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The omnibus jobs creation law was intended to simplify Indonesia’s complex web of overlapping regulations to make it easier for companies to do business in the country. It includes changes to more than 70 laws across the labor, business and environmental sectors.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has promised the law will help boost the country’s ailing coronavirus-hit economy by cutting through red tape and bureaucracy to attract foreign investment and create jobs in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

Union and Muslim groups are preparing to challenge the law in court and another wave of protests is expected this week, according to Reuters.

But while the protests have focused on concerns over labor rights, environmentalists say the law loosens environmental protections and could lead to widespread deforestation and habitat loss.

Indonesia’s rainforests are the world’s third largest after the Amazon and Africa’s Congo Basin and are ecologically important for their rich biodiversity, with animals including elephants, clouded leopards, sun bears and the critically endangered orangutan.

Deforestation is already driving many species toward extinction and environmentalists warn that the law could give them a “strong push towards the edge,” said Phelim Kine, senior Asia director at environmental campaign group Mighty Earth.

Why environmentalists are worried

Indonesia supplies more than half of the world’s palm oil and the industry contributes about 2.4% to the country’s GDP. But the industry is a major cause of deforestation in Indonesia and palm oil has had a devastating impact on the environment.

The new law will remove a requirement that Indonesian provinces have a forest cover of 30%, raising concerns that extractive industries and palm oil plantations could drastically step up land clearance and escalate conflicts over land and Indigenous rights.

Indonesian environmental group the Sustainable Madani Foundation warned that the law will weaken environmental protections for forests and several provinces that are home to palm oil plantations, like Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra, could completely lose their natural forests in 20 years.

“That’s staggering, that’s the equivalent of telling a United States citizen that an American corporation is going to raise Yosemite, or in the UK that they’ll pave the Lake District. The environmental impacts are almost incalculable,” Kine said.

<a href="https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2019/11/asia/borneo-climate-bomb-intl-hnk/">Borneo is burning: How the world's demand for palm oil is driving deforestation in Indonesia</a>

Adding to concerns is that previously, companies were responsible for environmental damage in their concessions, whether they were at fault or not. But environmentalists say these “strict liability” provisions are now vague and proof of wrongdoing is now required to prosecute the company.

Officials say this is to provide legal certainty in criminal investigations, according to Reuters, but environmentalists are worried it will weaken laws aimed at prosecuting companies that cause forest fires.

“We are afraid the changes of the liability mechanism will blur the lines in trial and hamper law enforcement for the forest fire issue,” said Grita Anindarini, a researcher for the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law.

Intense forest fires from land burning rage across Indonesia every year, with toxic haze spreading as far as Malaysia and Singapore. Farmland is burned to prepare for the next year’s crop and to clear forests, with the carbon-rich peat burning for weeks and creating a health crisis with disastrous consequences for the climate crisis.

Indonesia’s Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said on Twitter that the rights of Indigenous peoples and those living in forest areas have greater protection under the new law and that obligations for companies to maintain forest areas will in fact be tighter.

‘Major setback in environmental law’

Campaigners say the law makes changes to several other key environmental rules, including removing environmental reviews for many new projects.

It also integrates environmental permits with business permits and compliance monitoring will now be “risk-based.”

Companies would previously need to fill out an environmental impact assessment, called an AMDAL, to asses the impact their project would have on the environment and local communities. Now, only companies whose activities pose a “high risk” to the environment will need to secure this license.

“The government said high risk means (companies’) activities will have a significant impact on the environment, and if you have high risk activities you must conduct a environmental impact assessment,” said Grita, who added that it’s not clear what constitutes a high risk activity or how a company will be judged.

This picture taken on August 16, 2019 shows a palm oil fruit plantation in the Nagan Raya district in Indonesia's Aceh province.

According to Grita, companies now only need to consult those people “directly impacted” by the project, raising concerns that local people and environmental advocates will be left out of the consultation process. “It’s very unclear who is directly impacted,” she said.

The new rules have raised fears that the system of checks and balances on those polluting or exploiting the environment will be diminished.

This is a “major setback in environmental law,” Grita said.

But Environment Minister Siti said the law makes it easier for the government to revoke business permits for companies that undermine environmental laws.

“By combining the processing of the AMDAL license with the processing of business permits, if a company violates it, the government can revoke both at once,” the minister said on her official Twitter account.

She continued that corporations “playing around” in forest areas will be subject to “strict criminal sanctions.”

Moving forward

Environmentalists say Indonesia could have used the opportunity to recover its economy in a sustainable way.

“They could have made it a golden region for economic green growth with forest cover and biodiversity treated as priceless aspects rather than items to be pillaged,” Kine said.

Reuters reported that banks like Citibank and ANZ have said if the jobs law is implemented well, there will be a better investment climate for Indonesia.

But others within the industry say it may backfire. A group of 35 global investors managing $4.1 trillion in assets issued a letter to the Indonesian government warning of the damaging consequences for the environment, according to Reuters.

This aerial picture taken from a drone on January 9, 2019 shows trees in the Leuser ecosystem rainforest in the Subulussalam district, Aceh province.

Grita said that Indonesia’s environmental law is “one of the most progressive laws we have” and progress has been made in recent years to step up environmental protection, though implementation and monitoring is still weak. The palm oil industry in particular has come under pressure from buyers, financiers, and civil society groups among others to reduce deforestation and the destruction of peatlands.

Meanwhile, companies — including in Indonesia — are increasingly committing to “No Deforestation, No Peatland, No Exploitation” (NDPE) policies and major palm oil importers like the European Union and UK are considering stricter standards for agricultural imports. One UK proposal would prohibit companies that can’t prove their supply chains are not linked to illegal deforestation, and 21 major food firms, including McDonald’s, say the plans should be expanded to apply to all deforestation.

Concerns have also been raised that Indonesia’s new law will move the country’s environmental legislation away from international best practices.

There are calls for the government to repeal the law, and Kine said the focus now will be on ensuring it’s implemented in a way that “mitigates the extent of the damage that the law on its face can inflict.”

With reporting from Reuters.



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Operation Fox Hunt: China sent fugitive’s elderly father to America to coerce him into going home, US claims

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The case is believed to be part of the ruling Communist Party’s Operation Fox Hunt, an international anti-corruption campaign targeting Chinese fugitives — often former officials or rich individuals suspected of economic crimes.

The US Department of Justice said Wednesday the charges included “conspiring to act in the US as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China.” Five people have been arrested, while three are believed to be at large in China.

In 2016, the group — which includes an American-licensed private investigator — is alleged to have embarked on an illegal campaign targeting a former Chinese government official, who has lived in the US since 2010. They are accused of recording and harassing his daughter, taping a threatening note to his front door and flying his elderly father from China — allegedly against his will — in 2017 to pressure his son to return to China.

The note on the target’s New Jersey home said in Chinese: “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!”

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, US Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said the arrests sent a message that the US “will not tolerate this type of flagrant conduct on our shores.”

“Without coordination with our government, China’s repatriation squads enter the United States, surveil and locate the alleged fugitives, and deploy intimidation and other tactics to force them back into China where they would face certain imprisonment or worse following illegitimate trials,” he said.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that Chinese law enforcement agencies “conduct foreign cooperation in strict accordance with international law, fully respect foreign laws and judicial sovereignty.”

“The United States ignores the basic facts and uses ulterior motives to smear China’s work in pursuit of escaped and stolen goods. China firmly opposes this. We urge the US to immediately correct its mistakes,” he said.

Operation Fox Hunt

The Chinese government launched Operation Fox Hunt in 2014 to target wealthy citizens who were accused of corruption and had fled the country with large amounts of money.

Beijing authorities said at least 150 corrupt officials had fled to the US, and provided American counterparts with a list of “priority cases.”

Demers said such operations — regardless of whether the targets were guilty or not — were “a clear violation of the rule of law and international norms.”

“Rather than work with US authorities for assistance with recognized criminal cases as responsible nations do, China resorts to extralegal means and unauthorized, often covert, law enforcement activity,” he said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a news conference Wednesday that in a different Operation Fox Hunt case, the Chinese government had sent an “emissary” to the target’s US-based family warning that the person should “return to China promptly or commit suicide.”

Wray said that when Operation Fox Hunt targets refuse to return to China, family members in their home country “have even been arrested for leverage.”

“These are not the actions we would expect from a responsible nation state. Instead they’re more like something we would expect from an organized criminal syndicate,” Wray said.

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Van Drew’s defection to GOP haunts him in tight race

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Van Drew, like many of his Republican colleagues, now finds himself having to answer for an unpopular president, whose shaky handling of the coronavirus and inflammatory rhetoric has damaged the GOP’s standing nationwide, especially in the suburbs.

Van Drew currently trails in the polls to a well-funded Democratic challenger in Amy Kennedy, a former public school teacher who married into the Kennedy political dynasty. Kennedy is leading Van Drew by five points among registered voters, according to a Monmouth University poll from earlier this month, though it’s within the survey’s margin of error. POLITICO’s election forecasters rate the race as a “toss up.”

Democrats have tried to use Van Drew’s party change and sudden embrace of Trump as a cudgel, branding him as “switcheroo Van Drew” and accusing him of betraying his constituents for his own self interests. In one ad, Democrats even ribbed Van Drew for his taste for flashy suits in a bid to portray him as superficial and inauthentic.

“It felt like he was willing to do or say anything to keep his job,” said Kennedy, who decided to run for office after hearing Van Drew promise his unwavering loyalty to Trump. “There are a lot of people in the district who really respect someone who can be independent-minded, but that’s not what that felt like to them.”

In an interview, Van Drew defended his decision to abandon the Democratic Party, which caught his colleagues off guard and stunned Washington. Van Drew, a dentist who served in the state Legislature for over a decade, noted he was always a conservative-leaning Democrat. But Van Drew argued that the party abandoned its “big tent” principles and was no longer a good fit for him.

Yet despite pledging his fealty to Trump in an Oval Office sit-down, Van Drew now says he is not beholden to any leader — including the president. And Van Drew maintains that voters respect independent-minded politicians, especially in his south Jersey district just outside of Philadelphia, which went for Trump in 2016 but backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“You vote for the person,” said Van Drew, who won his seat by eight points in 2018. “It’s not your job to vote for me, if you were in my district, because I’m a Republican. It’s your job to think about the two candidates and which candidate would do a better job for the district.”

“I didn’t betray anybody,” he added. “When people call me up and they need help, whatever party they are, I help them.”

The match-up between Van Drew and Kennedy — which has become one of the most hotly-contested races in the country — has drawn national attention, with outside resources pouring in. Democrats are not only eager to win back a seat they thought they had already seized in 2018, but also seek revenge for Van Drew’s high-profile defection.

Kennedy, who has notched endorsements from Obama and Joe Biden, has outraised and outspent Van Drew. Kennedy has spent $1.2 million on the airwaves, compared to Van Drew’s $367,000, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. But Van Drew had roughly $600,000 more in the bank than Kennedy as of mid-October, according to the latest FEC reports.

Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to reward Van Drew for joining their ranks while also preventing the GOP from slipping further into the House minority. Since joining the party, Van Drew got a rally from Trump, desirable committee assignments from GOP leaders and a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.

Notably, Van Drew’s campaign message has focused on calls for bipartisanship and putting country over party. He talks more about American exceptionalism on the campaign trail than he does about Trump, though Van Drew confirmed he plans to vote for the president, despite endorsing home-state colleague Sen. Cory. Booker (D-N.J.) in the Democratic presidential primary.

Van Drew has also tried to label his opponent as a liberal Democrat who supports sanctuary cities, open borders and defunding the police.

“I believe the future of the country depends upon not just my election — of course, I’m not an egomaniac — but on the direction that we take,” Van Drew said. “And the direction that my opponent would want to take is significantly different than the direction I would want to take.”

Switching parties has yielded mixed results in the past, so it was always going to be an electoral gamble for Van Drew, strategists say. He risks infuriating the Democrats who backed him in 2018, while there’s no guarantee Republican voters will trust him. And independents might be turned off by his tight embrace of Trump.

Nearly half of registered voters said they were bothered by Van Drew now running for Congress as a Republican, according to the Monmouth University poll.

Crossing the aisle may have looked like a safer bet for Van Drew during the height of impeachment, when there was widespread concern that swing-district Democrats could suffer at the polls because of the party’s efforts to oust the president.

Had he remained in the Democratic Party and maintained his opposition to impeachment, Van Drew would have likely faced a primary challenge from the left. Before he became a Republican, polling commissioned by Van Drew’s campaign showed just 24 percent of Democratic primary voters believed the congressman deserved to be reelected.

But the political landscape has changed vastly since then. Trump’s approval ratings have slumped both nationally and in Van Drew’s district. The sagging economy is further clouding the outlook for Republicans up and down the ballot. The Monmouth University poll has Joe Biden with a narrow, three-point lead over Trump in a “high turnout” election in the district.

“The president’s popularity has gone down. That hurts someone who pledged undying allegiance to Trump,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican operative and former adviser to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Meanwhile, many frontline Democrats are actually well-positioned heading into November, defying expectations and fueling hopes that their party could actually pad their majority even further. And the election has largely been dominated by the coronavirus — not impeachment.

“No one cares about impeachment anymore. It seems like 10 years ago, not 10 months ago.” DuHaime added.

On the coronavirus, Van Drew has echoed Trump’s rhetoric. He railed against health restrictions dampening the economy, highlighted how Trump overcame the virus, criticized D.C. residents for wearing masks even alone in their cars and called on Washington to “go big” on a stimulus package.

“You know what makes people upset where I am in my district? The people that went out of business, the people that lost everything they own, the people that can’t even keep their homes, the people who work for the casinos,” he said.

Van Drew also said he has worked tirelessly on constituent services during the pandemic, which could help boost him in the race. And GOP strategists say Van Drew will likely once again attract some crossover voters — but it may not be enough.

“He has always won because people transcended party to vote for him. But is that enough in a year where Trump is so dominant on the ballot and affecting how everyone views everything?” DuHaime asked. “Now, just so many people this year are voting party-line to send a message to Trump.”

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The NHS Covid-19 App Has Only Had Half The Downloads NHS Advisors Say It Needs To Help Stop the Coronavirus Pandemic

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The NHS Covid-19 app has been downloaded over 19 million times (PA)


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The official NHS Covid-19 app has only been downloaded by 40% of adults with eligible smartphones—half the number researchers say is needed to effectively halt the spread of the virus.

Experts from the University of Oxford claimed in April that 56% of the general population, or 80% of current smartphone owners, would need to use a contact-tracing app for it to be effective in helping stop the coronavirus.

Speaking to the BBC earlier this year, Professor Christophe Fraser, a member of the modelling team which advised the NHS on the contact tracing app, said this was “a very ambitious target”.

But he added that the app would still have an effect if fewer people downloading it, with his team estimating that one infection could be averted for every one to two users.

The app, which tracks who a user has been in contact with using anonymous bluetooth data, has now been downloaded 19 million times since it went live on 24 September, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

These latest figures came alongside an announcement of the latest updates to the app, which included improvements to its accuracy and fixes to prevent incorrect exposure notifications.

Following its launch, some users complained that they had received notifications from the app telling them to self-isolated which later disappeared.

But, a DHSC spokesperson insisted such messages were “default privacy notifications from Apple and Google, who provide the underlying framework on which this and many other countries’ Bluetooth contact tracing apps are based.”

The most recent update has reportedly improved the app’s ability to judge the distance between users and so better estimate when there is a risk of infection. 

Gaby Appleton, director of product for NHS Test and Trace, said she hoped these changes would “make it as simple as possible to keep users and their loved ones safe”.

“We are thrilled that over 19 million people have chosen to download the app to help protect their loved ones while preserving their privacy, and that over 680,000 QR codes have been created by businesses to support digital contact tracing,” she continued.

The DHSC also announced that the NHS Covid-19 app, which currently only operates in England and Wales, will soon become interoperable with contact tracing apps in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey and Gibraltar.

Under a proposed system set to be launched in November, users who test positive on any of the apps can choose to upload their anonymous Bluetooth key to all app users across the UK.

 

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