January 30, 2020

WWF reacts after agreement ended, ministry counters

JAKARTA ( - The Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry has cut ties with WWF Indonesia. This 1998 joint agreement was ended, with effect from the beginning of January this year, because the organization was determined to have committed violations of principles, violations of substance, as well as violations on the ground level.

In a written response posted on its website (Jan 28), WWF Indonesia lamented the ministry’s legal move, claiming it was made unilaterally with no room for direct communication or consultation to deliberate and reach a consensus, as stipulated in their cooperation agreement.

In reaction to this WWF claim, the Ministry's Director General of Nature Conservation and Ecosystems Wiratno instead questioned the conservation organization’s lack of awareness about violations it has committed for years.

“Is it permissible for WWF to make work plans unilaterally, then raise funds from this and work beyond the boundaries of the joint written agreement? The answer to this is obviously a big no. Nonetheless, these practices have been carried out by WWF for years," he said.

“WWF has not engaged in any communication or consultation either, nor has it reported any progress to the ministry as part of the implementation of the joint agreement. Is WWF not aware of this? Is WWF allowed to do this? Once again, this is obviously a big no,” the director general added.

WWF Indonesia is the majority shareholder of PT ABT, parts of whose ecosystem restoration concession were burned again in 2019 (as depicted in the photos below) after also being seriously afflicted by fires in 2015. This was also one of the key reasons underlying the ministry’s severing of cooperation with WWF.

Destroying WWF’s reputation?

WWF Indonesia, the country’s largest conservation organization, also wrote that the unilateral termination of the joint agreement is detrimental to the reputation it has built over more than half a century of active support for conservation and sustainable development efforts in Indonesia.

Wiratno once again refuted this assertion by WWF, saying "On the contrary, WWF is destroying its own reputation by working in transgressive ways that do not respect the joint agreement."

“WWF has engaged in numerous unilateral practices in relation to the implementation of the joint agreement. As such, WWF has only itself to blame for harming its reputation,” he explained.

He strongly advised WWF to improve its own reputation, including by allocating sufficient resources to meet legal compliance in terms of forest fire control facilities and infrastructure in its company concession (PT ABT), as well as by restoring burned areas (as seen in the photos below) in line with the sanction imposed on it by the ministry.

Legal action welcomed

WWF, in its written response, went on to state that it is “also within our rights to consider other measures, including legal action, if appropriate.” Director General Wiratno retorted by encouraging the organization to consider legal action if it so wishes. 

"We would certainly welcome any decision by WWF to take legal action because the ministry is very ready with a myriad of legal evidence to prove the serious violations this organization has committed for years in implementing the joint agreement."

The ministry is accustomed to and often fights lawsuits in court, added the general director, especially against companies linked to forest and land fires. 

"WWF also owns a company linked to fires which is now under sanction by the ministry. So, the WWF is welcome to go ahead with its option of taking legal action (against the ministerial decree)," he stressed.

Peat agency evaluating collaboration with WWF

In response to the ministry's legal move to end the joint agreement with WWF, the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) is also evaluating its collaboration with WWF Indonesia.

“We are evaluating our collaboration (with WWF Indonesia) and of course the ministerial decree (which ended the joint agreement with the organization) will serve as a reference,” Peat Agency Chief Nazir Foead confirmed in writing in response to a question from (Jan 29).

The peat agency's evaluation of its collaboration with WWF is appropriate given that one of the clauses of the ministerial decree clearly stipulates that the joint agreement between WWF and other government institutions linked to the coverage of forestry and environmental authorities cannot be used as a valid legal basis.