Bahasa Indonesia

Down to Earth No. 76-77 May 2008

Is the Forestry Ministry serious about the new legality standard?

It is well over a year since the draft Indonesian Timber Legality Verification Standard was handed over to Indonesia's Forestry Department for approval. Since then, progress towards implementation has been extremely slow, begging the question whether the Forestry Ministry really wants to tackle Indonesia's runaway forest destruction.

The legality standard - now renamed the Timber Legality Assurance Standard (TLAS) - was part of the follow-up to a 2002 agreement on illegal logging between the UK and Indonesia, which was superseded by the EU Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) in 2003. Indonesia is currently negotiating a bilateral 'Voluntary Partnership Agreement' (VPA) with the EU, aimed at preventing illegal timber entering the EU. The TLAS will be used to determine what is and what is not legal timber. The hope is that it will be used to sort out the legal confusion created by conflicting regulations governing forests.1 (See DTE 73 for more background.)

Responding to the acquittal of an illegal logging entrepreneur, Mardi Minangsari of the Indonesian NGO, Telapak, said: "The current way of managing forestry in Indonesia is clearly not fit for purpose. Criminals profit from legal uncertainty and grey areas, while deforestation continues. We urge the government to adopt the new legality standard as a matter of urgency to sort out the confusion."

Despite assurances to the EU of speedy implementation, the Forestry Department has still not officially agreed or adopted the TLAS - another indication that the political will to implement the system is in short supply.

Slow Progress on TLAS Institutions

In June last year, a Ministry of Forestry Secretary General Decree (no. 53/II-KUM/2007) created an Ad Hoc Team to carry out the task of setting up the institutions needed to implement the TLAS. This multistakeholder team consists of representatives from government, the private sector, academia, NGOs and Indigenous Peoples Organisations. The process of designing the TLAS institution, the role and mechanism of each of its components, and the interrelation between components is now nearly complete.

One positive element in the design is that the institution remains a multistakeholder body, which accommodates all the stakeholders in almost all of its component parts.

The TLAS institution comprises several bodies:

Regional public consultations have also been held. The first of these, for the Kalimantan Region, was held in Samarinda, East Kalimantan in April 2008. The next will be Java, then Sumatra and Papua. The regional public consultations are aimed at gathering inputs for refining the TLAS. Hopefully, by the end of June the whole system design will be finished and ready to go to a National Public Consultation for final inputs and refinement.2

Forestry Ministry raises objections

The forestry ministry is in the process of reviewing the TLAS, and held its latest review meeting in April this year. One point it raised was that it considered the criteria and indicators for community-based forest management too soft, and thought that these should be set at a similar level to those drafted for large timber companies (HPH) and timber estate companies (HTI). This would clearly put communities at a disadvantage, as the scale of their forest management operations are far smaller than those of the big companies, and they have far fewer resources. The Ad Hoc Team responded to this by saying that since the criteria and indicators of the standard were developed by a multistakeholder process, the forestry ministry review team should go through a public consultation if it wishes to revise the standard.

Another crucial point which demands close attention is the debate around the Dispute Resolution Body and its role in the TLAS.3 The forestry ministry review team took the view that such a body was not necessary in the TLAS, since the timber legality licence is an official government assurance and therefore it is the government, rather than the proposed Dispute Resolution Body that should have the authority to withdraw it. Grievances should be considered under the legal system, by the state administration court or the police.

Following this input, the Ad Hoc Team's most recent meeting, also in April, revised the role of the Dispute Resolution Body so that it no longer has the authority to cancel or suspend legality licences. Instead, the Dispute Resolution Body may only put forward recommendations to the Licensing and Standard Development Commission, on the cancellation or suspension of licences, based on strong evidence of non-compliance in a 're-verification' procedure conducted by the Dispute Resolution Body. The proposed timber legality licences will be valid for 3 years, subject to an annual review, which can consider less urgent grievances then.

Another bone of contention raised by the ministry review team was the question of who sits in each component part of the TLAS (except the Dispute Resolution Body and Independent Monitoring Body). There was divided opinion on whether the Accreditation Body and the Licensing and Standard Development Commission should be multistakeholder or not. The Ministry review team took the view that, since the timber legality licence is a legal product, then it should be the government that deals with it. On the other hand, it is possible that this task can be delegated to an appointed multistakeholder body, in this case, the Licensing and Standard Development Commission.

Industry calls for TLAS fees to replace all others

The private sector (represented in the multistakeholder Ad Hoc Team) is pressing the forestry ministry to do away with all existing forestry fees, and to replace them with just one TLAS verification fee. There are already more than 40 types of fees payable by forestry companies and the industry argues that an additional legality verification fee would only add to the financial burden. This could well be a reasonable move, because, quite apart from reducing costs for companies, it would mean cutting the chain of illegal transactions benefiting corrupt government officials, and police and military personnel.

Action needed now

Another crucial point in the TLAS process concerns the pressing need to implement the system in the field. While the reviews and discussions continue, so does the destruction in the forests. Any attempt to prolong the process, delay the implementation of the TLAS and keep it at draft stage means business as usual in the forests. The forestry ministry has very little excuse to maintain the status quo, if this is what is intended, since the TLAS is not anything new, but only a means of clarifying and measuring compliance with existing laws and regulations. In other words, the TLAS is only underlining law enforcement. So, if the forestry ministry is in favour of law enforcement, as it claims, there is no reason for not implementing it. Or maybe the forestry ministry simply prefers the status quo?

1. EIA: Press Release: 21 November 2007, 'Court Fiasco As Fugitive Timber Boss Evades Jail'.
2. More information in the Indonesian language can be found at
3. The first draft on the setting up of the Dispute Resolution Body, gives the body authority to withdraw (cancel) and suspend licences issued by the Licensing and Standard Development Commission.

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