Poor planning, land conflict, corruption and unsustainable practices

Seams of corruption

Poor planning, land conflict, corruption and unsustainable practices

There are a number of consequences for communities living in or near forest areas.

Spatial planning, which aims to ensure that activities are appropriate to their allocated land type, that different activities are integrated and spatially congruent, and that the divergent objectives of government, the private sector and local communities are reconciled, is severely challenged if the fundamental data on land type and usage is incomplete. The stated aim of Indonesia’s system, in which all three tiers of government – national, provincial and district – have interests, is to confine mining and plantations to non-forested or degraded areas. Yet if the officially designated Forest Zone includes degraded areas, and if non-degraded areas exist without protection outside the Forest Zone, the rationale of this approach is compromised. Similarly, the mapping of community lands, which by law should be integrated into district level spatial plans, must also be assumed to be insufficient.

Violent conflict can occur and has arisen as a result of ‘land grabs’ by commercial enterprises intending to log, mine, or establish plantations with little or no regard for the environment or the well-being of communities that depend of the forest areas for their livelihoods. Similarly, conflict between communities and business can arise if ambiguous or contradictory laws are exploited by commercial enterprises in order to obtain some sort of official approval for their activities, and these can be exacerbated if forces such as the police are called in to enforce an improper law. Conflict can also arise between commercial enterprises if multiple claims are made over the same area of land.

If communities are unable to obtain secure tenure of land, they are less likely to adopt long term perspectives and implement sustainable land management practices. Communities that manage their own land become more able to support livelihoods and improve the quality of life, often by deploying indigenous forest management systems. By means of such processes, deforestation rates can be slowed, and food security, cultural diversity, social cohesion and the more equitable distribution of wealth can all be enhanced.

Social justice also suffers in an environment where the rule of law is weak. Legal confusion and uncertainty opens the door to bribery and other corrupt practices, discourages legitimate investment, and can have a corrosive effect on the respect for the law and due democratic processes more generally. If the laws regarding such important aspect of life as land ownership and land management are incomplete, unfair, and easily exploitable by powerful interests, those disadvantaged by them may feel justified in taking the law into their own hands, or disregarding other laws. An ineffective legal and judicial system also encourages corrupt behaviour and hampers efforts to make government more transparent and accountable to its citizens.

National initiatives

A number of national initiatives are designed to improve this state of affairs. In October 2014, newly elected President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo announced that the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Environment would be combined, which should in time improve coordination, and the new Minister of Environment and Forestry was quick to extend the previous administration’s moratorium on the issuing of new concession permits in primary forests and peatlands, and has extended it to cover all forest areas in the country, as well as accelerating the process of gazetting land and addressing land conflict issues.

Similarly, the ‘One Map’ (Satu Peta) initiative which aims to produce a single all-encompassing map of Indonesia (and an integrated map repository), also gained the new administration’s support. This will establish a single reference to be used across different ministries and levels of government and represents an important first step in reconciling the current multiplicity of conflicting land-use maps, thereby improving the clarity and transparency of land classification and tenure, and enhancing government capacity to monitor land use and deter deforestation. The Constitutional Court (MK) decision No. 35 of 2012, which confirms the existence of indigenous-owned customary forest, also provides a new opportunity for communities to regain their legal rights to the forests around their village or ancestral land.