President Adds Illegal Loggers to ‘Mafia’ List


PRESIDENT Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has identified illegal logging as another form of entrenched corruption he wants to add to his growing list of “mafia.”

The former general talked tough about stopping the fastest rates of deforestation in the world as he left Indonesia for a regional summit in Vietnam where the environment is looming as a key issue.

He also expressed his appreciation for the efforts of Greenpeace, which has angered powerful palm oil interests with protests that have seen some of its activists deported.

“I believe there’s a mafia in illegal logging. Our mafia task force should be able to look into the possibility that such a mafia exists and to stop them,” he told reporters at the airport on Wednesday.

“I also want to underline the importance of preserving our forests. I’ve followed Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which are active in criticising the forest management by our government.

“I want to give my appreciation for their concerns and hope they will continue their partnership with Indonesia.”

Rampant corruption infests all areas of Indonesian society and regularly makes a mockery of Yudhoyono’s pledges of clean government.

His response to recent revelations of massive graft in the judiciary and the tax office has been to label the perpetrators – from junior tax officials to judges and so-called brokers – “mafias” that must be confronted head-on.

But like his frequent pronouncements about environmental responsibility, critics complain that little of substance actually gets done.

A recent study by the Center for East Asia Cooperation Studies at the University of Indonesia found that the Indonesian military was heavily involved in the illegal logging industry.

Unchecked deforestation, often to make way for palm oil plantations, makes Indonesia the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, according to most estimates.

US-based Human Rights Watch said in a report late last year that graft contaminated every level of the country’s logging industry, including the forestry ministry charged with managing the resource.

Between 2003 and 2006, annual revenue lost to mismanagement and corruption in the timber industry was equal to total public health spending, it said.

The unreliability of government figures on forest management and the routine falsification of wood harvest reports pose major obstacles to Indonesia’s plans to link its forests to international carbon markets, it added.

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