MAC: Mines and Communities

Government concludes Buyat Bay polluted

Published by MAC on 2004-11-25

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Government concludes Buyat Bay polluted

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

November 25 2004

After long and exhaustive tests carried out by a number of local and international teams, the government concluded on Wednesday that Buyat Bay, North Sulawesi, was indeed polluted and vowed to hold the polluters responsible for the environmental crime.

Speaking after a meeting with Vice President Jusuf Kalla, Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Alwi Shihab said the bay contained high levels of metals and chemicals, and the government would file a law suit with the appropriate court.

"The recent verification of the government team's test results has confirmed that the bay is contaminated with arsenic, but we will leave it to the courts to determine the level of pollution and who are responsible," Alwi told a press conference.

Also attending the conference were State Minister of Research and Technology Kusmayanto Kadiman and State Minister of the Environment Rachmat Witoelar.

A joint team of government officials, activists and police had concluded earlier through laboratory tests that the bay was indeed polluted with excessive levels of arsenic and mercury.

The people of Buyat have blamed the pollution on PT Newmont Minahasa Raya, which is the only mining firm operating in the area and which has been dumping its tailings into the bay since 1996.

The team's test results were taken to the research and technology office to be verified, and were confirmed to be accurate in indicating that the bay was polluted.

The verified results show similarities to tests carried out independently by the police.

Newmont has persistently refuted the allegation, saying that the bay was not contaminated and that the metal levels were within safety standards.

Rachmat said the government would pursue legal recourse against the mining firm if evidence arose that pointed to the firm's involvement in the pollution.

"I suppose the levels of arsenic and mercury are not that much higher than the standard, but the people there are suffering ailments because of the pollution," he said.

He added that the government would charge those responsible for the crime under Law No. 23/1997 on environmental management.

Violations of the law, especially those that cause death, are subject to a maximum 15-year sentence and a maximum Rp 750 million (US$84,270) fine. The law also allows the confiscation of any profit gained by the guilty party through the violations.

Also on Wednesday, lawmakers from the House of Representatives Commission VIII for environmental, science and technology affairs said the government should take into account the roles of previous administrations that should have monitored Newmont's operations and their environmental impact.

The legislators, who held a hearing with the joint team to review its test results, said the police should question ministers and officials who had a role in granting the company permission to operate and in monitoring the company's management of tailings.

The police have detained six Newmont executives and recently submitted their case files to the North Sulawesi Prosecutor's Office.

Contacted separately, Newmont lawyer Luhut M. Pangaribuan said the firm would respect and act in accordance with the legal procedures taken against them.

"It's a problem of two different opinions, which brings us to the question of the methodology used. We stick to our statement that the metals in the bay's water and fish are within the safety levels and are therefore fit for consumption," Luhut said.

He deplored the refusal of police to listen to facts and statements from experts put forth by Newmont, and said the police were being subjective and fanatic about their own pollution claim.

Indonesia says Newmont Mining Case up to Court

Planet Ark (Reuters)

November 25, 2004

Jakarta - A controversial pollution case involving the world's largest gold miner, Newmont Mining Corp., should be left to Indonesian courts, the government said on Wednesday.

Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab made the comment after meeting Vice President Jusuf Kalla to discuss a government-commissioned probe that found sediment in Buyat Bay near a mine run by PT Newmont Minahasa Raya had significant levels of arsenic and mercury. "The result of the integrated team has shown pollution which violates regulations," said Shihab.

"It will be determined by the court."

Newmont maintains the North Sulawesi bay, some 2,200 km (1,400 miles) from Jakarta, is not contaminated by it, and has said it followed Indonesian laws.

Indonesian police have named six Newmont executives -- two Americans, one Australian, and three Indonesians -- as suspects, while prosecutors will decide whether to formally charge them.

Five were detained for weeks over the matter and currently their movements are still restricted.

Charges of breaching environmental rules carry jail terms of up to 15 years in Indonesia if people are proven to have died or become seriously ill as a result of pollution, police say.

The report found fish in the bay were contaminated with enough arsenic to make them dangerous for human consumption.

It recommended the health ministry carry out more tests on villagers who have complained of rashes, breathing difficulties and dizziness. The ministry should also consider moving villagers from an area with high risk to human health, it said.

The findings were the latest of several studies on Buyat Bay after some villagers from the area filed a $543 million lawsuit against Newmont, charging waste from the mine had caused serious illnesses and ruined the local fishing industry.

Newmont has said it was vindicated by two earlier studies -- one by the Indonesian government and another by the World Health Organisation -- which concluded Buyat Bay was not polluted.

There have also been some questions raised over whether the latest report properly interpreted the data.

Industry groups have agreed with the US embassy that the handling of the case, especially the detention of the executives, could be a hurdle to foreign investment.

Environmental organisations say Indonesia has been lenient about polluters in the past and the case should be vigorously pursued.

Indonesia to ban mines' disputed waste disposal method

By Shawn Donnan in Jakarta, Financial Times

December 2 2004

Indonesia plans to impose a de facto ban on a controversial method of waste disposal at the centre of pollution allegations levelled at the world's largest gold producer, the environment minister said yesterday.

In the latest of a string of high profile legal disputes involving foreign investors in Indonesia, six executives from Newmont, the mining company based in Denver, could face criminal charges over allegations of pollution caused by one of the company's mines.

The allegations, which surfaced earlier this year before the planned closure of Newmont's Minahasa Raya mine in North Sulawesi province, resulted from its disposal of treated waste in a bay nearby.

The disposal technique, known as submarine tailings, is the subject of a worldwide dispute between the mining industry and environmentalists. The latter claim it is used only in developing countries where regulations are less stringent than the US or Europe.

In the case of its Indonesian mine, Newmont claims the waste is innocuous and that independent experts have determined that no pollution has occurred. But environmentalists have blamed what they say are elevated levels of arsenic and mercury in the waste for health problems reported by local villagers.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Rachmat Witoelar, the environment minister, said Jakarta planned to file a separate lawsuit against Newmont so that the dispute could be resolved by the courts.

He also said Indonesia would "follow the wisdom" of countries in North America and Europe and in effect ban miners from using submarine tailings. "Are we going to prohibit it? Not in the direct sense," the minister said. But Indonesia would impose "very hard, difficult conditions on doing [submarine] tailings so it becomes impossible". The conditions, he said, could include allowing tailings only in very deep water far from the shore, or "on Mars". Mr Witoelar said the move was unlikely to have an impact on existing projects unless they were "proven to be detrimental".

He said the decision would not affect Newmont's largest mine in Indonesia, Batu Hijau, a gold and copper mine that uses submarine tailings but disposes the waste in deeper water than was at Minahasa Raya. "I am not pushing the Newmont case there. I am not chasing Newmont. They are a very good company."

Mr Witoelar said he planned to be "very careful" in pursuing cases against other existing operations and did not want to open a Pandora's box. But he warned the government planned to crack down on polluters and impose more stringent environmental standards on investments.

Mr Witoelar took office in October as part of the new government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has promised to fight corruption and improve the business climate.

* New trade and inflation numbers yesterday provided additional evidence of an improving macroeconomic picture in Indonesia, writes Shawn Donnan. Exports surged 46 per cent in October from the same month last year. Imports rose during the month but were outpaced by exports, causing the country's trade surplus to grow to $2.95bn. Indonesia's inflation slowed to 6.2 per cent in November.

Gobierno concluye que Bahía Buyat fue contaminada

25 de noviembre de 2004

Por Fabiola Desy Unidjaja y Tony Hotland, Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Luego de exhaustivos análisis llevados a cabo por equipos locales e internacionales, el gobierno concluyó el pasado miércoles que Bahía Buyat, en Sulawesi Norte (Indonesia), fue contaminada, y aseguró que detendrá a los responsables de este crimen ambiental.

Tras una reunión con el Vice Presidente Jusuf Kalla, el Ministro Coordinador de Bienestar Social Alwi Shihab dijo que la Bahía contiene altos niveles de metales y químicos, y que el gobierno iniciará una demanda legal en la corte correspondiente.

"La reciente verificación de los tests realizados por el equipo oficial, ha confirmado que la bahía está contaminada con arsénico; dejaremos a la justicia la determinación del nivel de gravedad de esta contaminación y el señalamiento de los responsables" declaró Alwi en una conferencia de prensa.

Asistieron a la conferencia el ministro de Investigación y Tecnología, Kusmayanto Kadiman, y el ministro de Medioambiente, Rachmat Witoelar.

Un grupo integrado por funcionarios del gobierno, activistas y oficiales de policía había concluido días atrás, mediante análisis de laboratorio, que la Bahía está efectivamente contaminada debido a niveles excesivos de arsénico y mercurio.

Los habitantes de Bahía Buyat han responsabilizado a Newmont Minahasa Raya, la única compañía minera operando en el área que ha estado vertiendo sus colas en la bahía desde 1996.

Los resultados de equipo fueron llevados a la oficina de Investigación y Tecnología para su verificación, y fue confirmada la validez de sus resultados.

Esos mismos resultados son similares a otros tomados de forma independiente por la policía.

Newmont ha refutado permanentemente esos alegatos, diciendo que la Bahía no está contaminada y que los niveles de metales presentes están dentro de los estándares permitidos.

Rachmat, por su parte, dijo que el gobierno va a llevar adelante una demanda legal en contra de la compañía minera si la evidencia indica que la firma ha tenido responsabilidad.

"Supongo que los niveles de arsénico y mercurio no están muy por encima de los estándares, pero la gente está sufriendo enfermedades a causa de la contaminación" aseguró.

Agregó que el gobierno imputará responsabilidades de acuerdo a la Ley Nro. 23/1997 de manejo ambiental.

Violaciones a esa Ley, especialmente aquellas que causaran la muerte, están sujetas a una sentencia máxima de 15 años, y a una multa máxima de Rp 750 millones (U$S 84,270). La Ley permite la confiscación de toda ganancia obtenida por la parte culpable al cometer las violaciones.

También el miércoles, legisladores de la Comisión VIII para el Medioambiente, Ciencia y Tecnología del Congreso de Representantes, dijeron que el gobierno debería tener en cuenta el rol de las administraciones anteriores que debieron controlar las operaciones de Newmont y sus impactos ambientales.

Los legisladores, que mantuvieron una reunión con el equipo reunido para revisar los resultados de los tests realizados, dijeron que la policía debería interrogar a los funcionarios que tenían la facultad de otorgar los permisos de operación a la compañía, y de monitorear el manejo que esta hizo de las colas.

La policía detuvo a seis ejecutivos de Newmont y recientemente presentó sus casos a la oficina del Fiscal de Sulawesi del Norte.

El abogado de Newmont, Luhut M. Pangaribuan, aseguró que la firma va a respetar y actuar en consecuencia de los procedimientos legales que se siguen en su contra.

"Es un problema de dos opiniones diferentes, que nos lleva a preguntarnos por la metodología usada en cada caso. Nosotros nos mantenemos en nuestra afirmación de que el nivel de metales presente en el agua de la Bahía y sus peces está dentro de lo permitido, y por lo tanto es apta para consumo" concluyó Luhut.

También deploró el hecho de que la policía se negó a tomar en cuenta los informes de expertos aportados por la empresa, y agregó que la policía actuó de manera subjetiva y fanática para con su reclamo de contaminación.

Indonesia lleva a Newmont a la justicia

Planet Ark (Reuters)

25 de noviembre de 2004

Jakarta - Un controversial caso de contaminación que involucra a la mayor compañía en la industria mundial del oro, Newmont Mining Corp., deberá ser resuelto por la justicia de Indonesia, dijo el gobierno de ese país el miércoles.

El ministro de Bienestar Social, Alwi Shihab, hizo el comentario luego de mantener una reunión con el Vice Presidente Jusuf Kalla para discutir sobre la investigación de una comisión oficial que encontró significativos niveles de arsénico y mercurio. "El resultado del equipo integrado ha revelado una contaminación que viola las actuales regulaciones" dijo Shihab.

"Será determinado por la justicia"

Por su parte Newmont sostiene que la bahía de Sulawesi del Norte, a unos 2,200 kilómetros (1,400 millas) de Jakarta, no ha sido contaminada por ella, y ha asegurado su respeto a las leyes de Indonesia.

La policía de Indonesia señaló a seis ejecutivos de Newmont - dos americanos, un australiano, y tres indonesios - como sospechosos, mientras que los fiscales decidirán si son acusados formalmente.

Cinco de ellos fueron detenidos durante algunas semanas por el caso, y actualmente su libertad está restringida.

Los cargos por incumplimiento a leyes ambientales implican penas de cárcel de hasta 15 años en Indonesia, si se prueba que ha causado muertes o serias enfermedades como consecuencia de la contaminación, dijo la policía.

El reporte encontró peces contaminados en la bahía, con suficiente arsénico para hacerlos peligrosos para el consumo humano.

Además recomendó al ministerio de Salud el llevar a cabo más análisis en pobladores que se han quejado por sufrir sarpullidos, dificultades respiratorias y mareos. El ministerio debería considerar el traslado de los residentes en el área, concluyó el informe, que es de alto riesgo para la saludo humana.

Estas conclusiones fueron las últimas de una larga serie de estudios en Bahía Buyat, luego de que algunos pobladores de la zona demandaran judicialmente a Newmont por U$S 543 millones, denunciando que residuos de la explotación minera causaron serias enfermedades y arruinaron la industria de pesca local.

Newmont ha dicho que fue reivindicada por dos estudios anteriores - uno del gobierno de Indonesia y otro de la Organización Mundial de la Salud - que concluyeron que Bahía Buyat no fue contaminada.

Además hubieron cuestionamientos acerca de la correcta interpretación de los datos en el último informe.

Grupos ligados a la industria han acordado con la embajada de Estados Unidos que el manejo del caso, particularmente las detenciones a ejecutivos, podría convertirse en un obstáculo a las inversiones.

Organizaciones ambientalistas dijeron que Indonesia ha sido indulgente con quienes han contaminado el medioambiente en el pasado, y que esta caso debería ser seguido con rigurosidad.

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