as Defendant Sues Expert Over Testimony

Activists Fear for Environmental Protection Under Indonesia’s Revised Criminal Code

The fire from the oil spill in Balikpapan Bay, East Kalimantan Province. Photo courtesy of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Balikpapan.
  • Indonesian lawmakers aim to pass a long-awaited revision of the country’s Criminal Code this month, but already the draft has been widely criticized for rolling back personal freedoms and human rights.
  • Activists say it also threatens to gut existing legislation on environmental protection, effectively going easy on polluters and other environmental violators.
  • Problems identified include raising the bar for proving an environmental offense; more lenient sentencing prescriptions; and failing to hold the responsible parties accountable for environmental crimes.


JAKARTA — A highly contentious set of revisions to Indonesia’s Criminal Code threatens to undermine the fight against environmental offenders and polluters, activists warn.

Deliberations on the new draft are in the final stage in parliament, in what proponents are calling a much-needed overhaul and reform of a penal code inherited from Dutch colonial rule more than 70 years ago.

Already the bill has drawn intense criticism for new provisions that, if passed as expected in April, would criminalize consensual non-marital sex, outlaw the promotion of contraceptives, and make it illegal to insult the president or religious leaders, among other points.

But overshadowed by the furor over the looming rollback of personal freedoms and human rights are provisions that appear to weaken existing enforcement articles under the 2009 Environmental Protection Law.

“When we studied the draft, we found out that it’ll heavily affect existing environmental law enforcement and there are going to be many things that can’t be enforced,” said Raynaldo Sembiring, a researcher with the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL).

“While the current law still has some weaknesses, those weaknesses will be amplified further in the new Criminal Code.”

These include making it more difficult to prove an environmental crime has taken place, watering down sentences for environmental violations, and a persistent failure to apportion accountability for these crimes.

Read moreActivists Fear for Environmental Protection Under Indonesia’s Revised Criminal Code

Major Hurdles to Palm Oil Smallholders Certification

Global palm oil demands increase rapidly and are putting pressure on the Indonesian government to accelerate the certification of independent palm oil smallholders but a number of observers forewarn that the action will face two major hurdles related to funding and land tenure.

World Resource Institute Indonesia (WRI) Land Use Accountability Project Lead Bukti Bagja believes that the palm oil smallholders certification shows that a transformation is taking place, from “business-as-usual” to sustainable practices.

Due to the high cost of the process, starting from administering legality aspect, providing training, institutionalization, the personnel and facilities needed, to auditing, the government definitely needs to intervene and play a role in helping out.

Read moreMajor Hurdles to Palm Oil Smallholders Certification

Indonesian Conservation Bill is Weak on Wildlife Crime, Critics Say

An orangutan hanging between trees in a Bornean rainforest in East Kalimantan, a province in the Indonesian part of the island. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay


  • Lawmakers in Indonesia have submitted for review to President Joko Widodo’s administration a bill that would overhaul the country’s 28-year-old conservation law.
  • While environmental advocates have long pushed for updates to the law, the new draft has alarmed many with its various provisions that critics say represent a regression from the existing legislation.
  • Problem articles include a “self-defense” clause that would waive criminal charges for killing protected wildlife; a more nebulous definition of wildlife crime that some fear could make it harder to crack down on traffickers; and the opening up of conservation areas to geothermal exploration and other “strategic development” projects.
  • The ball is now in the court of the government, which is required to review the bill before sending it back to parliament for final passage. However, a minister says the government will “hold off” on its review, and suggests the existing conservation law is sufficient.


JAKARTA — Environmental advocates have warned that proposed revisions to Indonesia’s conservation act could provide new loopholes for wildlife traffickers, who already enjoy a thriving trade in one of the world’s most biodiverse countries.

The revision of the conservation act, formally the Natural Resources Conservation Law of 1990, was widely anticipated to help authorities crack down harder on the illegal wildlife trade. And the latest draft submitted by parliament to the government for review does make some moves toward that goal: it would ban the trade in species not mentioned on Indonesia’s list of protected species but that are regulated by CITES, the main international treaty on endangered animals and plants. For instance, it could help close a loophole that allows traffickers to move items such as African elephant ivory through the Southeast Asian country with impunity.

But critics point to a longer list of problems with the bill. It makes no mention of online trafficking, a growing problem as traders move to platforms such as Facebook and Kaskus, Indonesia’s largest internet forum. It doesn’t seem to address the issue of giving endangered animal parts as gifts — a practice still carried out in places like Papua province, where officials have been known to distribute souvenirs made from rare birds-of-paradise.

Neither does it upgrade sentencing guidelines for wildlife crimes that conservationists say are in dire need of change. Under the current legislation, traffickers can receive a maximum sentence of five years in prison. But in reality, offenders are rarely prosecuted; on the few occasions they are, they typically receive token sentences far below the maximum. Conservationists have called for the introduction of minimum sentences to combat the problem.

“This bill falls short of our expectations,” Samedi, program director at the Indonesia Biodiversity Foundation (Kehati), said at a recent press conference in Jakarta, convened by NGOs to air their concerns about the bill. “It weakens the current law which is already pretty weak.”

Read moreIndonesian Conservation Bill is Weak on Wildlife Crime, Critics Say

Debates Heat Up as Indonesian Palm Oil Moratorium is About to be Signed

Deforestation for an oil palm plantation. Habitat loss due to agribusiness expansion is devastating orangutan populations. No one knows how much damage it is doing to orangutan culture. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
  • Announced two years ago, a moratorium on new oil palm permits in Indonesia is about to be signed by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
  • But a coalition of environmental NGOs has criticized the latest draft of the moratorium, saying it contains many loopholes.
  • The coalition has submitted a list of recommendations to the government, which has promised to follow up on their concerns.


JAKARTA — Two years after he announced a freeze on new oil palm plantation permits, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia finally appears to be on the verge of putting it into effect, ahead of regional elections set to take place this June. But some distance remains between the administration and a coalition of environmental NGOs observing its deliberations, with the latter arguing the moratorium should remain in place for much longer than is being proposed.

The draft of the document enshrining the permit freeze, seen by Mongabay, stipulates it will be enacted for no more than three years. It also mandates a review of existing licenses, since many are known to have been issued in violation of procedures, and a review of those now in the process of issuance.

The document is being prepared in the form of a presidential instruction, which is not legally binding, a concern long aired by NGOs pushing for tough enforcement. It was signed by Darmin Nasution, the coordinating minister for the economy, on Dec. 22, after which it underwent some revision by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry before returning to Darmin’s desk. It now awaits approval from the president.

Read moreDebates Heat Up as Indonesian Palm Oil Moratorium is About to be Signed

Govt Takes More Time Over Stricter Emissions Rule

The government is working on revisions to a ministerial regulation that will impose stricter emission rules on the country’s coal-fired power plants in a bid to curb air pollution.

The stricter emissions rule would affect power plant operators, and several industry players have filed objections because they would be required to spend significant amounts of money on air pollution control equipment. Because of arguments over the issue, the government needs more time for negotiation.

“We previously set a target to complete the revision in last December. However, we are still having some tough discussions with relevant stakeholders, as industry players say the new standards are too strict, while environmentalists say the opposite,” the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s air pollution control director Dasrul Chaniago told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

Read moreGovt Takes More Time Over Stricter Emissions Rule

NGO: Planned New Coal Emission Standards Not Strict Enough

A freight train transports coal in this undated photograph. (


The Environment and Forestry Ministry has been urged to be more ambitious concerning stricter emission standards for coal-fired power plants in an upcoming revision of Regulation No. 21/2008 on stationary sources of air pollutants.

Through the revision, the ministry plans to impose stricter emission standards by setting a maximum emission level of 550 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/Nm3) for sulfur dioxide ( SO2 ) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) as well as 75 mg/Nm3 for particulate matters for coal plants in operation before Dec. 1, 2008.

Margaretha Quina, the head of the pollution control division at the Jakarta-based Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), said the scope of the new standards was too broad, as it would also apply to old power plants built in the 1980s.

“The government should just shut down such old power plants, instead of forcing them to install air pollution control facilities,” Quina said recently.

Furthermore, the ministry will set maximum levels of 400 mg/Nm3 for SO2, 300 mg/Nm3 for NOx and 50 mg/Nm3 for particulate matter from power plants commencing operations in the period of Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2020.

Quina pointed out, however, that there were actually many coal-fired power plants in the country, specifically those built in the 2006-2010 period, that were cabable of emitting no more than 300 mg/Nm3 of SO2 and NOx.

“Hence, it would make sense to make the new emission standards even more strict,” she said. (bbn)


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RI Faces Tough Battle Against River Pollution

Although authorities have made a string of efforts to control water pollution in river basins, a tough battle remains ahead. Environmental damage and pollution still occur in major rivers and river basin areas (DAS) across Indonesia, such as the Citarum River in West Java, despite various initiatives launched to clear them of waste, sediments and other pollutants, according to the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

Ministry data from last year reveals that only 2.01 percent of rivers in Indonesia have water that meets quality standards for human consumption, while 73.24 percent are heavily polluted. The ministry further says that 108 DAS are in a critical condition.

Under the 2015-2019 National Mid-Term Development Plan (RPJMN), the government aims to revitalize 15 DAS across the country so they can meet water quality standards by 2019.With only one year left, the Environment and Forestry Ministry is boosting efforts to control river pollution by, among others things, issuing ministerial decrees on river loading capacity.

Read moreRI Faces Tough Battle Against River Pollution

Activists Urge Government to Improve Air Quality ahead of Asian Games

Several environmental activists from the Clean Air Movement have urged the government to pay attention to air quality in Jakarta ahead of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, South Sumatra given the high level of air pollution in the country.

Workers install a lamp on an Asian Games banner on the Semanggi overpass in South Jakarta, Oct. 26 . (JP/Seto Wardhana)


Committee for the Phasing Out of Leaded Fuel (KPBB) executive director Ahmad Safrudin said from 2011 to 2016 the air in the country had been exposed to pollutants such as particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), Sulfur Dioxide, Ozone, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Oxide and Lead.

The toxic air had been caused by the use of motor vehicles, forest and land fires, power plants and smelters, construction and waste processes, as well as household activities, Ahmad said on Monday.

Read moreActivists Urge Government to Improve Air Quality ahead of Asian Games