Indonesia’s Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Minister Susi Pudjiastuti has her own way of implementing fishery and environmental protection – she sinks ships.

The 50-something, tattooed, chain smoking, surfboarding, high-school dropout turned self-made businesswomen, owner of a small airline and Indonesia’s most popular cabinet member, has a novel approach to her job – when foreign factory fishing boats are caught poaching in Indonesian waters, the boats are impounded, crews are charged in court, and contrary to international practice the guilty vessels are not auctioned off. Pudjiastuti has them towed offshore and sunk.

So far, 363 boats operating in the country illegally have been scrubbed of their parts, nets and fuel and sent to the bottom of the sea, quite dramatically, in front of TV cameras and the Indonesian military are invited to use them as target practice. “We only used to blow up a few boats for show,” she admits. “Now we just drill holes in the bottom.”

The policy sends a signal to Russian, Taiwanese or Chinese conglomerates that they are going to lose their boats permanently and they are going to be permanently embedded in Indonesia’s expanding marine park and coral reef network.

Last year, following the upsurge of toxic publicity surrounding the UN Ocean Plastic Pollution, Pudjiastuti’s ministry was handed responsibility for co-ordinating the clean-up. Her first move was to test new technologies and melt waste plastics with bitumen for road building (see Plastics in Packaging, September 2017).

Pudjiastuti’s latest strategy is to ban plastics water bottles. Of course, she doesn’t have the power or authority to actually implement a nationwide ban on PET bottles, but she does have the power and authority to ban them within her ministry.

Following a recent Ministerial instruction from Pudjiastuti, all civil servants, employees of the Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs are forbidden from bringing single-use plastics bottles to work. Anyone caught in breach will be fined IDR500,000 (US$36). There’s also a whistle-blower reward of 20 per cent.

“I banned them completely. I fine anyone who brings any bottled mineral water,” Pudjiastuti said. “There are plenty of options: water dispensers in offices; bring your own refillable bottles. It is important to reduce these single-use plastics bottles.”

Meanwhile, across town, three other ministries are wrestling with implementing a two-year-old promise to impose a tax on plastics. The ministries of Finance, Industry and Environment are once again tossing the hot-potato promise to tax plastics to each other. The plastics tax was announced in 2016 (see Plastics in Packaging, October 2016), trialed for a couple of months in Jakarta and several major cities and then quietly dropped.

However, the plans have been revived, scaled back from an across the board tax on all plastics packaging to the imposition of an excise tax on just plastics bags, effective this year, in an effort to cut down plastics use and diversify excise revenue. The Finance Ministry is looking at a new tax on plastics bags to diversify its excise tax collection base, which is currently centered on tobacco-related products, and is also looking at raising US$35 million (Rp 500 billion) in additional state budget revenue from the new excise tax.

Heru Pambudi, Director General of Customs and Excise at the Ministry of Finance, said: “The government will start imposing the excise on plastics in May, as the draft of a government regulation on the matter was being discussed by the relevant agencies. The important thing is to get approval from the House of Representatives’ Commission XI to impose the plastics bag excise tax, which is ready to be submitted by the government.”

The House of Representatives’ Commission XI oversees the finance sector and banks.

Pambudi said the tax will have two levels, with “tariffs on recycled plastics being lower than those of non-recyclable plastics to encourage the development of environment-friendly products. Companies that use recycled materials will receive fiscal incentives”.

With one month to go before the introduction of the tax, Indonesia still has to issue implementation regulations, particularly with regard to the two-level tax structure and what exactly ‘non-recyclable’ plastics are. The country aims to reduce the amount of its plastics marine debris by 70 per cent by 2025.

 

Push-back

However, the Indonesian Olefin, Aromatic and Plastic Industry Association (Inaplas) is having none of it, and lodged an objection to the planned excise tax. According to Inaplas’ deputy chairman Suhat Miyarso, the main issue of plastics waste is the failure of national and local authorities to create effective waste management systems, including a plastics waste stream. The increased use of plastics products, particularly bags, is not the problem, he says, but the failure to dispose of them is.

“Imposing an excise tax on plastics will have wide impact on the plastics industry and related industries that use plastics, which are mostly small and medium enterprises,” said Miyarso.

He argued that imposing an excise on plastics would also affect the investment climate, particularly in the plastics industry, which certainly would impact the upstream petrochemical industry.

Miyarso said that instead of imposing an excise on plastics, the government needed to improve waste management by involving the people, whose awareness to protecting the environment was beginning to grow, as indicated by the emergence of NGOs campaigning for reducing reusing, recycling garbage.