The government should not hesitate in taking actions against Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), a subsidiary of Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL). For years, Riau Andalan and APRIL’s other subsidiaries have repeatedly broken many environmental and forestry regulations.
The relation between the company which is owned by one of Indonesia’s richest men, Sukanto Tanoto, and the government, including the environment and forestry ministry, has never been a cozy one. The ministry so far has recorded at least five violations, each by RAPP and APRIL’s partners. The offenses include but are not limited to polluting rivers, encroachment of state forest areas and suspected manipulation of the 2006-2007 peat land data.
The Supreme Court has issued a cassation ruling against Merbau Pelalawan Lestari, another APRIL subsidiary ordering the firm to pay the forestry ministry Rp16.2 trillion in compensation. The firm was found guilty of logging in the protected forests outside their concession area measuring 5,590 hectares in 2012. Merbau is now appealing for a case review.
The long history of violations means that RAPP does not have the good will to follow the rules. Moreover, RAPP’s management failed to cooperate when the ministry invited them for consultation in revising the peatland protection and restoration plan included in the business plan.
This year, the environment ministry issued four ministerial regulations on peatland protection and restoration as the government’s effort to minimize forest fires, particularly when Indonesia is poised to host the Asian Games in 2018. Palembang located not far from seasonal forest fire sites will be a co-host alongside Jakarta.
Under the four new regulations, all timber companies holding permits over the peatland areas are asked to revise their work plan. While others have complied, RAPP has yet to budge from its original plan for which it already pocketed the approval from the forestry ministry.
The ministry has ordered RAPP to insert provisions on peatland protection and to change the plan’s period to 2017-2026. RAPP has been invited several times to discuss the revision of the plan but the management evaded by giving various excuses.
The ministry eventually repealed its approval for the 2010-2019 work plan. RAPP may still log in their concession areas but may not replant industrial plants such as acacia and eucalyptus in the conserved areas. Rumors later emerged among the local population that the government had canceled RAPP’s permit.
Riau Andalan should not have been insistent on holding on to the old plan. There is no reason to reject the government’s plan in such an all-out manner. The new work plan would still have given RAPP freedom to continue its business activities.