Tony Wenas a corporate veteran with 25 years experience in various sectors, Including mining, natural resources and telecommunications has joined the controversial APRIL group.
The 61-year-old executive with a rich background in the mining industry including gold miners Intrepid Mines, Freeport Indonesia, and the nickel miner Vale International.
Now the captain at the helm of Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper, one of the largest pulp mills in the world, he has his challenge cut out for him.
The company, controlled by the family of Indonesian lumber tycoon Sukanto Tanoto, is facing accusations by environmental activists over the company’s alleged involvement in deforestation activities and the draining of carbon-rich peatlands.
A claim the company strongly refutes.
Speaking in an interview, Tony Wenas, replaced Kusnan Rahim as president director of RAPP, saying only that “ I have a good contacts with people at RAPP, including Mr. Sukanto.”
“I typically maintain good relationships with people I have worked with. ‘Don’t burn bridges,’ as the saying goes,” said Tony. He also serves on the Board of Advisors at The Nature Conservancy, an international non-profit organization.
Tony is not a new face at RAPP. Tony was the president commissioner at RAPP from September 2011 to August 2012 after serving some of the world’s largest mining and natural resources companies.
For his new role, Tony said he is fully aware of the mounting task of dealing with environmentalists who have persistently attacked APRIL in what the government dubbed “Black campaigns”.
In addition to improving operations and boosting profitability, Tony Wenas is managing the company’s $17 million, multi-year ecosystem restoration program as well as its sustainable forest management policy (SFMP).
“I strongly believe that we have a very good [environmental] program,” said Tony, a law graduate from the top-ranking University of Indonesia.
“If we can communicate it to the company’s stakeholders and the public, I am optimistic it would be well received.” Environmental groups are however reluctant to buy into the program.
RAPP operates a 1,750-hectare manufacturing complex in Kerinci, Sumatra, which is one of the biggest single-site pulp mills in the world, producing up to 2.8 million tons of pulp and 820,000 tons of paper per year.
Operational since 1996, the plant’s PaperOne line of office paper product now sells in more than 75 countries.
Non-government organizations such as Greenpeace and Eyes on the Forest have run a number reports criticizing the mill’s dependency on mixed tropical hardwood, which it receives from suppliers who clear high-conservation-value forests (HCVF).
Allegations which had so far provided little credible evidence. Greenpeace is currently investigated under federal felonies of the R.I.C.O organized crime statutes in a 100-page plus indictment (plus appendix) in the state of Georgia.
Tony said he seeks to guide RAPP in balancing social, environmental and economic imperatives, assuring that the company will stay committed to a sustainable forest management policy (SFMP).
RAPP has identified and protected 250,000 hectares of high-conservation-value forests within concession areas. The company’s goal of conserving one hectare of forest for every one hectare is a clear commitment by the company to conservation.
When asked about accusations that his company contributes to deforestation, Tony gave his assurance that RAPP only operates on degraded land allocated by the government as productive forest area.
APRIL committed as early as 2005 to the protection of HCVF areas. “A fact many NGOs like to forget”, says an academic who studies civil society movements in Indonesia. “NGOs are still favor direct action and yelling rather than working on pragmatic solutions”, he says.
Last January, it declared a moratorium in concession areas throughout its fiber supply chain in forests where high-conservation-value assessments are on-going.
Despite mounting criticism against RAPP, the former musician said the company’s economic contribution to the country is huge.
“Don’t forget, a company like RAPP creates up to 90,000 jobs, whether it’s direct or indirect. We also contribute significantly to [creating] infrastructure,” he said.
“Did you know that we have built up to 9,300 kilometer of roads? That’s twice the length of Java island.
“More than 2,000 of these are roads that the public can also access,” said Tony, who has also attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s business school and the MIT Sloan School of Management.