Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Palm Oil goes to court—and tries to buy its way out . . . natch

Proving that the palm oil companies will pretty much stoop to anything to expand into the protected forest, the company Kallista Alam, no stranger to controversy or the courtroom, has been charged with paying protestors at their much-postponed trial to “demand that the judge rule in favor of the company.” (see story below) Knock me over with a feather.

You will recall in 2012 when I reported on this hapless crew, who for all their billions couldn’t seem to cobble a few brain cells together to mount an appropriate or convincing defense, and representative lawyers showed up in the Medan court without appropriate documents allowing them to argue on behalf of their own company. Oversight? I think not. Based on the most recent articles in the Jakarta Post and End of the Icons (slogan: “Don’t Palm off my Home”), and all the websites, blogs and worldwide protests about deforestation in Leuser at the rate of thousands of acres a day, I think that Kallista Alam was getting exactly what it wanted. Hey, if they don’t find you guilty you can keep breaking the law. So the Tripa peat bog has been continually hatcheted all this time, and only last week were the company’s assets frozen.

Just another day in Aceh.

This story is receiving a LOT of press, so I’m going to re-print the most comprehensive and concise of the ones that we’ve seen.

The highlighted portions are mine, and my comments are in red.

Rogue Palm Oil Company, Fearing Negative Ruling, Initiates Conflict with Indonesian Court
November 16, 2013

Illegal loggers taking timber from Singkil Wildlife Reserve utilising illegal developed roads built with Government budgets. Although plans are still in discussion for Aceh Province many projects are already being implemented, often without permits to do so. Photo Credit : Paul Hilton / Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh


[MEDAN, NORTH SUMATRA] A large demonstration initiated by controversial palm oil company Pt Kalista Alam, who is accused of illegally destroying some of the world’s most important remaining orangutan habitat on the west coast of Sumatra, has disrupted the Meulaboh district court today where the Indonesian Ministry of Environment is prosecuting the company for environmental crimes. The potentially precedent-setting case has received international attention and is being monitored closely by NGOs, scientists, the government and industry alike.

The court was temporarily delayed as an estimated 150 palm oil workers, who arrived by busses believed to be paid by Pt Kalista Alam, conducted a noisy demonstration before the court, demanding the court find in favour of the controversial company. The same company had one of its palm oil concessions cancelled in September 2012, after administrational courts found the permit had been granted illegally,[you all know what this means, right? It’s called “stealing land from people who can’t fight you”] and last week its assets were frozen by the civil court as its process draws to an expected close. The final hearing has now been scheduled for December 5th where now the judges are expected to deliver a final ruling.

“PT Kallista Alam is one of several palm oil companies illegally burning forests on deep peat within the Leuser Ecosystem during the last few years” Said Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, speaking at a packed media event outside a major international RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) conference in Medan earlier today. [The problem with the RSPO is that it is comprised mostly of the Palm Oil companies themselves—they are the ones who set the rules. It is obvious that these rules have not helped conserve the rainforest or provided any type of sustainability. I personally do not see why this RSPO banner is continually waved about.] “We congratulate the Indonesian Ministry of Environment on its action against PT Kallista Alam, but also remind people that a potentially devastating new spatial plan being proposed by the Provincial Government still threatens huge swathes of Aceh’s forests and their incredibly unique biodiversity, [as we know, it ain’t so new] in addition to Aceh’s people and their economic livelihoods. If approved, this new plan is likely to lead to an upsurge of new legal cases due to the massive increase in environmental damage it will undoubtedly cause.”

“If the new spatial plan goes through it will be the end of the Sumatran Elephant” Dr Singleton concluded.

“There can only be one word to describe the situation for the Leuser Ecosytem, and it’s emergency.” warned Kamaruddin SH, an Acehnese lawyer who represented communities in Tripa with their complaints against PT Kallista Alam. “The Leuser Ecosystem is a Nationally Strategic Area protected for its Environmental Function, It is currently illegal for any district, provincial or national leader to issue permits for palm oil, mining or any other activity that would degrade the environmental function of the Leuser Ecosystem, but powerful business lobby is currently trying to undo this, not to support community, but to line their pockets with the assets of Aceh. [it’s my understanding that the governor took control of the Leuser ecosystem from the foundation and the independent organization running it. That is why it’s open for business as we speak. This is something Aceh can reverse . . . immediately. I do not see that happening.] Todays show of intimidation by Pt Kalista Alam outside the court in Meulaboh is just one example of many companies attempting to intimidate the legal and political processes of Aceh, it deserves close scrutiny from anti corruption and legal agencies.”

Landscape planning and GIS specialist, Graham Usher, showed satellite information and data analysis that highlighted the extreme sensitivity of Aceh’s environment. “Much of Aceh’s remaining forests are on steeply sloping terrain, that should be off limits to development under existing spatial planning regulations. Clearing forests and building roads in such areas is simply not safe, and potentially disastrous.

“What will happen if these forests are cleared is very clear, and easy to predict. We will see a collapse of the ecosystem, and the loss of the environmental benefits they provide to Aceh’s people. This will lead to food security problems in the future, in addition to a huge increase in flash floods, erosion and landlsides. It’s not rocket science”, he stressed. “it’s simply cause and effect. To open new roads and exploitive industrial concessions in the heart of Aceh will only result in even further destruction, and lead to a rash of new, entirely avoidable, social conflicts. It’s not only unique biodiversity that will suffer, Aceh’s people will suffer greatly as well!”

And what exactly have I been screaming about here for 3 years?????

“Aceh is currently suffering from environmental anarchy, there is next to no law enforcement, and local elites are left to take what they want without monitoring or fear of legal consequences.”

“The community of Aceh feels that promises have been broken” stated TM Zulfikar, former Chairman of Friends of the Earth, Aceh. While many supported Governor Zaini in his election, there is now increasing frustration and anger being expressed towards his administration. “If we’d known Aceh was going to be carved up, cut down, and sold to the highest bidder most would probably have voted differently. (the former governor started it, by gutting his Aceh Green platform, and no one seemed too worked up a it then, apart from ex-combatants who had never gotten reimbursed and so were forced to work for the palm oil companies as hired “protectors” of the well-known nefarious activities. Remember, Kalista Alam has been at this for a very long time, long before the new governor took office.)

“Recently the Aceh Government told us at a public meeting that there is no budget left for the development of the Province’s spatial planning and that it therefore needs to be approved and ratified before the end of December. But they have still not completed any environmental sensitivity analysis and key data and information has failed to be shared. I seriously worry what the Government will do in the next two months. If things happen as we hear, he will forever be recorded in history as the Governor who returned Aceh to social conflict and environmental destruction.” Concluded Mr Zulfikar. And he will have had lots and lots of help.

Gemma Tillack with Rainforest Action Network called on international consumer companies who use palm oil in their products to demand that their suppliers verifiably guarantee that the oil they supply is not connected to rainforest destruction like that taking place in Tripa. [How exactly are they going to do that??????? Companies like Wilmot and Kalista Allam are issued “sustainability certificates” and World Bank and USAID are ready to give them millions for pilot projects that turn their waste into biofuel. How hard do you think it is going to be to get certificates stating that any palm oil that anybody buys is grown by widows and orphans who fertilize it with Sumatran elephant poop?] “Tripa and the Leuser Ecosystem are globally important areas. It is imperative that consumer companies take responsibility for the fact that Conflict Palm Oil like that produced at the expense of the Tripa peat swamp is making its way into the global marketplace. [Making its way?????? God, I’ve got to stop reading this article; I am running out of red ink and exclamation points.] Companies like the “Snack Food 20” targeted by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) urgently need to engage with their supply chains and implement truly responsible palm oil procurement policies that demand palm oil be produced without contributing to rainforest destruction, climate pollution or human rights abuses. That’ll teach em.

For further information please contact:

Dr Ian Singleton
Conservation Director, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP)

Graham Usher
Landscape Sensitivity Analyst, PanEco Foundation

T.M. Zulfikar
Aceh Communications Officer, Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (YEL)

Kamaruddin SH
Lawyer for Tripa Community Coalition<

Gemma Tillack
Senior Agribusiness Campaigner, Rainforest Action Network

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