Editorial: Jokowi Govt Justifies Forest Destruction for Development, But What Development?

3 min read

In over eagerly defending President Joko Widodo from environmentalists’ massive critics against the president’s speech during the UN climate conference (COP 26) in Glasgow early this week, Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar cunningly returned to old recipe she knows best: contrasting economic development with forest destruction.

She said something even China dare not state it that bluntly.

“Massive development during President Jokowi can’t stop on behalf of (halting) carbon emission or deforestation,” she tweeted.

In other words, she expresses the state of mind dictating her action all along: forest destruction is pre-requirement for economic development. In fact, such a mentality is not only hers. It represents the whole Joko Widodo’s administration.

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The recent passage of Omnibus Bill into law, which is actually a legal foundation to just hand over Indonesia’s forests to whoever owns the money, highlights this mentality, and Jokowi’s lack of commitment to environment and forests.

By stating this mere fact, Siti Nurbaya opens up to the whole world the hypocrisy in Jokowi’s rosy picture about his success of protecting the country’s forests during the UN climate meeting. If forests must be sacrificed for carrying out the so-called development, then why bother protecting it? That also means that the whole Jokowi’s speech in the COP 26 in Glasgow means nothing, and all the figures he mentioned in the speech are an invention to cover up the country’s real condition.

At least two globally respected environmental groups, Forest Watch and Greenpeace, quickly refuted Jokowi’s speech, coming up with their own figures strikingly different from what the president has stated.

In his speech Jokowi claims that his administration managed to significantly cut deforestation rate so much so that it was the lowest deforestation in the last 20 years.

Data from the Forest Watch Indonesia, however, showed that Indonesia’s deforestation rate increased from 1.1 million hectares per year in the period of 2009-2013 to 1.47 million hectares per year during 2013-2017, or during the first three years of Jokowi administration.

Greenpeace Indonesia also refuted the president’s data, noting that deforestation spiked from 2.45 million hectares during 2003-2011 to 4.8 million hectare in the period of 2011 to 2019, or covering the whole Jokowi’s first term.

Jokowi also claims that he managed to cut the forest fires by 82 percent in 2020, an achievement also rejected by the environmentalists as a coincidence and helped by the cool climate.

As if the nature joins to prove that Jokowi’s claims were too arbitrary to call an achievement, news broke just hours after Siti Nurbaya’s tweet that Rica Island, an island within Komodo Islands, was massively burned. The scope of the fire is now still being investigated.

In fact, as Jokowi delivered his speech thousands and thousands of hectares of forests in Kalimantan and Papua are being wiped out by big mining companies and oil plantation firms.

Read more Rebuffing Professor Mahbubani’s Praises for Jokowi Point by Point

What Development?

While Jakarta would like to argue that development of roads in Papua is for the benefits of the people there, reports after reports suggest that interests of big businesses have always been the main consideration. If these roads happen to reach certain Papuan ethnic groups, then it’s great – at least great for publicity. But any benefits for native Papuans – if anything at all – are only byproducts of serving the interests of political and business elites.

The utilization of satellite imagery in the joint work of David Gaveau, a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Oil Palm Task Force, and a number of Indonesian and international scientists, for instance, demonstrates the close relation between the construction of the 4,000 kilometer Trans-Papua Highway, a national project pushed by officials in Jakarta, and the expansion of oil palm plantation. The model proposed by the team shown that some 4.5 million hectares of forest, or equivalent to half of Java island, will be cleared by 2036 looking at the pattern of exploitation in Kalimantan.

Where the roads go, the plantations follow, or it can be the other way round, the roads follow wherever the plantations want to go.

With Papua home to world’s biggest gold and mineral reserves, such road developments also follow the establishment of mine sites. In other words, we are not really sure if there any initiatives – from government and private institutions alike – that genuinely aim at benefitting the native Papuans. The fact is despite possessing such huge wealth, Papua is still among Indonesia’s poorest regions, with more than 25 percent of Papuans live below poverty line.

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So, what’s the use of all roads and development if they have not benefitted the native Papuans? Or, Do the Papuans ever need these roads and developments at all? The answer is that’s never the intention in the first place.

On the national level, development that Jokowi and Siti Nurbaya always mentioned have not brought any differences among people in general. Indonesia’s remain among countries in the world with high Gini coefficient, meaning Indonesia is still facing real problems of poverty and unequal income distribution.

The fact is that the four richest persons in Indonesia have more wealth that the combined total of the poorest 100 million people. The number of people living below poverty line increased by 1.13 million to 27.55 million in September 2020 alone. With the current pandemic still impacting people at the grass roots, the number of poor families could be getting higher.

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So, it is a huge tragedy that while the destruction of the country’s forest is already a sure thing, and it’s happening now before our eyes (and coupling that with the nation’s mounting foreign debts), the so-called economic development Jokowi likes to tout about still fails to benefit people.

So, what development, Pak Jokowi?

Editorial Omong-Omong

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