Working Paper No. 29: Haumeni1, not many: renewed plunder and mismanagement in the Timorese Sandalwood industry


From Indigenous Control to State Monopoly



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From Indigenous Control to State Monopoly.


It is a remarkable fact that despite centuries of sustained attempts by Portuguese and Dutch Colonial interests to exert hegemonic control over the island of Timor, they were unable to effectively colonise the island until the early twentieth century. As Fox has noted, "for most of the colonial period, control was a matter of pretence and veneer" (Fox, 1999: 9). This extended to the control of sandalwood, which the respective Colonial administrations could only regulate from the point of transaction and sale. Production and ownership of the sandalwood itself rested with the indigenous leaders and populations of the hinterland. This was to change significantly when the Dutch Government, beginning in 1906, undertook a program of military pacification over the recalcitrant domains of west Timor and brought them under the administrative control of the Pax Nederlandica.
The subsequent history of the twentieth century to the present, has seen the gradual and inexorable erosion of indigenous control of sandalwood stocks and the transfer of ownership from the people to the State (Poffenberger, 1990: 19). This shift has been effected in stages; from the dominant position of multiple petty rajas and quasi independent political leadership of pre-twentieth century Timor, to the consolidation of political map under the Swapraja system of notional indirect (zelf-standig) rule, and the eventual introduction of the modern Indonesian State system.
In west Timor, the East Indies Colonial Forestry Service intervened initially through increasing regulatory supervision of sandalwood, eventually prohibiting the free cutting sand sale of the timber in some areas by 1916 (Ormeling, 1956: 174). In 1925, the Dutch administration took direct control under the Sandalwood Ordinance (Sandelhoutkeur) which provided for a series of further restrictive regulatory measures. The Ordinance officially put a stop to unregulated cutting of sandalwood. It declared all sandalwood the property of the Swapraja with benefits from its sale to return to the community and required that all sandalwood permitted to be cut would be sold by public auction in Kupang (Ormeling, 1956: 175). In large part the ordinance was enacted to restrain what Ormeling describes as the rape of sandalwood during the period 1905-1915 when as much as 12,000 pikul (700 tons) of heartwood was extracted annually (1956: 177).
In East Timor, under Portuguese suzerainty, a similar process of appropriation by the State was undertaken. Following measures to limit the cutting and export of sandalwood from the territory, which reached 907 tons in 1910, the Portuguese Government eventually implemented a complete ban on extraction in 1925 (Cinatti, 1950: 15). The Portuguese Colonial Forestry Service then assumed control of reserves, which it managed for a further 50 years.
The success of the Indonesian Independence movement and the withdrawal of the Dutch Colonial power following the Second World War ushered in a new period of resource management and control over sandalwood. As the National Government gradually phased out the formal functions of what was regarded as a feudal Swapraja system and replaced it with a more secular administrative framework, it also assumed greater responsibility for the management of sandalwood stocks. Under the guise of protectionist and conservatory policies, the State assumed ownership of sandalwood in the National interest. This policy was made explicit over time through legislation such as the Peraturan Daerah No 16 1986 (Provincial Ruling)12 which included the specific provision that:

The Provincial Government controls all sandalwood including living or dead, sectioned and split (and) root stock, that is located both within and outside the State forestry zone within the Province of NTT.13



As in the earlier Dutch Colonial times the Indonesian State assumed control over the cutting and marketing of sandalwood by Government Authorities under the guise of conservatory resource management. This notionally well intentioned policy, however, did not result in any significant benefits to local Timorese communities and the effective producers of sandalwood. Extraction of timber was based on decisions established by the Government based on five yearly inventories of existing stocks. Farmers and rural populations were allocated a range of defined payments for labouring to cut and gather up the timber at designated collection points. This has been known colloquially as payments for harvesting the trees (pungut hasil). Following the 1986 legislation, this amounted to approximately 15 percent of the value of timber harvested. However nominal prices were determined by the Government and tended to be well below any realistic market value. Local farmers also frequently complained about the level of remuneration they received for their labour. As they had no effective ownership rights to the sandalwood seedlings which propagated spontaneously on their lands it was often easier to simply cut out the saplings rather than risk official fines or censure if the trees were damaged or deemed to be neglected (See Perda 16 1986: Pasal 12).

Contemporary issues in the political economy of sandalwood


For a tree with such an illustrious historical pedigree, and one that continues to command high regard for its scented properties, sandalwood has a distinctly ordinary appearance. Easily missed by the unfamiliar eye it grows into a small tree with a dappled grey trunk, straggly branches and clusters of ovate grey-green leaves. Growing to a maximum height of around 10-12m with a diameter of 20-30cm, it is found across the island of Timor up to a height of some 1300m (Ormeling 1956: 92; Monk 1997). The major concentrations of the tree resource, however, are still found along the southern mountains and hinterland of the island. Santalum album is reported to do noticeably better in more humid districts that receive favourable orthographic rains associated with the eastern monsoon; the so-called hujan timur (eastern rains).14
There are two types of Santalum album found across Timor, a small-leafed variety and a large-leaved variety (Adriyanti 1989 cited in Harisetijono and S. Suriamihardja 1993). Although the larger leafed variety is thought to develop higher oil content, local anecdotal evidence suggests that the smaller leafed variety, referred to simply as nohmnutu (small leafed) is favoured because its heartwood and oil content matures faster. Meto Timorese of west Timor refer to sandalwood generically as ‘haumeni’ (fragrant wood) and they utilise the pulpy red inner bark of the tree as a substitute for areca nut in their betel quids. The real prize, however, is the yellow red central core of the tree and its roots, which develops the distinctive sandalwood fragrant scent as the tree matures. According to some estimates mature trees can produce around 50kg of dry heartwood but this can take 30 years and more of tending and protection before the oil yield develops and up to 50 years for full maturity (cf Ormeling, 1956: 172). Trees begin producing heartwood after twenty years and can attain mature heartwood weights of up to 110kg at 50 years (Warsito and Andayani, 1987). Most of the oil content of the tree is found in the roots (Nuningsih, 1996). Immature sandalwood trees are susceptible to burning and damage from grazing stock and require protection and tending during maturation.
Sandalwood is known as a hemiparasite or semi-root parasite and requires a range of suitable host plants for its nutrition and moisture requirements (Radomiljac et al, 1997). The ecology of natural sandalwood production in Timor (and elsewhere) is therefore complex and is translated into significant variation of growth characteristics and heartwood development across the species. Although there has been significant research on the ecology and silvicultural aspects of the tree, a full understanding of ecological dynamics of sandalwood is some way off (Barret, 1989).
Sandalwood is graded into a number of classes which reflect different quality of scented heartwood and to distinguish between dried heartwood and sapwood timber. It is also common practice to bulk up supply by adding the pulp and heartwood of substitute tree wood from other species that have scented timber somewhat reminiscent of sandalwood. Hau kme [Kayu merah; M. azedarach) and the semi-parasitic, Exocarpus latifolia, known locally as hau papi are common examples. The ‘papi’ tree produces an oil which is very similar to sandalwood but rather coarser and sharper in scent. Like sandalwood the bark of the papi tree is used by Timorese farmers as a substitute for areca nut in betel quids. Papi is a comparatively under-exploited tree that is nevertheless threatened by unmanaged extraction.
Officially there are four main quality classes of sandalwood recognised in Nusa Tenggara Timur (1998). These are set prices and can only be legally sold through a formal auction process controlled by the Provincial and District Governments through its Departments (Dinas) of Forestry (Kehutanan).
Class A Rp 18,000 / kg (AUD 3.80)

Class B Rp 15,000/ kg (AUD 3.00)

Class C Rp 9,000/ kg (AUD 1.90)

In addition to these classes of dried and cleaned timber, unprocessed or freshcut timber known as Kayu gubal is sometimes sold at a discount which appears to range from just Rp1,000 to as much as Rp13,000 per kg depending on the source of information. The source of this timber is usually stock confiscated from illegal cutting operations. In recent years there has been considerable controversy and a lack of transparency surrounding the official management and trade in sandalwood timber. The emergence or rather, further elaboration, of a black market in the wood has put downward pressure on prices, although this is somewhat offset by the scarcity of the resource and higher prices often offered through illegal trade. Uncertainty in the sandalwood business has led to something akin to a crisis of confidence throughout the industry as the Government struggles to maintain effective management and control.


As an example case study of the present problems facing the sandalwood industry, the experience of sandalwood management in the district of ‘South Central Timor’ (Timor Tengah Selatan) [TTS] is a salutary one. TTS has always been highly regarded for the high quality and former abundance of its sandalwood stocks. Historically it has been one of the most productive sources for sandalwood on Timor.
In 1992, in reaction to the apparent unsustainable and illegal cutting of mature sandalwood trees, the senior District Administrator (Bupati) instituted a temporary ban on the logging of sandalwood within his jurisdiction. This exercise was conducted under the auspices of a traditional system of prohibition or taboo known as a ‘banu’. At a ceremony in a forested area near the district Capital, So’e, the ‘banu’ was raised and the collective group of senior clan elders of the wider territory agreed to abide by the strictures of the prohibition. The prohibition was known as the ‘banu’ to ‘guard and protect sandalwood’ (‘panat ma ampaloli haumeni’) and was an open ended agreement subject to review in the year 2000.
For a number of years this restriction is reported to have operated effectively. The populations of TTS by and large remain respectful towards the use of sanctioned protection measures based on ancestral traditions, primarily because the (mainly spiritual) sanctions are believed to be effective.15 However, in 1996 a number of Government initiatives worked to undermine the ban on harvesting. In that year the Provincial Department of Forestry (Kehutanan) completed an inventory of sandalwood stocks and calculated that the sustainable yield of sandalwood from TTS was around 350 tonnes per annum (Dinas Kehutanan, Kupang, NTT).
Furthermore the Provincial Department, in cooperation with its district counterpart (Dinas Kehutanan) agreed to implement a project, known as the ‘Operation friendship’ (Operasi bersahabat), designed to collect all the dried sandalwood from aged logs (pemutihan) that were thought to be secreted in villages and hamlets across the district. It is not clear on what basis this intelligence was obtained. Certainly it was (and still is) widely rumoured that Timorese villagers were hiding large stocks of dried and drying sandalwood as a means to thwart illegal harvesters and to avoid accusations of illegal harvesting themselves. The heartwood of sandalwood is very resistant to white ant and borer attack and can be stored for long periods of time without loss of quality (Cinatti, 1950: 12).
In any event, everyone it seems applied themselves to this collection exercise with enthusiasm and according to Forestry sources, initiated widespread felling of remaining existing aged trees to bolster the dried stocks which were offered up. As a result Forestry officials report that during 1996 some 1,743 tons16 of sandalwood timber was procured in this fashion from TTS alone. Even discounting stocks which had been stored for some time, the harvest was well over the estimated sustainable cut for the region, and substantially more than earlier Dutch Colonial assessments of sustainable yields (Ormeling, 1956: 176). It represented more than double the total production of the district for the previous 5 years (Dinas Perkebunan NTT, 1997). The plunder of sandalwood resulting from this misguided policy prompted the Governor of the Province to issue a decree (Instruksi Gubenur No12, 1997) completely banning the cutting of sandalwood in NTT Province for five years from 199717 at which time a further inventory would be taken and the bans reconsidered.
It is these recent bans which have led to the dramatic decline and cessation of Timorese sandalwood exports reported from the Province. Since then much stricter regulatory controls have been placed on commercial sandalwood manufacturers and local, predominantly Chinese, sandalwood artifact producers have struggled to maintain profitability. Limited to the use of existing stockpiles, the remaining sandalwood factories have tended to reduce production of sandalwood items and continue operations only on receipt of confirmed orders. The main products generated in the Kupang based sandalwood factories include carved objects (fans, pens, plaques, rosary beads) and aromatic oils. These tend to be sold in small quantities locally. There is also a continuing demand for milled sandalwood powder (serbuk), sandalwood incense sticks (dupa lidi) and cones (dupa kerujut) especially from Hindu Bali. In addition there is a small business in the manufacture of combustible sandalwood coils as insect repellents.
Despite this concerted effort to place a moratorium on the extraction and export of sandalwood from the region, there is, in fact, little evidence to show that the measures have had a positive impact in terms of conserving remaining growing stock. On the contrary, sandalwood continues to be logged illegally and there is widespread cynicism and suspicion directed at the Government and security authorities about current management and policing practices. With export prices buoyant at around USD 8.00 per kilogram ($8,000 per tonne 1998) for processed heartwood, there remains a strong incentive to bypass official controls on harvesting. Indeed, the formal banning of sandalwood extraction seems to have done little more than encourage increased illegal cutting and trade in the commodity throughout the territory.
A recent survey of the local Provincial newspaper (Pos Kupang), reveals that between 1997-1999 there have been multiple reported incidents of illegal sandalwood cutting and smuggling from the region. In the period between January and March 1998 alone, Police reported 41 cases of arrests or apprehensions for illegally procured sandalwood (Pos Kupang: 11 March 1998). Many of these cases involved modest quantities of sandalwood, much of which originates from small-scale extraction by local villagers to supplement farm incomes. However, there are also evidently more influential interests with financial or official backing who have been implicated in the illegal trade. In one feisty commentary in the local Pos Kupang it stated that;

…As usual the one or two kilograms carried by people is always confiscated by the security forces and they are held without due process. Yet the sandalwood of businesses which amounts to many tonnes, is allowed to pass because of collusion and nepotism. …The people and the Government of NTT are very much the losers in this matter because it is an issue that has happens time and again and continues (Pos Kupang 11 June 1998).18



This view appears to be shared widely among the citizenry throughout Timor. As one man from the district town of So’e described it to me, "They tried to ban the cutting, but it only got worse. People steal even the small trees for money and now there is no more sandalwood. It is no longer a money tree (hau loit), it has become a tree of dispute/acrimony (haumlasi)". He believed there was widespread collusion between certain businesses in Kupang and the ‘pejabat’ (officials) of all kinds who administer the sandalwood trade and management. As an example he referred to a recent case where a BRI (Bank Rakyat Indonesia – Indonesian Peoples Bank) vehicle loaded with sandalwood was given a police escort out of the district. While the exercise may have been entirely legitimate (although unlikely), there was at the very least a perception of wrongdoing that did little to bolster confidence in the monitoring system. There have been many similar cases. A recent example involved the confiscation of firearms and illegal purchased sandalwood (500kg) in central west Timor implicated a staff member of the District Prosecutors Office (Kejari) (Pos Kupang 19 October 1999).
Another celebrated case that underscores these complaints was pursued by the Provincial Prosecutors Office (Kejaksaan Negri) of Kupang during 1998. It involved accusations of a fraudulent auction of some 30 tonnes of sandalwood and the alleged collusion of highly placed Government Officials in the district capital of Soe (TTS) and Kupang with a favoured trader CV ‘SW’. The case extended into 1999 and the complexity of the case highlighted the confusion surrounding the proper or legal process whereby sandalwood is officially traded and the lack of accountability in terms of reporting the quality and quantity of the trades. As the prosecutor observed, "Why is it that the legal procedures for sandalwood are not clear up to now"? Answering his own query, he noted, "because it always involves officials acting privately and so it is difficult to apply legal sanctions [against official collusion]" (23 May 1998). The case undoubtedly prompted the Pos Kupang article (11 June 1998) which speaks of "all the sandalwood which has been recently logged, uncovered or confiscated, always being auctioned by officials to specific companies without following the procedures".
Other problems of accountability lie behind a number of cases involving very significant shipments of sandalwood from the Province. Certain Kupang based traders are permitted to undertake ‘inter-island’ (antarpulau) shipments of sandalwood to Surabaya in Java, based on pre-existing delivery orders. These arrangements, however, have frequently come under suspicion due to irregularities in procedural records and the opportunities for collusion over shipment quantities. Two 1998 cases involving over 150 tonnes of sandalwood shipped to Surabaya created sustained criticism and enquiry over alleged irregularities about sourcing and tax payments (Pos Kupang: July – Sept 1998). In March 1999, the Newspaper headline declared that the Province was facing a loss of Rp 1.34 billion (AUD260,000) due to illegal arrangements of these shipments (Pos Kupang 5 March 1999).
In addition to the suspicion directed against the involvement of civil officials in illegal or corrupt dealings with sandalwood, the role of the police and the army has also been questioned. Occasionally this is done directly, as in the report on 12 March 1998 that 6 cases of sandalwood theft involving 11 tonnes of sandalwood had been directed to the office of the Prosecutor (Kajaksaan Negeri). But, none of the cases had been brought to court because the police had refused to hand over the evidence that they had held since December 1997. Early in 1999 four soldiers from Oinlasi (South Central Timor) were jailed for being found with 570kg of illegally acquired sandalwood in an Army truck (Pos Kupang 2 March 1999). Another report cites the case of 8 Police arrested for allegedly illegally confiscating and selling 123kg of sandalwood products valued at Rp84.3million (AUD 16,800) (Pos Kupang 6 February 1999).
More typically, however, the identity of illegal sandalwood loggers are mentioned obliquely with offenders being referred to simply as ‘Anonymous groups’ (‘oknum - an acronym originally derived from the phrase kelompok anonumus meaning unidentified group, but now more typically used in the sense of the accused). In fact given the openness with which some of these groups operate, the possibility of Army or Police complicity is, at the very least, widely assumed. A recent article in the Pos Kupang for example states frankly that ‘Accused Police steal sandalwood ‘(Oknum Polisi curi cendana). It goes on to detail the circumstances whereby a police office was found to be actively involved in stealing 87.5kg of sandalwood in the village of Boentuka. Allegations were also made that implicated the District Police Chief (Kapolres) who vigorously denied any knowledge (Pos Kupang 22 November 1999). Similarly Monk (1997: 653) mentions a case where Authorities foiled attempts to smuggle 500kg of sandalwood reportedly worth some USD 12,000 from west into east Timor. Smuggling had apparently been rife during the previous two years (Jakarta Post 16 January 1995). Although not mentioned explicitly here, it is likely that these operations of ‘oknum oknum’ indicated Indonesian Army complicity if not direct involvement given their tight control over transport and trade in the former Province at the time.
The endemic problem of illegal sandalwood extraction and smuggling is also reported by Simpson (ACIL, 1999) who estimated that in the east Timorese district of Bobonaro alone, some 36 tons of sandalwood was illegally harvested and trucked away during the 1998 dry season. This was calculated to be worth around USD 163,800 annually and probably represented an unsustainable exploitation of the resource. The figure of 36 tons compares with the reported 40-50 tons of sandalwood legally harvested for the whole of East Timor (ACIL 1999: 40). Such activity was clearly sanctioned and probably organised by the Armed forces who were widely considered to control the bulk of trade in sandalwood from east Timor during the Indonesian period of rule.19




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