INDONESIA - The environmental activist non-governmental organisation (NGO), Greenpeace, familiar with in-depth probing investigations, is itself on the receiving end of a probe amid allegations of money laundering to fund its campaigns in Indonesia.
The Indonesian House of Representatives Committee for Security and Foreign Affairs has issued a summons to Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa to appear before it and provide an “explanation about environmental group Greenpeace’s continuing presence in Indonesia”.
Greenpeace, it will be remembered, has taken aim at a wide range of packaging materials and with considerable success; in 2004 it successfully protested against the Japanese Asahi Brewery’s plans to introduce PET beer bottles, with the claim that returnable glass bottles were more environmentally friendly than plastics. The brewer found to its cost that in the face of the populist emotive activist tactics deployed by the NGO, attempting to explain the complexity of a Life Cycle Analysis was beyond the skills of even the most professional PR agency. The plan was abandoned.
Global mass-action campaigns against plastics bags and the Pacific Garbage Patch have also brought success.
Recently Greenpeace Indonesia has become even more outspoken in the country.
The new tactic has been to target major international brands such as Nestlé and Unilever for their purchase of packaging materials or palm oil, used for cooking, from Indonesian suppliers. Specifically mentioned is SinarMas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART), a company related to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP).
Both multinationals suspended purchases of palm oil from Indonesian supplier SMART, following an international media campaign accusing the brand owners of being directly responsible for endangering the rare Sumatran tiger. SMART, said the NGO, had cleared the natural forests – the tiger’s habitat – to make way for palm oil plantations, a charge denied by the company.
The global campaign made worldwide headlines and the brand owners dropped the APP subsidiaries from their suppliers’ lists.
More recently Barbie, the Mattel doll, featured in a Greenpeace animated video as a chainsaw-wielding bimbo rampaging through the Indonesian rain forests in search of cheaper packaging to wrap herself in. On hearing this her boyfriend, Ken, is horrified and promptly ends the relationship leading to global headlines ‘Barbie and Ken – It’s over!’ In the face of this clever campaign Mattel announced that it was terminating contracts with APP.
Meanwhile, at grassroots level, Greenpeace regularly hosts training camps for Indonesian students to learn the tactics of environmental activism.
Since the Greenpeace attack, SMART’s parent company, Golden Agri Resources, which accounts for 10% of Indonesia’s oil palm production, has been working with environmental group The Forest Trust on the implementation of a Forest Conservation Policy. The plan would ensure that the company has no deforestation footprint and also seeks sustainable growth.
Unilever has also announced that it is re-evaluating its suppliers and is ‘convinced’ of SMART’s intentions, but had not yet made a purchasing decision.
Green money laundering
In the face of this global green vilification, the Indonesian government is intent on turning the tables on the foreign organisation. House Committee member Effendy Choirie believes that Greenpeace did Indonesia more harm than good and has said, “We need to know what Greenpeace’s real motivations are.”
The probe stems from demands by multi-faith religious organisations, the Muslim Indonesian Council of Ulema and the Christian Indonesian Bishops Conference that Greenpeace be investigated based on allegations that it had received €7 million ($10m) from the Netherlands postcode lottery.
Under international law this could be construed by the Indonesian courts as money laundering, since the money generated by gambling was donated to Greenpeace in the Netherlands and allegedly transferred to fund its activities in Indonesia.
Lotteries, and gambling in general, are illegal in Indonesia, whether for charitable purposes or otherwise, and while the organisation has been a thorn in the side of government and big business in Indonesia for some years, it is the allegations that an Indonesia-registered NGO, with a radical environmentalist agenda, is in receipt of gambling money from overseas that angered both the churchmen and the House of Representatives.
In a separate statement, committee member, Achmad Muqowam, questioned why Greenpeace had remained silent over the source of its funding: “It is as if Greenpeace is playing hide and seek. They said they didn’t have any funding sources but later it was revealed that they did. It proves that the NGO has a hidden agenda.”
Greenpeace set up its office in Jakarta in 2006 with a permit from the Ministry of Law and Human Rights. Under the 1985 Indonesian Law on Mass Organizations, all NGOs receiving money from foreign countries are required to report their financial statements to the government. Foreign-funded NGOs are also required to report their financial sources and activities in Indonesia.
According to Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman Reydonnyzar Moeloek: “The compliance level of foreign-funded NGOs in reporting their financial statements is very low,” adding that the ministry would disband NGOs that failed to obey the law.
“It is not fair if foreign-funded NGOs campaign for transparency in the government, while they are not willing to report financial statements to the public,” he said.
Greenpeace Indonesia has repeatedly denied that its operation in Indonesia is funded by foreign sources, saying that most of its money is raised through donations from Indonesians.
However, a page on the NGO’s Dutch website shows Greenpeace director Sylvia Borren receiving a cheque for €2.25 million ($3m) from the National Postcode Lottery alongside a headline ‘Greenpeace thanks all participants in the National Postcode Lottery for this fantastic contribution’.
Meanwhile, a Greenpeace International financial report obtained by the House Committee allegedly shows that UK£620,000 ($969,000) was disbursed from its headquarters in the Netherlands to Greenpeace Indonesia through Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s representative office.
The NGO issued a statement of accounts, as an announcement in the Jakarta Post, in response to government demands that it publish details of its finances. This shows an entry ‘Donations and other revenue’ from Greenpeace SEA Foundation of IDR 1.76 billion (approximately US$199,000).
In a statement, Justice and Human Rights Minister, Patrialis Akbar, said: “That’s not allowed, especially when the funding came from a gambling budget and is used for efforts to fight against the government. I will immediately oust Greenpeace,” claimed Patrialis in Jakarta last month.
There is a lot at stake as Greenpeace ramps up the environmental pressure on Indonesia. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2009 stated that his government was devising a policy that would cut the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 26% by 2020 from “business as usual” levels. A significant contribution to this reduction would come from Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, known as REDD+.
A letter of intent (LoI) was signed between the Indonesian and Norwegian governments in Oslo in late May last year which pledged up to US$1 billion in aid for Indonesia’s climate change efforts. This is the biggest single item of support any country has given Indonesia to date in the area of environmental management and climate change, and a significant initial step toward saving Indonesia’s peat-lands and natural forests, which represent one of the world’s largest carbon sinks that suck up carbon dioxide.
Under the legally binding agreement, REDD+ must prioritise the termination of the conversion of natural forests, peat-lands and other terrestrial ecosystems that are rich in carbon and have significant ecological and social values, but are at risk of being converted or destructively logged.
However, REDD+ is also required to clearly state that halting deforestation will not hinder development in other sectors.
The Greenpeace campaigns are aimed at disrupting this process, according to Plastics in Packaging sources close to the negotiations: “The NGO clearly has a view that it is entitled to a seat at the discussion table and by initiating international campaigns aimed at casting doubt on the government’s sincerity, or ability to control big agri-businesses such as the APP and SMART group.
“There appears to be the belief that one of the parties (either the EU or Indonesian government) will cave-in and invite them to participate in the government-level negotiations.”
If that is indeed the NGO’s agenda, it is not working. UK political support for Indonesian government’s efforts in countering climate change came in a statement from Environment Minister Jim Paice, following a conference in Jakarta held in September 2011, while the Ken-dumps-Barbie campaign was being launched: “Indonesia is leading the way in Asia and has one of the biggest areas of forest in the world. Six countries have now signed agreements with the EU, and another four are in negotiation.
“If we’re going to stop the decline in biodiversity, we need to protect the forests that house the majority of the world’s species. And we can’t address climate change properly unless we deal with deforestation. I’m delighted that Indonesia has signed up to this agreement and I hope other countries in Asia will follow their lead.”
Back-footed for its apparent lack of transparency, Greenpeace has understandably denied the allegations of money laundering. The NGO’s Indonesia representative, Nur Hidayati, rebuffed claims the group received lottery money to fund its operations. “The backbone of our financial resources are donations from Indonesian people, with a membership of more than 30,000,” she told The Jakarta Post.
Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar is having none of it: “If the (gambling) funds are used to condemn Indonesia’s environmental problems overseas, it can be categorised as rebellion.”
That could, of course, put the ball in an entirely different court.