On Monday (25 March 2019) the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (ILAF) reported the minister heading up the National Land Agency, Sofyan Djalil, to police for criminal failure to abide by Indonesia’s Freedom of Information Act. (1)
For over two years the government of President Joko Widodo, and in particular his Minister for Land and Spatial Planning, Sofyan Djalil, has continued to flout a Supreme Court order to publicly release Land Cultivation Right documents. These documents, known by their Indonesian acronym HGU, set out the location and ownership details of palm oil plantations. A coalition of Indonesian NGOs argues that besides acting in contempt of the Supreme Court, the Minister is breaching the Freedom of Information Act (s.52), which makes withholding public information a criminal offence punishable by up to a year’s imprisonment. (2)
Repeated approaches by NGOs, followed by demonstrations (3) and the intervention of the Indonesian Ombudsman (4) have all failed to sway the Minister who has said he is acting to protect the oil palm industry. (5) “The problem is, we don’t see a national interest in this, we want to protect the national interest,” the Minister said of NGO requests for HGU data. “Because the national interest is the palm oil industry.” (6)
The issue of HGU secrecy was thrust into the spotlight during a presidential candidates’ debate last month when incumbent President Joko Widodo ‘outed’ his opponent Prabowo for holding hundreds of thousands of hectares of land via HGU title in Sumatra and Kalimantan. In so doing, Jokowi, as the president is known, inadvertently drew attention to his own administration’s unfulfilled promises (7) to publish this data in the public interest.
Why are Indonesian NGOs fighting for HGU data?
Twelve NGOs have come together to form the Civil Society Coalition for Open HGU Data, (8) demanding this information be made public. Since 2013, there has been at least eleven attempts by civil society organisations and private individuals to use the FOI Act to compel the government to release HGU data.
The HGU documents, which set out the boundaries and ownership of palm oil plantations, are crucial for monitoring who is responsible for:
- Land grabbing – where title is granted to companies over community land, often without their consent or even their knowledge
- Forest clearing – in breach of laws and corporate no-deforestation commitments
- Peatland drainage – which destroys sensitive ecosystems and causes massive carbon emissions
- Fires, often used to clear land
- Corruption which frequently accompanies the issuance of HGU, a common means of financing local government politicians’ re-election campaigns
In 2016, (9) Forest Watch Indonesia won a case it had lodged in the Information Commission requesting Indonesia’s National Land Agency (BPN), which sits under the Ministry of Land and Spatial Planning, to release HGU data covering Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). The government appealed, but on 9 March 2017 the Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Land and Spatial Planning to hand over the HGU data to Forest Watch Indonesia. Until today this data has still not been provided.
In the most recent case, brought by the Legal Aid Foundation of Papua and decided in 2018, Papua’s Public Information Commission ordered the publication of HGU data relating to 31 palm oil companies in the province. Until today this data has still not been provided.
How did we get here?
- Indonesia’s forests and agricultural lands are overlaid with confusing and often contradictory rights and claims by indigenous peoples, local communities, government landholdings and business interests.
- This often leads to serious conflicts, violence, environmental mismanagement and unjust outcomes. Rights group HuMA Indonesia has recorded 326 land conflicts involving over 2 million hectares of land and affecting as many as 286,000 Indonesians. (10)
- In 2010, during the government led by the last Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, plans were laid to make land management information public through the “One Map” policy. This was to include not just HGU data, but also other forms of land rights including indigenous and community lands, and commercial concessions for mining and agriculture. (11)
- The plan, which never came to fruition during Yudhoyono’s presidency, was taken up as a pre-election campaign pledge in 2014 by Joko Widodo, the current President. After his election however, progress towards One Map failed has been slow and HGU and other data remains closed.
- In 2015, Indonesia was wracked by one of the worst forest fire seasons on record, during which air pollution caused an estimated 100,000 additional deaths. For 26 days, carbon emissions from the fires exceeded the entire pollution output of the USA. The World Bank estimated the cost to the Indonesian economy at over US$16b. Many of the fires were burning within industrial plantations, yet without HGU data, it remains challenging to accurately monitor the boundaries and ownership of these to determine who should be held responsible.
- Asep Komarudin, Forest Campaigner, Greenpeace Indonesia +6281310728770
- Era Purnama Sari, Advocacy Division of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) – the organisation which made the official complaint on Monday morning. +62 812-1032-2745
- The report was made at 11:00 am on 25 March 2019, and the National Police issued a letter acknowledging the report in the evening at 7:40 pm. (Bareskrim letter no. STTL/221/III/2019)
- https://ppid.dpr.go.id/data/UU_2008_14.pdfSee section 52.
- Pictures available here of protest at Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning/National Land Agency (ATR/BPN) in Jakarta on 20 Aug 2018: https://media.greenpeace.org/collection/27MZIFJWNHO5C
- Ombudsman urges government to release HGU data
- See https://katadata.co.id/berita/2019/03/06/tolak-buka-data-hgu-menteri-agraria-berdalih-lindungi-industri-sawit
- ‘This is the government’s reason for refusing to release HGU land data’ (translated) Republika, 7 March 2019. https://nasional.republika.co.id/berita/nasional/umum/pnzxzy409/ini-alasan-pemerintah-tolak-buka-data-hgu-atas-lahan
- Jokowi’s secrecy over land use maps is a breach of a key promisemade during the pre-election debate four years ago. At that time, Jokowi promised that he would release maps to the public via the One Map initiative. That claim was repeated when he finally launchedthe long-awaited initiative in December last year. And Luhut Pandjaitan, one of Jokowi’s most trusted ministers repeated the claim in February, when he was quoted saying of land title data “Now, with the One Map policy, note this, it is public data” – and even suggested that the public could ‘google’ to discover who controlled land via the One Map. Unfortunately, the reality is different. As is made clear via Jokowi’s own presidential decree, and confirmed via the official handbook, the One Map remains closed to the public, accessible only to a specific list of seven branches of government.
- “Koalisi Masyarakat Sipil Untuk Advokasi Buka Data HGU” comprising YLBHI, Eknas Walhi, FWI, KPA, Sawit Watch, HUMA, TuK Indonesia, Auriga, AMAN, ICEL, Greenpeace Indonesia, and Elsam.
- Case No. 057/XII/KIP-PS-M-A/2015, decided on 22 July 2016
- See press release below dated 14 March 2019.