Indonesian government officials claim palm oil firms’ deforestation permits were falsified

A collaborative investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project on the latest plantation development controversy within the Papua province has unearthed allegations of falsified permits. There exists a long history of corruption around many Indonesian land deals within the plantation and mining divisions, and this particular controversy involves the legitimacy of land clearing permits for the development of a palm oil plantation in the Boven Digoel Regency.

The investigative report showed that several Indonesian government officials have publicly come forward with claims that signatures on permits necessary for the development of an extensive palm oil plantation in the Papuan province were forged. The investigators revealed that “the allegation has been formally raised within the government on at least three occasions and multiple ministries are now aware of it,” but the report uncovered that “instead of reporting the allegation to law enforcement, however, officials have struck an agreement allowing the developers to continue operating, provided they reapply for their permits.” 

The former leader of Papua’s investment agency has formally written that the necessary permits from his office had been forged at one of the fundamental stages of the permitting process. Laode Syarif, the head of an Indonesian anti-corruption agency said in an interview with Mongabay and The Gecko Project, that “If the signature of the investment agency chief was forged, that’s a crime,” and that it warranted further investigation.

The permits were critical requirements for an $80 million investor, for the rezoning of the area for plantation use by the minister of forestry, and were the basis for clearing 32 square miles (83 square kilometers) of rainforest.

The legitimacy of land-clearing permits hasn’t been the only cause for controversy around Papua province’s large-scale deforestation. The identities of major investors have been concealed through offshore shell accounts, and palm oil firms like Digoel Agri, have failed to receive the consent of Indigenous groups residing in and around the area.

Mongabay and The Gecko Project explained that “The industry’s unchecked growth has driven the clearance of rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands on a massive scale, contributing to Indonesia becoming one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters and fueling annual wildfires that blanket the country and its neighbors in a toxic haze.” This extreme environmental impact on Papua and its neighboring countries, which include the Solomon Islands, produces setbacks for those protecting the Pacific’s natural environment.

Suzanna DeCosta

Digital Journalist Intern

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