Ministry of Environment and Forestry asked to review its decision to authorise the conversion of 10,000 hectares of forest in Central Sulawesi into oil palm plantations
Central Sulawesi lost 10% of its tree cover between 2001 and 2016, an area amounting to 5,750 square kilometres.
According to the Corruption Eradication
Commission (KPK), the ministry’s decision is
“not acceptable” because the permit behind this concession has been obtained illegally.
Laode M Syarif, Deputy Chair of
the KPK, has said that the ministry must reflect on its decision. “I don’t
think [the authorisation] can be considered as something legal [when] the
principle permit was obtained through bribery,” he said during
an event organised by the World Resources Institute in Jakarta in January.
The KPK official was referring to
the corruption scandal that led to the convictions in 2013 of the then Regent
of Buol, Amran Batalipu, and the businesswoman Siti Hartati Tjakra Murdaya,
whose family owns the oil palm giant Hardaya Plantations Group.
That year, Siti Hartati Murdaya
was found guilty of paying 3bn rupiah ($312,000) in bribes to Amran Batalipu to obtain plantation
permits in Buol for her companies PT Citra Cakra Murdaya and PT Hardaya Inti
As a result, Amran Batalipu
was sentenced to
seven and a half years in prison, while Siti Hartati Tjakra Murdaya received a
prison sentence of two years and eight months.
Civil society has also criticised
the ministry’s decision. The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), a
conservation NGO, has expressed frustration
at the authorisation for rewarding a company found guilty of breaking the law.
According to Walhi, the authorisation is also contrary to the September 2018 presidential moratorium, currently in force, on the release of forest areas for oil palm plantations.
Walhi has urged the ministry to cancel the authorisation immediately and
announced it is prepared to take the issue to court if necessary.
Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya
has defended the move and alleged that the authorisation does not violate any
rules as the permit had already been issued before the moratorium came into
force. Mongabay Indonesia has noted that
the minister has failed to acknowledge the illegality of the permit.
Buol’s current regent, Amiruddin
Rauf, who in May 2018 advised against the authorisation, has indicated he
will seek clarifications about the legality of the ministry’s decision.
In 2014, Siti Hartati Murdaya was
released on parole, raising suspicions that
the decision had more to do with her political connections – she is reportedly
closely linked to Indonesia’s Democratic Party – than to her being qualified
for early release. At the time, the KPK criticised the
decision for undermining the fight against corruption.
The Murdaya family’s oil palm companies reportedly manage at least 145,000ha of concessions in Papua, North Kalimantan and Central Sulawesi provinces.
The group supplies palm oil to several global brands, including
L’Oreal, Pepsico, Nestle, Mars – which claims to
have taken actions to exclude the group from its supply chain – Kellogg’s,
Procter & Gamble, Kraft Heinz, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Hershey,
Colgate-Palmolive and others.
The Buol Farmers Forum has
accused Siti Hartati’s companies of using military and police force to seize forests
and their traditional farmlands in Buol since the mid-1990s.
In 2018, Greenpeace included
Hardaya Plantations Group on its list of Indonesian “dirty producers”.
According to the conservation NGO, PT Hardaya Inti Plantations cleared 434 ha
of forests in Buol District between December 2014 and March 2018.
The issuing of licenses for oil
palm plantations in Central Sulawesi has been plagued by
allegations of irregularities and conflicts with local communities, who accuse
companies of stealing their lands.
“Central Sulawesi has become the
biggest area for palm oil expansion,” Abdul Haris, head of Walhi’s provincial
chapter, told Mongabay last
In 2016, more than 7,000 square
kilometres of palm concessions were issued,
a 55% increase over the previous year. Between 2001 and 2016, Central
Sulawesi lost 10% of its tree cover, an area amounting to 5,750 square
In recent months, The Gecko Project,
established by Earthsight in partnership with Mongabay, has shed light on the
corruption driving land deals and the destruction of tropical rainforests in
In its latest instalment, The Secret Deal to Destroy Paradise, The Gecko Project has showed how permits
for the giant Tanah Merah oil palm plantation in Papua were issued from a
prison cell by a politician serving a sentence on unrelated corruption charges.
The article exposed the high levels
of secrecy surrounding the licensing process and the identities of the
investors behind the project. The Tanah Merah plantation – which could span
2,800 square kilometres once fully developed – falls on the land of indigenous
people, whose rights have been roundly ignored.