Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Private Forest

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaFormer minister of defense Ryamizard Ryacudu owns thousands of hectares of land located in a forest area in South Sumatra. He is suspected of breaking the law.      

    THE fact that former minister of defense Ryamizard Ryacudu and his family own thousands of hectares of land in Banyuasin, South Sumatra, shows that agrarian reforms have not progressed nearly as far as had been hoped. There is still injustice in land ownership. It is not right that one person can own so much land when many farmers do not possess any land at all.

    The National Land Agency should have carefully investigated the ownership of the land by Ryamizard and his family. However, it did exactly the opposite and issued a title deed for it. This was extremely odd because the 1960 Agrarian Affairs Law clearly bans individuals from owning more than 20 hectares. This ban, which was aimed at preventing disparities in ownership of land, was reinforced by an agrarian and spatial planning ministry regulation issued in 2016. Anyone owning more than the specified area of land was obliged to transfer ownership to another party. The state could also seize land if the owner did not immediately sell it.

    The government should have noticed the irregularities in the way Ryamizard acquired the land, which has now been leased for the location of the South Sumatra Special Economic Zone. Ryamizard claims to have owned the 2,170 hectares since 1995 after buying it from a number of people who had inherited it. This procurement was suspicious because the land was in a conservation area.

    In 2016, the land was declared to be part of the Air Telang Coastline Conservation Area, in accordance with a decision by Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya. Ryamizard, who at the time it was still minister of defense, then sent a letter to Minister Siti Nurbaya asking for the land to be removed from the conservation area. In less than a year, Minister Siti granted the request. This decision seems to have been rather hasty and was not accompanied by a satisfactory investigation. There were also irregularities in the history of the ownership of the land. For example, the local village head says that he did not know the owner of the land or the heirs that sold it to Ryamizard.

    It is not yet too late for the government to reinvestigate the validity of the ownership by Ryamizard and his family. The government could establish an independent team and look into the background of the ownership. When it was declared part of a protected forest region, there must have been a study. Why was this decision so readily overturned?

    The law enforcement authorities should intervene and investigate this land, from the background to the purchase and the issuing of the title deed. This investigation could be carried out by the police, the Attorney General’s Office or the Corruption Eradication Commission. Officials also need to look into allegations of unseemly acts behind the land procurement process. The official that issued the deed also needs to be investigated.

    The government should have the courage to put right any improper land ownership, no matter who is concerned. Without a resolute stance and consistent policy, the agrarian reform that has been proclaimed by President Joko Widodo will turn into an empty slogan. Disparity in land ownership continues, and farmers are still frustrated.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine