SORONG (PAPUA): A haven for illegal logging – with full government support

Published by: Thomas Schultze-Westrum

(This article was first published in and in The Indonesian Conservation News Letter. It was then  distributed over news networks worldwide, in 2002 and 2003)

The lobbies of upper class hotels in this provincial town at the Bird Head of Indonesian New Guinea in recent months became the meeting place of East Asia’s logging firms – from Malaysia and China in particular. After having largely depleted the timber resources of western Indonesia, the wave of destruction now has reached out to the eastern-most Province of Indonesia: Papua (formerly Irian Jaya). Business is in full swing for the companies and government agents, but certainly NOT for the local village communities – the traditional owners of the rainforest. The attractiveness of Sorong is no secret: The Regent (Bupati), Mr John Piet Wanane and his regional government care little about government laws and issue logging permits even for Strict Nature Reserves ( Cagar Alam ) !

The Ministry of Forests through its conservation department KSDA states that it has no power to oppose this scandalous destruction, because the Bupati is the highest government authority in the region. Besides, there is little motivation to enforce the law, because bribes are regular practice and the head the regional Forestry Department, Mr. Marthen Luther Rumadas, only recently lost his lucrative job in connection with heavy corruption charges.

The timber mafia of Sorong operates on the Bird Head mainland and on the islands Salawati, Batanta, Waigeo, Misool and Kofiau of the Raja Ampat Archipelago. Rich primeval forests covered these islands until very recently, but now the pace of selective and mixed logging has reached alarming dimensions. Until only two years ago Raja Ampat had remained an intact island and marine wilderness with functioning ecological bridges between the rainforest and the surrounding reefs. The Archipelago is classified by scientists as one of the most important hotspots of biodiversity worldwide!

But as the forests are being destroyed now, there will be no future for coastal reefs neither. Bulldozers leave deep scars on the forest floor and the heavy tropical rains wash the unprotected soil into the sea. There the sediments suffocate coral growth in the reefs offshore. Coastal fisheries – one of the essential village industries – will be seriously affected !

The forests of Batanta and Waigeo are the only home of two distinct and magnificent birds of paradise: Wilson’s Bird of Paradise and the Red Bird of Paradise, and on Kofiau island lives an endemic paradise-kingfisher. The unique island and reef ecosystems of Raja Ampat are left largely unexplored and are not yet discovered as world class nature tourism destinations. Very likely this immense economic potential never will bear fruit and bring adequate benefit to local communities. Because the logging impact on the forests ( in accord with dynamite bombing and potassium poisoning in the reefs !) IS FATAL for any sustainable development that could be based upon the diverse natural assets of Raja Ampat.

How possibly can the highest state authority in the region ignore such vital considerations for the future benefit of the community! How possibly can the Regent sell out for a cheap bargain the basis of income and livelihood of the Papuan people! Mr. Wanane himself is a Papuan of the Aitnyu tribe. Has he lost all consideration and respect for his people as well as for the Papuan environment that has sustained the population here for so many generations ? Forest has much higher value than just timber! He as a Papuan should know better ! But apparently quick money is more attractive than anything else.

“ We must help the poor Papuan people !” This clever slogan of the loggers did its job perfectly well and was echoed by government officials– but even a simple calculation reveals the blunt cheating behind: commercial logging has ALWAYS been a loss deal for the community and a huge profit for the timber company. There are more than a dozen examples from the past year for the Raja Ampat islands alone.

Here is one of them: The village community (desa) of Kapatlap on Salawati island intended to build a new church. As in most villages, there was no cash and the only way out was to find a logging investor. The district officer ( Camat ) of Samate, Mr Abdullah Fattah sent the villagers request to Regent Wanane, his boss. Wanane issued permits for the 4 families that traditionally own the land, each permit for 100 hectares, the maximum size under the I.H.P.H.H forestry scheme of the government. These concessions the village people offered to investors in Sorong.

P.T. Wahana Papua, an Indonesian company of Malaysian-Chinese investors responded and entered a contract with the village: for each cubic meter of high quality timber ( mostly kayu besi=merbau ), the land owners receive, according to the agreement, only 30.000 rupiah ( the equivalent of 3 US $ !). The company extracted 14.000 cubic meters of logs — from an area MUCH LARGER than the concession of 4×100 hectares. 7.000 cubic meters have already been shipped to Hongkong. The remaining 7.000 cubic meters are waiting for being loaded at the coastal log pond. Each of the 4 owner families have received so far one 15 hp outboard engine and 15 million rupiah in cash (the equivalent of one thousand five hundred US Dollars only !!). They may get another payment once the second loading will take place. The entire community received the new church ( valued by a the company at 150 million rupiah – an exaggerated calculation!) and one outboard engine of 40 hp ! The commercial timber export value is indicated by Sorong sources as above US $ 150,–per cubic meter; so even a simple calculation reveals the huge profit made by the loggers, even under consideration of the company’s operation costs and royalties ( not to forget bribes ) they had to pay.

Such appalling discrepancy between the mean income for the traditional forest owners and the entire community on the one hand side, and the profit made by the logging company, on the other side, is standard practice. In quite a few cases companies not even fulfilled their contracts – knowing too well how little power and legal means the villages possess.

The living forest was the only major asset these villagers had on their land. It supported the livelihood of the people since they settled there a long time ago. The logging impact from the outside, amongst all practicable land utilization methods is the most uneconomic and ecologically destructive – comparable only with the use of dynamite and cyanide potassium poison on the reefs as a method of fisheries. And the enormous waste of valuable resources in logging operations can only be compared with the brutal method of shark fishing: only the fins are taken and the bodies are left rotting on the beach. Equally, only a fraction of the cut timber and only the very best quality is taken away and utilized.

How can the world community tolerate this rapid further ruin of the two most diverse and productive ecosystems on Earth – the Reef and the Rainforest ? But who cares …

Regent Wanane’s official action not only affects seriously the peoples natural support system for many generations to come. It is also illegal: Firstly, there is a general ban on log exports from Papua ! Secondly, the logging extended beyond the concession area and beyond the boundaries of the strict nature reserve Cagar Alam Salawati Utara ! Again, who cares…

Certainly NOT the government authority in Sorong that is responsible for looking after nature reserves and national parks: the forestry conservation department KSDA ! Already earlier, a IHPHH-permit was issued by the Regent for forest exploitation (to P.T. Multi Tuna Wahana) in the same strict nature reserve, for the village of Kalyam. Also in that case the logging was extended far beyond the limits of the concession area. More recently, another logging company, P.T. Untain Sejahtera Abadi began logging on land of Desa Kalyam, again within the strict nature reserve. What did KSDA undertake against these violations of Indonesian law? They allowed access regardless. No action was taken against that irreversible large scale destruction of protected forest. And logs were exported by P.T. Multi Tuna Wahana under the eyes of the Camat of Samate and the police.

Is that the state of legality in modern Indonesia ? Can the central government in Jakarta indeed bear such breach of binding law by the State’s highest regional representative and his regional executives ? The easy excuse is again: the Regent’s decisions could not be challenged.

Only very lately, the Navy intervened and a DPRI investigation team arrived from Jakarta. Currently, 4 large barges loaded with timber are being held in Sorong harbour.

Too late! No human being could possibly reverse this deep tragedy; irreplaceable nature assets of national heritage were sacrificed with full government support.

Strict nature reserves seem to have a special fatal attraction for exploitation: there is for instance Mr. L. Sitorus, a police man and resident of Sorong. He undertakes a logging operation in the strict nature reserve Batanta Barat on land of the village Jenanas. On Waigeo island the strict nature reserve Cagar Alam Waigeo Barat is affected by illegal logging operations of several companies. And on Misool island ( Cagar Alam Misool Selatan) the situation is equally serious. Conservation measures in these “strict” nature reserves since their establishment in the early 1980-ies ( except of the new reserve Waigeo Timur) were limited to drawing official boundaries only – nothing else actually happened there in terms of conservation on the ground! And now even these boundaries are ignored or rather pushed aside in favour of logging without any official authorization from the Ministry of Forests conservation department PKA headquarters in Jakarta.

There is more to come: Senior staff Mr. Haryanto and Mr. Junus Rumbarar of the Sorong forestry conservation department KSDA not only actively supported forest destruction in the nature reserves in their custody, but equally opened access to gravel deposits in Cagar Alam Batanta Barat and Cagar Alam Salawati Utara. Gravel is highly valued for the construction of roads on the mainland and for oil drilling platforms . Since the 1990-ies KSDA official Mr Haryanto acted as the agent for the Sorong gravel business P.T. company PDK. More recently also for C.V. Tiberias and U.D. Mambruk ( the owner of the latter is also a notorious dealer in protected fauna … under the eyes of KSDA staff! ): These companies specialized in gravel exploitation in nature reserves, with catastrophic consequences for the coastal ecosystems and the fringing reefs !

A nice syndicate scenario; certainly a very nice potential of pocket money for totally irresponsible officials. For several years a thorough investigation by the central conservation authority PKA in Jakarta is overdue. Clearly, the regional conservation department KSDA in Sorong (the chief is Mr. C.K. Sorondanya) should be restructured from top to bottom or rather shut down altogether, because it is totally useless for preserving the natural assets in its custody; and the department’s budget should be spent effectively for REAL conservation on the ground, in close cooperation with the traditional landowners.

Last not least: was there ever any investigation what happened with the billions of rupiah that were sent to Sorong for helping the village communities ? The local people would not need to sacrifice their forest, they could build their new church and comfortable houses without touching their natural assets if they had received what was earmarked for village aid programmes by international donors and the central government. Indeed these villagers need real help from the outside. But not through selling out their timber resources, rather by giving the support they need to set up their own small enterprises and to utilize their natural resources, including their forests, in a lasting and environmentally friendly way.

Papuan village people are not greedy! Only the actual need for cash AND the pressure from Sorong makes them do what may look as if it came out of their own way of life. Their genuine relationship to the forest has a spiritual dimension that is valued to the present day. But Mr. Wanane and his business friends seem to have no sense for these sacred values. Who cares anyway…

Yes, straight action is long time overdue, Mrs. President Megawati Soekarnoputri, to clean up this ugly mess! As a matter of urgency and of international reputation – and last not least, after all the dark years of exploitation and neglect, as a matter of respect towards the Papuan village communities and their livelihood – the magnificent Papuan Rainforest !

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This entry was posted on Juni 20, 2010 at 16:28 and is filed under Forum for Dignity and Justice in West Papua, The Forest Peoples Alliance (FPA).

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