Indonesia Sustainable Development News Digest

Starling Resource produces a bi-weekly Indonesia Sustainable Development News Digest email for circulation to a broader cohort of practitioners, funders, and experts. The purpose of the digest is to present readers with a brief, easily digestible summary of significant, recent news items, reports, and papers relevant to conservation, sustainable development, and the environment in Indonesia, compiled from domestic Indonesian and international media sources. The digest is produced once every two weeks throughout the year. If you are interested in receiving the digest, please let us know by email at or subscribe here

News Digest
2019 – 4: 20 February 2019

Marine & Fisheries

The hunt for the fish pirates who exploit the sea
—    Richard Gray, BBC, 18 February 2019
For 10 years, a rogue fishing vessel and its crew plundered the world’s oceans, escaping repeated attempts of capture. Then a dramatic pursuit across the high seas finally netted the one that got away. In the haze of an April afternoon, the rust-stained hull of the Andrey Dolgov slapped its way through the ocean swell, pursued by a sleek, heavily armed Indonesian naval patrol boat with little hope of escape. The capture of the Andrey Dolgov and its crew was the culmination of months of international cooperation between police and maritime authorities, painstaking detective work, and satellite tracking. “The captain and the crew were shocked to have been caught,” said Andreas Aditya Salim, part of the presidential taskforce in Indonesia that led the operation to snare the Andrey Dolgov. Over the 10-year period in which the Andrey Dolgov is thought to have been operating illegally, the vessel is estimated to have looted up to US$50 million worth of fish.

Presidential candidates: no clear vision on sustainable oceans
—    Jay Fajar, Mongabay Indonesia [translated], 18 February 2019
Many parties felt disappointed by the second debate between presidential candidates Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto as the candidates failed to clarify their respective visions and roadmaps for the marine and fisheries sector. The Center for Maritime Studies for Humanity expressed concern that neither candidate was clear about how to realize sustainable and responsible fisheries governance. Greenpeace Indonesia said that the candidates failed to explain the need to prioritize sustainable development policies in coastal areas and small islands. The Indonesian Traditional Fishermen Association expressed concern that neither candidate had prioritized the protection and eradication of poverty for small-scale fishers or working to improve the quality of fishery products. Widodo, the incumbent, responded to audience questions by discussing the success of his administration's expulsion of 7,000 foreign fishing vessels. Prabowo, the challenger, noted that poor fishermen do not yet have access to technology, ships, and capital and are limited by regulations.

TNI to cooperate with KKP in protecting fish and other marine resources
—    BM Lukita Grahadyarini, Kompas [translated], 12 February 2019
The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (KKP) has signed an agreement with the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) to collaborate in strengthening security and the supervision of marine and fishery resources. The cooperation will include mobilization of fleets and improved infrastructure for capturing illegal fishers, among other items. TNI Commander Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto said that as TNI has the necessary infrastructure to support KKP’s needs, his organization would synergize with the KKP to maintain marine and fishery resources. Tjahanto added that “we will support KKP in protecting the sea so that it can be managed properly without interference from inside or outside the country. We are ready to act if needed, starting with the capture of illegal shrimp fishers [and those who illegally take other] marine biota, flora, and fauna.” KKP Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said “the government’s vision and slogan of the sea as the nation’s future is impossible if TNI is not with KKP to guard the sea.”

Minister Susi: Boat-sinking policy increased fish stocks
—    Laila Afifa, Tempo.Co [English Edition], 18 February 2019
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti said that eradicating illegal fishing by foreign flag ships had resulted in an increase in fish stock in Indonesia. In a speech on 14 February, Minister Susi said that fish stocks in Indonesian waters reached a total of 13.1 million tons in 2018, an increase from “only 12.5 million tons in 2016.” Minister Susi predicted that by 2020, Indonesia’s fish stocks would reach 14 million tons, resulting in an increase of fish exports. The increase in fish stocks has led to a surplus of US$1 billion (Rp 14.2 trillion) on the balance of trade of fish products in Indonesia in the first quarter of 2018 from a “previous trade deficit.” Minister Susi added that the increase was also a result of President Joko Widodo signing presidential regulation No. 44/2016 stipulating that only Indonesian fishermen and Indonesian flagged vessels are permitted to catch fish in Indonesian waters.

Company takes action over Lake Toba dead fish incident
—    Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, 18 February 2019
Fish breeder PT Aquafarm Nusantara has begun an independent investigation into a pollution case in Lake Toba, North Sumatra, following a government reprimand. The North Sumatra provincial government administration issued a warning to the country’s largest tilapia breeder after recent findings of dead fish in waters near the company’s warehouses. The company has denied involvement in the case and expressed its commitment to finding the perpetrators. “An independent investigation is underway in a bid to find the truth,” according to Sammy Hamzah, the President Commissioner of Aquafarm Nusantara. Last month, a diver discovered fish carcasses near the company’s facility, prompting multiple accusations against Aquafarm, including overproduction and poor waste treatment. Hamzah said “[the dead fish] were found in the front of a warehouse that we no longer use.” Aquafarm Nusantara, a subsidiary of the Singapore-based Regal Springs Group, has been cultivating tilapia using floating net cages in Lake Toba for more than 20 years.
Forestry & Land Use

Police charge Indonesian politician’s brother in deforestation case
—    Ayat S. Karokaro, Mongabay, 5 February 2019
Police in Indonesia have filed charges against the brother of a provincial deputy governor for clearing a protected forest to make way for an oil palm plantation. Musa Idishah is the director of a company which police allege conspired with local officials to change the classification of up to 500 hectares of forest in North Sumatra province. The area was originally designated only for selective logging. After questioning, Idishah was charged with violations of the forestry, plantations, and environmental protection acts, but he was subsequently released pending further investigation. Idishah’s brother, North Sumatra Deputy Governor Musa Rajekshah, previously ran the company at the center of the investigation. According to government data, some 8,000 km2 of privately-held plantations in North Sumatra, mostly oil palm, are located in protected forests that are supposed to be off-limits to commercial agriculture.

Years after disastrous fires, fines for illegal land burning in Indonesia remain unpaid
—    Al Jazeera, 15 February 2019
Since 2009, Indonesian plantation companies subject to fines for burning forest land have failed to pay more than US$220 million in penalties meant to hold them accountable for fires intentionally set to clear land, resulting in devastating environmental losses. President Joko Widodo and other senior officials vowed action against 10 companies, but the companies have been able to use legal appeals to drag out the cases for years. Greenpeace Indonesia said the unpaid fines are money owed to the Indonesian people that could pay for large-scale forest restoration. “By not enforcing these laws, the government is sending a dangerous message: that company profit comes before law, clean air, health and forest protection,” said Greenpeace forest campaigner Arie Rompas. In one case from 2014, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry originally wanted to impose a US$553 million fine on PT Bumi Mekar Hijau, a pulpwood company, for fires set on 20,000 ha of land the company controlled. In 2016, a provincial court imposed a smaller fine of US$5.5 million, but even that reduced sum remains unpaid.

Prabowo burned over land
—    Marguerite Afra Sapiie, The Jakarta Post, 20 February 2019
The revelation that presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto owns a massive amount of land has broken a long held silence about members of an elite group who acquired large property concessions throughout the country in the past decade. The announcement that Prabowo holds concessions on 220,000 hectares of land in East Kalimantan and another 120,000 ha in Aceh came as a major blow to the former army general. In response, Prabowo said “I admit that I am in possession of those plots of land, but they are all [classified] under cultivation rights [legally granted] by the state. The land belongs to the state and it can take them any time.” Agrarian Reform Consortium National Council chairman Iwan Hurdin confirmed that Prabowo had not violated any law in obtaining cultivation rights over the land. However, Hurdin said the point of the debate over agrarian reform was not the legality of those rights, but rather that “the essence of the debate [in Indonesia is about] the disparity in land ownership and how to find a solution to systematically address this issue.”

Energy, Climate Change, & Pollution

Stakeholders weigh in on impact of energy nationalization
—   Stefanno Reinard Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, 15 February 2019
As the nation prepares for the upcoming elections, issues related to energy nationalism are sparking debate among supporters and detractors, especially after the government’s move to take control of Freeport Indonesia gold and copper mine and the Rokan oil and gas block. A recent statement from a high-ranking government official has reinforced perceptions that the government is seeking more control over the country’s energy sector, to the dismay of private investors. Djoko Siswanto, Director General of Oil and Gas at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources said the state needed greater control of oil and gas resources through increased ownership shares in certain blocks. When asked about the trend toward energy nationalism, Fabby Tumiwa, the executive director of local energy watchdog the Institute for Essential Services Reform, said he believed it was acceptable provided the government ensures good management practices and upholds transparency with private firms.

Government pins hope on international study defending the sustainability of palm oil
—   Riska Rahman, The Jakarta Post, 8 February 2019
Recent research countering the claim that palm oil is environmentally damaging is boosting the government’s efforts to defend one of the country’s most important commodities from negative campaigning. The study, published  by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) last year, concluded that oil palm is the world’s most efficient oil-producing plant as it requires much less land than comparable plants. “The study found that only 0.26 hectares of land was required to produce one ton of oil from oil palm, while it would take 1.25 to 2.0 ha to produce the same amount of oil from rapeseed, sunflower, or soybeans,” said Coordinating Economic Minister Darmin Nasution. In its revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II last year, the European Parliament decided to phase out crude palm oil in biofuels starting in 2021, saying that the crop had played a major role in causing deforestation and threatening the world’s biodiversity.

Indonesian presidential hopefuls vow energy self-sufficiency via palm oil
—    Fransiska Nangoy and Tabita Diela, Reuters, 18 February 2019
The two candidates for the Indonesian presidency both pledged to achieve energy self-sufficieny by boosting the use of bioenergy, particularly palm oil-based biodiesel, to reduce costly imports of petroleum. Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer, is pushing for all diesel fuel used in the country to contain a higher percentage of biodiesel to boost palm consumption, slash fuel imports, and narrow a yawning current account gap. In the second televised election debate, President Joko Widodo said if he won a second term the government planned to implement a B100 program, referring to fuel made entirely from palm oil, after last year making it mandatory to use biodiesel containing 20% biocontent. Agreeing on the importance of bioenergy for self-sufficiency, his opponent Prabowo Subianto said that if he was elected, he would also boost the use of palm oil, palm sugar, cassava and ethanol from sugar [cane].” Oil imports have contributed to Indonesia’s widening current account deficit and the volatility of the rupiah currency. The government claims its biodiesel program will save billions of dollars in fuel imports.

Palm oil giant Golden Agri-Resources removed from Dow Jones Sustainability Index
—    Friends of the Earth, 5 February 2019
The Dow Jones Sustainability Index (SI) has removed Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), the world’s second largest palm oil company, from its list of sustainable companies. “GAR’s removal … is an important step in holding the company accountable for its consistent abuses,” said Gaurav Madan, senior forests and lands campaigner for Friends of the Earth US. In October 2018, Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency arrested three executives from GAR-subsidiary PT Binasawit Abadi Pratama for bribing government officials to cover up irregularities in plantation permitting and extensive water pollution in Central Kalimantan. In 2018 alone, GAR and its subsidiaries were accused of clearing endangered primate habitat, establishing shadow companies to continue destructive operations, and disregarding the recommendations of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – the industry’s sustainability body. GAR was the first and only palm oil company ever included in Dow Jones Sustainability Index. GAR investors include some of the world’s leading financial firms, including BlackRock, Vanguard, TIAA, Dimensional Fund Advisors, and Citibank.

Indonesia’s anti-graft agency arrests Borneo politician over mining permits
—   Indra Nugraha, Mongabay, 4 February 2019
Supian Hadi, the head of East Kotawaringin district in Central Kalimantan, is the latest politician to be charged with corruption over the issuance of licenses to three companies in the natural resource sector: PT Fahar Mentaya Abadi, PT Aries Iron Mining, and PT Billy Indonesia. Supian’s arrest followed a lengthy investigation by Indonesia’s anti-graft agency, the KPK. The anti-graft agency started investigating Hadi after receiving a complaint from the public about his alleged corruption. KPK deputy head, Laode Syarif, said the permits to all three companies were issued in breach of procedures, and the firms went on to damage the environment through their activities, resulting in state losses upwards of US$415 million (Rp 5.8 trillion). Safrudin Mahendra, head of the local NGO Save Our Borneo, called on the KPK to broaden its inquiry to all the companies that obtained licenses issued by Supian Hadi.

Handling of mining footprint raises concerns
—   Stefanno Reinard Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, 18 February 2019
Last December, East Kalimantan Governor Isran Noor was criticized for dismissing offhand the possibility that a landslide in the province was the result of coal-mining activities that damaged roads and houses. However, a week later, the East Kalimantan Energy and Mineral Resources Agency found that the mine had been too close to the road. The landslide was one of many accidents believed to be related to mining activities. According to local NGO Mining Advocacy Network, at least 30 people have died after falling into abandoned former coal mines in the last eight years. Bambang Gatot Ariyono, director general of mineral and coal at the Energy and Mineral Resource Ministry, said “I’ve warned the mining firms that the environmental aspect is becoming critical and sensitive.” As of January, 539 of a total 3,384 mineral and coal miners had failed to obstain the ‘clean and clear’ status, which declares that a compnay has complied with all permit requirements, including those related to environmental aspects.
Conservation & Protected Areas

Indonesia rescues captive orangutans, but leaves their owners untouched
—    Ayat S. Karokaro and Junaidi Hanafiah, Mongabay, 8 February 2019
Authorities in the province of Aceh have confiscated two juvenile Sumatran orangutans that had been kept as pets. According to the law, possession of an orangutan is punishable by up to five years in prison in Indonesia. However, authorities have yet to prosecute any pet owners, but are instead going exclusively after poachers and traders. “If [people who] own orangutans get prosecuted, law enforcers will be able to take down the trade network and nab the poachers,” said Daniek Hendarto, a wildlife activist with NGO Center for Orangutan Protection (COP). Between 2013 and 2018, authorities in Aceh seized 40 orangutans being kept as pets. An estimated 80% of all orangutans traded within Indonesia and abroad come from Aceh, according to the Sustainable Sumatran Orangutan Foundation. Sapto Aji Prabowo, the head of the Aceh Conservation Agency said that “those who keep orangutans must face the legal consequences.” Such a move would be unprecedented as no individual in Indonesia has ever been prosecuted for keeping an orangutan as a pet.

Arson attack in Indonesia leaves activists shaken
—    Fathul Rakhman and Indra Nugraha, Mongabay, 1 February 2019
Murdani, the head of a local chapter of Indonesia’s largest environmental NGO, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), was the victim of an arson attack at his home at the end of January. The assailants barricaded Murdani and his family inside their home and set it on fire; all family members survived the attack. Murdani suspects his work on sand mining may have prompted the attack. Sand mines abound in the part of Lombok where Murdani lives. Under his leadership, Walhi’s chapter in the province has fought illegal sand mines and urged the governemnt not to issue new permits for sand mines. “We’ve received a lot of threats by text message,” said Murdani. “Hopefully the police will figure out who the perpetrators are quickly.” Murdani’s case is not an outlier, said Puri Kencana Putri, campaign manager at Amnesty International. From 2010 to 2018, there were 171 recorded cases of violence against activists in Indonesia, according to Ainul Yaqin from the Indonesian Human Protection Foundation (YPII).

Activists call for release of environmentalist Budi Pego
—    Kharishar Kahfi, The Jakarta Post, 15 February 2019
Environmental activist Heri Budiawan, popularly known as Budi Pego, is continuing his fight to prove his innocence as incarceration looms after the Supreme Court sentenced him to imprisonment. The 39 year-old gold mine critic faces imminent detention at the request of the Banyuwangi Prosector’s Office in East Java after failing to answer his second summons deadline on 27 December. In November, a panel of judges sentenced Pego to four years in prison for violating articles in the Criminal Code (KUHP) on crimes against state security. He was arrested for displaying a banner with a hammer and sickle logo during a rally to oppose gold mining in Tumpang Pitu, a mountainous region in Banyuwangi, East Java. The Tumpung Pitu mountain range is considered the second-largest gold and copper reserve in the country, after Grasberg in Papua.


IATA objects to Bali’s planned entry tax on foreigners
—    Ni Komang Erviani, The Jakarta Post, 20 February 2019
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has expressed its objection to plans by the Bali provincial government to impose a US$10 entry tax on foreign tourists. The group, which represents more than 290 airlines accounting for 82% of global air traffic, has sent a three-page letter to Bali Governor I. Wayan Koster regarding the plan. “The imposition of a foreign tourist levy would directly contradict accepted policies on taxation published by the International Civil Aviation Organization,” IATA regional vice president for Asia Pacific Conrad Clifford wrote. In December, the Bali administration drafted a bylaw on tourist contributions for environmental and cultural preservation, which has been discussed with the Bali Legislative Council. The council and administration are considering whether the levy should be included in airfares or collected at special counters at the airport. Including the fee in airfares would make it easier to implement, but this would require the cooperation of airlines.


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