It is perverse that a fortune in foreign money gifted to this country to protect its primordial rainforests may be used to speed up their annihilation. That was the warning this week from Greenpeace. The environmental campaigner said the US$1 billion forest-saving fund that Norway promised Indonesia earlier this year is at a two-pronged risk of being siphoned off by the country’s enormous army of crooked officials as rapacious paper and oil palm companies set about vastly expanding their operations.

In a report published on Tuesday and entitled REDD Alert: Protection Money, the Amsterdam-based Greenpeace claimed the firms “intend to utilise the Indonesian government’s ambiguous definitions of forests and degraded land to hijack the funds and use them to subsidise ongoing conversion of natural forests to plantations.”

Greenpeace says the companies intend to treble their pulp and paper output within the next 15 years and to double palm oil production in the next nine. It is understood that parts of the central government have signed off on some of these plans.

Greenpeace added: “This expansion, coupled with weak definitions for degraded land in Indonesia, could see REDD funds which are designed to support protection of Indonesia’s forests and peatlands actually being used to support their destruction,” it added.

It is extraordinary that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono could sit down with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in Oslo in May and accept his host’s gigantic forest-aid package if he did not intend, knowing the workings of his government in Jakarta, to ensure that the cash would not be stolen or squandered. If he has any environmental credentials at all he would not acquiesce in the scam now allegedly going on to further deplete the rainforests that are – as the “lungs of the world” – to the wellbeing of mankind.

The president must have been aware of what lay ahead in Indonesia, and amid warnings from Oslo that the cash would be cancelled if there were signs of shenanigans, the least his administration should be doing is to ensure legislation is in place to protect this superb investment in our country.

That is not happening. Current laws on the forests and their imperilled inhabitants such as the orangutan are mere words on paper. There is no effective enforcement because the few officials present are easily bought off so that they ignore illegal logging, even though there is now a two-year moratorium on new forest concessions. 

It all makes us wonder why foreign governments, knowing the risks, donate to this country. Are they intrinsically more optimistic than us? Do they see a future for Indonesia in which our country actually takes responsibility for not only its people but its flora, fauna and land?

Some day it would be good to think so.

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