Last week the former governor of Riau province in Sumatra, the epicenter of deforestation in Indonesia, was sentenced to 14 years in prison by Indonesia’s anti corruption court for taking bribes for illegally issuing logging permits to nine suppliers of APRIL’s Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper and APP’s Indah Kiat mills. This conviction follows similar convictions of Riau’s Palalawan and Siak district regents (Bupatis).
This week a diverse and influential civil society network called the “anti forest-mafia coalition” released an in depth and ground breaking analysis of the Indonesian “Forest Legality Verification System” (SVLK) finding flaws in the SVLK standard and its application and detailing sweeping changes required for the system to be credible and contribute to improved forest governance in Indonesia.
The SVLK timber legality assurance system comes out of an agreement between the EU and Indonesian governments aimed at improving forest governance and ensuring that Indonesian forest products are produced, harvested and shipped in compliance with the laws and regulations of Indonesia. SLVK certification is intended to assure forest products (wood, paper, etc.) customers and trading partner governments that products are legal and to secure access to foreign markets. In Europe, the intention is that SVLK certified products gain automatic access to the market. In the US, SVLK certification will not provide a guarantee that forest products imported into the US will meet the requirements of the Lacey Act.
Nevertheless, Indonesian forest product companies like APRIL and their customers are already promoting their SVLK certification and hoping that SVLK will fulfill the due diligence requirements of the Lacey Act. However, given systemic governance problems and recent revelations from Indonesia, such assertions are premature. In fact, the anti forest-mafia coalition’s report, and the long list of forest crime cases being considered by Indonesia’s Anti Corruption Commission (KPK) suggests that the Riau former governor’s crimes are just the tip of the iceberg. The Riau convictions and the anti forest-mafia coalition’s report are a wake up call for governments, customers and investors alike. Forest governance in Indonesia and the SVLK certification system still have a long way to go before they can provide confidence in the rule of law or any assurance that it is being implemented and enforced.
The message to customers, investors and importing governments in the EU, Japan, China, the US and around the world is that Indonesian forest products are rife with legal risks and links to corruption and that the current SVLK system does not provide adequate assurance that products are legal or produced in an environmentally or socially responsible manner.
The message to the Indonesian government and producers is that they must tackle corruption, improve forest governance, laws and enforcement and revamp the SVLK standard and its implementation if they are to be trusted and preferred in the international marketplace.
Encouragingly, there is good news that Indonesians and the international community alike can take heart in and support amidst these sobering reports.
First, the Riau prosecutions themselves demonstrate the importance and success of Indonesia’s Anti Corruption Commission (KPK), an institution that is repeatedly demonstrating its integrity, veracity and worth in the face of significant opposition from many powerful interests that it threatens. And second, last week, perhaps the nation’s most well known and important political reformer for clean and improved government and the rule of law, Joko Widodo (or Jokowi as most know him), officially announced his candidacy as presidential candidate in the upcoming elections in July.