Dodgy palm oil permits in Indonesia exposed by Earthsight cancelled


But the fate of the forests involved still hangs in the balance

In a New Year shock, Indonesia’s President recently announced the cancellation of almost 200 permits for clearing forest. The announcement was the culmination of a review of past permits which, among other things, involved examining the legality by which they had been issued in the first place.

The permits cover a combined area the size of Belgium, three-quarters of which remains forested. The list includes a number of companies and permits which Earthsight has investigated and exposed in the past.

Ghosts in the Machine, published in April 2018, documented how money from a series of corrupt palm oil deals encompassing dense forests and community lands in the heart of Indonesian Borneo was used to bribe Indonesia’s highest judge. Three of the palm oil concessions involved were among those cancelled in January.

The Secret Deal to Destroy Paradise, published in November 2018, exposed secrecy, corruption and human rights abuses related a planned oil palm project in the centre of one of the largest remaining tracts of pristine tropical forest anywhere in Asia. The multi-billion-dollar project, to construct the world’s largest ever palm plantation, was broken down into seven individual concessions. Permits for every one of them were cancelled by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry in the 6 January announcement.

Combined, the concessions linked to Earthsight’s exposés now cancelled cover an area of 298,762 hectares – almost 3,000 square kilometres, an area twice the size of Greater London. 2,750 square kilometres of this remains forested.

The 200 cancellations are a welcome step, but have met with a lukewarm response among environmentalists and human rights activists in Indonesia. This is because it is uncertain if and how they will be enforced, and what the fate of the forests concerned will now be. The Indonesian government has been giving mixed messages in this regard, and with palm oil prices at record highs, there is a real risk that the cancellations could presage a fresh land-grab.

Earthsight’s Director has published a comment and analysis article exploring the cancellations in more detail. What happens with the land involved will depend on the pressure which is brought to bear on the Indonesian government in the coming months, and he argues that the Tanah Merah case examined in the Secret Deal story should be seen as a test case.

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