By Nikodemus Ale
from Simpul Jaringan Pantau Gambut

Seven districts held their local elections in West Kalimantan on 9 December 2020. This will be the second-largest local election in West Kalimantan, after the 2018 governor election, because half of all the districts and cities in West Kalimantan will participate in this election.

A total of 23 candidates competed in the 2020 Local Elections (Pilkada) in West Kalimantan. They have campaigned and presented each of their visions and missions to the public.

The vision and mission describe the candidate’s commitment, as well as their strategy, in developing the region and their partiality to the people. If elected as the head of the region, their vision and mission will become the local government’s vision and mission which will be outlined in the local medium-term development policies and plans.

Therefore, these visions and missions are very important because they will serve as the basis or reference in preparing the regional strategic programs and policies. The commitments specified in the vision and mission are far more trustworthy and binding compared to the verbal promises made during the campaign.

The vision and mission documents are official archives and are one of the requirements for the head of regions’ nomination. The candidate’s signatures on these documents come with a social, political, and moral responsibility to the public.

Based on our research, most of the candidates are committed to protecting the environment. This commitment is reflected in all the West Kalimantan Regional Head candidates’ vision and mission, which we downloaded from the Local Election Commission’s official website. This commitment was then elaborated into a number of regional strategic program plans. 

However, we believe that there has been an oversimplification of the environmental issues faced. The scope seems to only cover slum settlements, waste processing, and household waste. These issues are not irrelevant, but there are other, more fundamental issues, namely saving the ecosystem.

In their vision and mission, several candidates also put environmental issues as a part of their sustainable development programs.  Unfortunately, natural resource exploitation is still evident. They prioritize investment and economic interests rather than environmental conservation.

Article 22 of Law Number 32 of 2004 concerning Local Government Law requires all local governments to carry out environmental conservation efforts. Therefore, including environmental issues in the candidates’ vision, mission, and work programs should not be done for the sake of fulfilling the required formalities and constitutions.

We appreciate the commitment shown by a number of candidates, who explicitly include conservation efforts and saving the environment in their vision, mission, and featured programs. However, these commitments still need to be further evaluated.

On the other hand, we found that there two candidates from two different districts did not explicitly or implicitly include environmental issues in their vision, mission, or work programs. These two districts are facing very serious environmental issues and are vulnerable to ecological disasters.

Peat restoration

One of the most crucial environmental issues in West Kalimantan is peat conservation. This issue has even garnered international attention. Indonesia often receives complaints from many other countries due to the haze caused by the land and peat forest fires occurring in the country.

Peat damage also has a fatal effect on the rising groundwater levels, causing flooding, as was the case in a number of areas in West Kalimantan a few months ago. In addition, peat plays an important role in maintaining the earth's temperature. Indiscriminate fires and peatlands clearing has released carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and triggered global warming.

West Kalimantan has the fourth-largest peat area in Indonesia, with a total of 1.7 million hectares. This is equivalent to 11.6% of West Kalimantan’s total area of 14.68 million hectares. More than half of the peat area is located in plantation concession areas.

Peat areas are distributed throughout West Kalimantan, including in the seven districts that are holding their local elections this year. Based on the 2016 Peat Restoration Indicative Map, there is approximately 43,500 hectares of peat area in Bengkayang District, 265,600 hectares of peat area in Kapuas Hulu, 255,370 hectares of peat area in Ketapang, 5,419 hectares of peat area in Melawi, and 78,250 hectares of peat area in Sambas, 11,260 hectares of peat area in Sekadau, and 65,500 hectares of peat area in Sintang. 

The Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) is targeting to restore approximately 150,000 hectares of peat in West Kalimantan. This target covers approximately 27,000 hectares of protected areas and approximately 95,000 hectares of plantation concessions areas, as well as approximately 27,600 hectares of community-owned cultivated land.

The restoration target covers approximately 8.8% of the 1.7 million hectares of peatland in West Kalimantan. Kubu Raya District has the highest target for restoration areas (106,000 hectares or 70.66% ), followed by North Kayong (​​23,460 hectares or 15.64%), and Ketapang (5,790 hectares or 3.87%).

Peat restoration is carried out through three main activities, i.e. wetting, replanting, and revitalizing the community’s sources of livelihood. This is known as the 3R method (Rewetting, Revegetation, and Revitalization).

Commitment to peat conservation

Approximately 725,000 hectares or 42.65% of peatland in West Kalimantan are located in the seven districts that are holding an election in 2020. Therefore, this year's local election is a crucial moment because it will determine the fate of almost half of the peatland area conservation in the province.

Based on the candidates’ vision, mission, and work program, only one candidate shows concern for peat conservation. However, they only seem to continue the existing programs. They don't go into detail, let alone prepare a breakthrough, or at least offer realistic new ideas.

However, this candidate also included forest and land rehabilitation and commitment to law enforcement against environmental destruction perpetrators in their work program. Most of the West Kalimantan regional head candidates have similar programs with different packaging or formulation.

A number of candidates also included spatial planning and sustainable natural resource management issues. However, only a handful of candidates are making land fire prevention and control a priority program. This is very unfortunate because these problems are still present a latent hazard in their respective areas.

We conclude that the regional head candidates’ commitment towards peat conservation is still very minimal and shallow. This also illustrates that peat land-related issues have not been discussed often at the local level. 

Local governments continue to play an important role, although the primary peat conservation policies, which include forest and land fires, are under the central government’s authority. As the local area owners and authorities, the local governments can at least try to make these efforts more effective by supporting them through other programs and policies. After all, the environmental sector is a mandatory affair for every local government.

Peat ecosystem protection actually offers a great opportunity in the local economic development. It makes their region more attractive to investors because it is safe from ecological disaster threats. The superior local commodities can potentially reach the global market because international businessmen and consumers often reject products that originate from environmentally damaging economic activities.

Access to international non-profit organizations is also increasing. There are many funding schemes to support environmental conservation and sustainable development programs in the regions. (*)

*The author is the Executive Director of Walhi West Kalimantan and Coordinator of Simpul Jaringan Pantau Gambut - West Kalimantan 



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