MAC: Mines and Communities

An Ngo Takes Issue With Atol

Published by MAC on 2003-06-03
Source: Asia Times Online ()

An NGO takes issue with ATol

June 3, 2003

Asia Times Online

This letter is in response to comments made by Bill Guerin in the May 12, 2003 Asia Times Online article, "Indonesia's mining quagmire".

The item made misleading and disparaging remarks about some of the non-governmental organizations supporting communities affected by the mining, oil and gas industries in Indonesia and being one of those organizations that was unfairly portrayed in the article, JATAM (Mining Advocacy Network), we would like to make comments and clarifications on some of the content of that article. We are very disappointed that at no stage did Guerin discuss with JATAM staff the allegations made in his article. If he or staff from the Asia Times Online had done so, several errors of fact need not have been published.

First of all, JATAM does not follow the gospel as laid down by the so-called "anti-mining foreign NGOs". JATAM's work mandate comes from the communities affected by the mining industry. JATAM works with international NGOs, only if it will further support the communities affected by mining, through for example creating greater public awareness and pressure to fight the injustices being suffered by these communities.

Secondly, the statement that we spend our time "attacking foreign companies rather than working to protect and preserve the environment" infers that the foreign companies play no part in environmental destruction. The environment of two coastal communities in Indonesia has been degraded with the tailings disposal of Newmont. BHP Billiton has pressured the Indonesian government into allowing them permission to mine in a protected forest area on the tiny Gag Island. Freeport has destroyed a river and community sago palm plantation with their waste in West Papua. Aurora Gold's Indo Muro Kencana mine in Central Kalimantan has caused a severe acid mine drainage problem that will continue long after the mine is shut down. Inco's nickel plant has degraded the air and water of Soroako, South Sulawesi. Rio Tinto's Kelian Equatorial Mining has left open pits in East Kalimantan and they plan to close the mine without backfilling all the pits, thus leaving the potential for toxic cesspools. These are just a sampling of the cases that we work on that do involve foreign companies destroying the environment and impacting the local communities surrounding these mines. It is very important for the rehabilitation of these environments and survival of these communities that organizations such as JATAM exist and advocate on their behalf to ensure this occurs.

Thirdly, the suggestion that NGOs have abundant resources, both the time and finances, to conduct our campaigns is also not true. Unfortunately, NGOs such as JATAM have limited resources due to high ethics in fundraising but manage to carry out the needed advocacy work due to committed activists willing to sacrifice for a greater cause.

Fourthly, the reference that groups such as JATAM are persuading communities to destabilize mine sites is deceptive. We support the communities' plight to maintain and uphold their rights. Public education serves the purpose of providing an information forum of the negative impacts of mining because the mining companies entering these remote areas only tell of the positive aspects associated with development of their area. The community has a right to know all the impacts including the negative environmental and social impacts that mining will bring to their area so that they can make an informed decision as whether or not to allow mining to proceed in their area.

Fifthly, we would like to comment on the statement that: "though mining companies work closely with local communities to overcome the damage caused by their operations, these NGOs and the government itself, do little about the widespread social and environment damage from illegal mining". Mining companies have been forced to commit to environmental rehabilitation and community development efforts in this era of corporate social responsibility but problems still remain at mining sites including among others the creation of divisions within the community, forced compliance, and unequal distribution of benefits. However, it must be noted that a mining company's main concern is generating the highest profits at the lowest possible costs. Thus, social programs are an afterthought, important only if it threatens the continuation of their operations in an area. That is why pressure groups and watchdog organizations are so important to ensure that bar of environmental and social responsibility is raised to the highest possible to ensure that the environment and people are protected against short-term capital gain and exploitation.

Finally, regarding the small-scale mining issue, Guerin's article sounds like a mouthpiece of the mining industry that attempts to deflect responsibility for their environmental and social impacts onto another poorer, defenseless segment of society. We do recognize that small-scale mining is very destructive to the environment and is a real problem in Indonesia. Organizations such as Indigenous Mining Alliance (ATA) based in West Kalimantan are part of JATAM's network working on small-scale mining issues in that province. JATAM also works on providing information to the community on the impacts of toxic materials used in mining, both large-scale and small-scale like mercury and cyanide. However, as stated above, JATAM's mandate comes from the local communities and will not be stopped by multinational corporations. These multinational corporations must never be portrayed as sacred and untouchable as done so in Mr. Guerin's article.

We further note that many of the allegations regarding JATAM's conduct made in the article are exactly those made by the public relations staff of key foreign mining companies operating in Indonesia. We could use this circumstantial evidence to claim that Guerin is being manipulated by foreign interests, just as he has claimed of JATAM. We could ask whether Guerin has attended junkets, ie accepted travel, accommodation and meals at the expense of foreign mining companies, and become a "captured" journalist? We won't make such claims, however, unless Guerin or Asia Times Online is able to confirm or deny such dealings.

For all the above reasons, we find the article misleading and an unrealistic portrayal of mining, its players and issues in Indonesia. We await a reply from the editors of the Asia Times Online.

Tracy Glynn,
Chalid Muhammad, JATAM National Coordinator
JATAM (Jaringan Advokasi Tambang)
Mining Advocacy Network
Jakarta, Indonesia

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