Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Tale of Two Bupatis....

Coffee cultivation in Kerinci Seblat national park at Meragin
Today's post is a kind of continuation of a previous post about illegal cultivation at Kerinci Seblat National Park.  The post discusses how the structure of government has changed in Indonesia, and how these changes are complicating conservation at the park. 

The structure of formal power in Indonesia...

Part of my research here at Kerinci Seblat National Park focuses on how power and authority are exercised around the park, and how this affects the functioning of the park.  The general idea is that the politics and political systems around the park have an impact on conservation in the park.  The most powerful people in this new political landscape are the bupatis, or district headmen. 

Like the US, Indonesia has several levels of political organization.  In most states in the US, there are four main levels of government: town, county, state, nation.  Each of these levels has different rights and responsibilities.  Indonesia has 5 levels of government.  The most basic is the kelurahan, which varies in size from place to place but is generally several hundred people.  The next step up is the kecamatan, generally translated as "sub-district".  The kecamatan is led by a camat.  Above this we find the kabupaten level.  Kabupaten is usually translated as "district" or "regency".  The kabupaten is led by a bupati.  The next highest level is the "provinsi" or province, led by a gubernor or governor.  There are 43 of these currently and they are roughly analogous to counties in the US.  The top level is the central government in Jakarta. 

Until about 12 years ago each of these levels of government could be thought of as links in a chain of power linking Jakarta with the lowliest village in the remotest part of the archipelago (1).  The country was led from the late 60s to the late 90s by Suharto, an authoritarian ruler who used the five levels of government to control the country.  During the Orde Baru all the governors and bupatis were appointed by Suharto and his associates, so "power" radiated from the center of the country, like spokes on a wheel.  In 1998, however, Suharto was deposed, which created a power vacuum.  The people of Indonesia wanted to weaken the power of the central government because Suharto had gotten too powerful.  So they changed the constitution and made the regencies much more independent and the bupatis much more powerful.  A later amendment to the constitution made it so the bupatis would be directly elected.  The upshot of this is that the bupatis are now much more powerful than before, while at the same time being freed from the chain of authority radiating from Jakarta.

The new reality....

Kerinci Seblat National Park covers parts of 15 different districts.  We've already learned that encroachment and illegal cultivation are big problems at the park.  The park is responsible for policing its own borders, but it depends on the cooperation of the surrounding districts for support in terms of law enforcement and criminal proceedings.  As we've seen previously, one of the biggest problems facing Kerinci Seblat National Park is the tens of thousands of people farming illegally within the park's borders.  This issue came to a head in two regions late last year (2010).  In Kerinci and Merangin regions the bupatis agreed to cooperate with the park to evict encroaching farmers.  The way the story played out is an excellent example of how politics affects conservation.

Photo from infojambi.com. 
A Nalim, the bupati of Merangin Regency, has a reputation in his short tenure as headman for his willingness to tackle tough problems.  In early 2010 he reached an agreement with the park that something had to be done about the 12,000 or so people living and farming illegally inside the park.  People had been settling in the park since the mid 1990s, most of them coming from other parts of Sumatra.  At first there were a few hundred, but through time the new settlements reached into thousands and began to outnumber the local residents, who managed the land according to long-standing traditional regulations (2).  Pak Nalim ordered signs posted and notices circulated informing the farmers that they faced eviction in November if they didn't choose to leave voluntarily.  As you can imagine, this caused quite a bit of consternation in the encroaching communities; many of them had been established for a long time and had even built schools and mosques.  As the November deadline approached, farmers and their families slowly moved out of the park, giving up what they felt, by rights, was their land.  In November the bupati sent in a multi-agency taskforce to clear out any holdouts and to demolish houses and other structures.  This whole episode has stirred up questions about human rights, not to mention those concerning the fate of those evicted.  Regardless of the wisdom of the action, no one can accuse Pak Nalim of failing to support the park. 

Murasman, the bupati of Kerinci, also agreed to an eviction deadline for encroaching farmers in his region, but for different reasons (3).  In contrast to Pak Nalim, Pak Murasman has a different sort of reputation.  In his 2 years as bupati he's been quite antagonistic towards the park.  His argument is that the park covers 52% of Kerinci region, an area that can't be developed and has no immediate benefits for the citizens of his regions.  Since Kerinci region is located in an enclave within the park, Pak Murasman's plans to build roads to connect the region to other areas have been foiled, because roads passing through the park need special permission from the Ministry of Forestry, which has not been forthcoming.  Pak Murasman has cleverly used the existence of the park for political gain; he portrays the park as a common enemy of the people of Kerinci and positions himself as their champion.  He is very adept at appealing to the emotions of people; one of his favorite lines has become something of a slogan around here:

"Kita disuruh menjaga TNKS, tapi mana konvensasi untuk rakyat Kerinci?  Dunia berkoar-koar mengatakan TNKS paru-paru dunia, tapi mereka tidak memperhatikan paru-paru masyarakat Kerinci."

We are ordered to guard Kerinci Seblat national park, but where's the compensation for the people of Kerinci?  The world cries out that Kerinci Seblat national park is the "lungs of the earth", but they don't pay attention to the lungs of the people of Kerinci. 

This is a very powerful message around here, but it's not entirely accurate.  I'll elaborate further in future posts as to the relationship between the people here and the park.  Suffice it to say that this can be described as a political strategy; numerous complaints have arisen about problems that don't seem to get solved in Kerinci region (4), and so the park serves as a convenient distraction.  But regardless of the relationship between the bupati and the park, people here took the eviction deadline quite seriously, and, just as they were in Merangin, were quite concerned about the future.

However, when the deadline rolled around, Pak Murasman claimed that the border markers delineating the park's boundaries had disappeared, and so the people had no way of knowing they were in the park (5).  They were therefore not in the wrong, said Pak Murasman, and he refused to carry out the eviction orders.  As a result, the people are still there.

Thus we have two different approaches to a common problem.  The anecdotes above show us that conservation is not just about plants and animals; it's a political activity as well.  And the success of conservation efforts at places like Kerinci Seblat National Park are very much influenced by the politics of places just outside the borders.  Over the next year here I'll be exploring this issue and others like it further. 


(1)  This is something of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. 

(2)  These traditional rules are known widely as adat in Indonesia and have been recognized as having legal validity.

(3)  Which I will not be discussing in this post for a number of reasons....

(4)  Incidentally, two times in the past week alone Pak Murasman or his "close associates" have been reported to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

(5)  Many (maybe most) of the park's boundary markers are in disrepair or are non-existent.  Many of those missing have been moved or destroyed by encroachers.

1 comment:

  1. From reading this entry, I can see where you're going with this. The people living/cultivating in the park have been there for 10+ years and had no way of knowing that they were within the border. Maybe somehow the government could overlook the rules and regulations and see what the farmers have done for the land. They made it better and by maintaining "the lungs of the land" the geographical atmosphere of this said area will benefit not only the people living within the park, but to all those in Indonesia.