MAC: Mines and Communities

Indonesian government slammed for not halting Sulawesi project

Published by MAC on 2005-12-24

Indonesian government slammed for not halting Sulawesi project

by Jakarta Post / JATAM

24th December 2005

Environmental activists have lambasted the government for its lack of commitment in protecting the environment as it did not immediately halt the operation of mining firm PT Meares Soputan Mining (MSM - owned by Arbipelago Resources plc *) which plans to dump its tailings in the sea off North Sulawesi.

Executive director of Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM) Siti Maimunah said the operation of MSM should be halted as the Office of the State Minister of the Environment had stated that the necessary environmental impact assessment (AMDAL) approval had already expired.

"Without the AMDAL, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources should stop their operations," she said at her office on Friday.

MSM, which plans to extract gold at a 741,000-hectare mining site in North Minahasa and Bitung municipalities starting next year, faces complaints from environmental groups and North Sulawesi residents over its plan to dispose of its tailings in the sea via a mechanism called submarine tailings disposal (STD).

NGO activists and residents say toxic wastes from the firm's tailings may pollute the waters of Lembeh Strait, thereby endangering people's livelihood there.

The company responded earlier by saying that STD was the best mechanism to dispose of tailings, guaranteeing that it would not harm the biodiversity of the strait as the tailings would be deposited on the ocean bed 800 meters to 1,200 meters below the surface of the ocean and would be similar in character to the sediments on the ocean floor.

Maimunah regretted that no measures had been taken by the government to make sure that MSM would not carry out any work before it was granted a new AMDAL.

"The fact that the company's operation is not being halted, shows that government institutions don't speak the same language," she said.

Director General of Geology and Mineral Resources Simon Sembiring, whose office is in charge of monitoring mining operations across the archipelago, refused to comment further, saying that he had not received any letter from the Office of the State Minister of the Environment regarding the MSM case. He said his office would comply with any regulation issued by the ministry in protecting the country's natural resources, but would not halt the company's work in constructing the sites because it did not mean that MSM would start dumping its tailings.

Executive director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) suggested that the general public and NGOs push the government to suspend MSM's operations by invoking Environmental Law No. 23/1997.

"There are articles in the law that allow a third party, the citizens, to demand that the government halt the operation of companies that will and are damaging the environment," he said.

He added that people should also urge the government to issue a permanent ban on the disposal of toxic waste into the sea, such as STD.

"After what happened in Buyat, there should be no more STD in the country. The government should declare that tailings cannot be disposed of in that way here," he said.

JATAM data shows that currently, only PT MSM, PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara and PT Newmont Minahasa Raya have obtained licenses to carry out STD. The latter is facing a criminal lawsuit at a North Sulawesi court for polluting Buyat Bay.

[Note from Nostromo Research, London: The main shareholder (44%, including warrants) in Archipelago Resources is the UK mining investment company, Ocean Resources Capital Holdings plc]


Original in Bahasa Indonesia, English translation by DTE

Tempo Interaktif

23th December 2005

A coalition of environmental NGOs is pressing that PT Meares Soputan Mining (PT MSM) stop its gold mining activities in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Their reasoning is that they know the Environment Impact Assessment carried out for this UK-based company has expired. (Under Indonesian law, a valid EIA is necessary before any large-scale project can take place.) “This gold mining operation is causing concern to the local community,” said Siti Maimunah, co-ordinator of the mining advocacy network JATAM at her office on Friday.

JATAM is questioning why the North Sulawesi govenor issued an official letter of Environmental Acceptability which stated that PT Meares Soputan Minining’s EIA was still valid even though the company was planning to more than double the scale of its activities. “An EIA is invalid if the implementing company changes the design or capacity of the original plan, ” said Siti.

Another reason why this NGO is demanding a halt to this gold mining operation is that it will dump its mining waste into the ocean though a Submarine Tailing Disposal system (STD). “This project threatens the livelihoods of 9 million fisherfolk in Rinondoran Bay,” said Siti.

She explained that, with a production capacity of 160,000oz per year, this project will generate annual royalties of Rp19bn (nearly US$2 million) for the province of North Sulawesi. However, this gold mine would damage the economic potential of fisheries in Rinondoran Bay worth at least Rp54bn (over US$5 million) per year. "This is due to disposing of mining waste in local waters,” she said.

Pantoro Kuswardono, the mining & energy campaigner of the Indonesian environmental network WALHI, questioned the recommendation of technical consultants Dames & Moore who advised the use of STD for mines in coastal areas. “Dames & Moore’s recommendations have been proved wrong in the cases of Newmont Minahasa Raya in Buyat Bay and Freeport in the Ajkwa River, West Papua,” he said.

Comment by Adi Widyanto (JATAM)

Only a week after villagers took their appeal to the ofice of Environment Ministry, a team was sent to North Sulawesi to verify the activity of MSM. Following the recommendation of the verification team, the Minister of Environment issued a letter stating:

1. MSM EIA/AMDAL (EIA) document has expired since:

a. no activity has been undertaken by MSM during 3 years following issuance of the document

b. MSM plans to increase production by over 100% on its initial plan

2. MSM must re-arrange its EIA document in a way that public/local participation is accommodated

3. Prior to issuance of a new EIA document the Energy & Mineral Resources Mininstry must halt the operation of MSM.

4. It is the central government (Ministry of Env.) which is in charge of issuing an STD licence

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