Disputed mining bill endorsed in IndonesiaPublished by MAC on 2004-07-16
Disputed mining bill endorsed
16th July 2004
Rendi A. Witular and PC Naommy, Jakarta
The House of Representatives has endorsed a controversial government regulation in lieu of law that allows a number of mining firms to resume operations in protected forests, with critics describing the move as a reflection of the government's lack of concern for the protection of the country's virgin woodlands.
After a fierce debate during the House plenary session on Thursday, 131 legislators decided to support the endorsement of the regulation into law, while 102 legislators voted against.
The vote was taken despite the fact that a majority of the nine factions in the House opposed the measure. Those opposing the endorsement were the National Awakening faction, the Reform faction, the Crescent and Star faction, the TNI/Police faction, the Indonesian Nationhood Unity faction and the Daulat Ummah faction.
Meanwhile, the other factions -- the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (President Megawati Soekarnoputri's party), the Golkar Party and the United Development Party factions -- agreed to the endorsement.
Minister of Forestry M. Prakosa said that he was happy with the House's decision as it had finally put an end to protracted disputes between the government and a number of mining firms whose operations had to be halted following the enactment of Law No. 41/1999 on forestry.
"This decision is in line with government's attempts to ensure legal certainty in the mining sector, which has been in limbo for years ... We are happy with the result," said Prakosa after the plenary session
The government issued the regulation in March to allow the mining firms in question to resume their operations in protected forests. The regulation was issued just one month before the legislative elections.
The decision sparked public protests, and suspicions that government officials had accepted bribes to help finance the election campaigns of certain political parties.
The regulation allows open-pit mining in protected forests as long as the mining companies concerned have signed contracts with the government prior to the enactment of Law No. 41/1999 on forestry, which prohibits open-pit mining in protected forests.
To facilitate the implementation of the regulation, the government issued Decree No. 41/2004 in May to allow 13 mining firms to operate in protected forests as they were viewed as being serious in their threats to take their cases to international arbitration.
The 13 firms are PT Freeport Indonesia, PT Karimun Granite, PT INCO, PT Indominco Mandiri, PT Aneka Tambang (Bahubulu), PT Aneka Tambang (Buli), PT Natarang Mining, PT Nusa Halmahera Mineral, PT Pelsart Tambang Kencana, PT Interex Sacra Raya, PT Weda Bay Nickel, PT Gag Nikel, and PT Sorikmas Mining.
The endorsement of the regulation now potentially paves the way for the remaining 140 mining firms to request the same facilities, putting the country's already depleted virgin forests at even greater risk of destruction, analysts say.
Prakosa, however, said that the government had yet to consider the granting of permits to the other mining companies that were affected by Law No. 41/1999.
"We will first stick with the current regulation that makes only 13 firms eligible for permits. We have not yet considered granting the other companies the same permits," he said.
Although the House has endorsed the regulation, the 13 firms that have been granted permits still face obstacles as environmentalists plan to challenge the House decision in the Constitutional Court.
Longgena Ginting, the executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said a coalition of NGOs would soon file a complaint with the Court in a bid to have the regulation annulled on the grounds that it was repugnant to the 1945 Constitution.
"We have 180 days after the regulation is gazetted to bring the case to the Constitutional Court," said Longgena