MAC: Mines and Communities

Guerin Responds: The Gospel According To Jatam

Published by MAC on 2003-05-12

Guerin responds: The gospel according to JATAM

One is never surprised to see pseudo crusaders with time on their hands rise to the bait and seize the moral high ground. Unfortunately JATAM (Mining Advocacy Network) engages in a blunderbuss approach to dialog that takes no prisoners. Dare to question such activists and you are branded as a "mouthpiece of the mining industry" and a "captured" journalist being "manipulated", as Tracy Glynn ridiculously postulates.

The "errors of fact" I am accused of do not, in fact, exist. In true G W Bush "you are either with us or against us" style, Glynn complains of my "misleading and disparaging remarks", "unfairly portrayed allegations", "foreign companies destroying the environment'" and so on whilst leaving us all in the dark as to what their network has actually done toward "supporting communities affected by the mining, oil and gas industries in Indonesia".

No less than the State Minister for the Environment Nabiel Makarim laid bare the Newmont tailings disposal allegations by JATAM. Makarim told House Commission VIII last week that though it was possible that discharging 110,000 tons of tailing every day into the Sumbawa sea may eventually impact on the marine ecosystem, monitoring in 2001-2002 showed there has not been a significant impact on the coral reefs, organisms, nor habitats of marine life.

Fish, pelagic elements, and "demersal" on the southern coast of Sumbawa were not adversely affected. Significantly the minister said that potential damage to the environment of the coastal community has been anticipated by the company in their Amdal (mandatory evaluation on environmental impact) and are further detailed in the RKL (plan for environmental management) and RPL (plan of environmental monitoring).

Indonesia's Amdal is widely acknowledged to be an enlightened environmental impact process: in the form of the most countries only insist on technical environmental impacts, the Amdal integrates the technical environmental with the social.

The rash of community hostility around mine sites, in the opinion of mining experts, is partly due to the efforts of organizations like JATAM. Prejudice seeps out of every sentence from Glynn, and not one word is said about the benefits mining companies bring to the communities that surround their operational areas.

Indonesian Mining Survey 2000, a PricewaterhouseCoopers report shows that the few international mining companies left in Indonesia spent more than US$30 million on community development that year. The anti-mining brigade cannot simply dismiss such a contribution to the community.

The most breathtaking example of deliberate and contrived ignorance can be seen in the statement that '"Freeport has destroyed a river and community sago palm plantation with their waste." OK, but let's remember that Freeport, one of the largest corporate taxpayers in Indonesia, has built a hospital in Timika, schools, and a whole town.

It must be noted that mining companys' main concern is "generating the highest profits at the lowest possible costs'", says Glynn, inferring I presume that such a concern is unworthy. JATAM, we are told, has volunteers "willing to sacrifice for a greater cause"; clearly not a cause that would see a resurrected mining sector bring employment and economic benefit to those for whom JATAM purports to carry the torch.

Suharto's corporate cronies rode roughshod over local communities in their search for profits but it can be argued that international mining companies are clear victims of actions by vested interests that use new political freedoms to benefit themselves, at the expense of their country. Deja vu indeed..

Harriet Richards, a former CEO of BHP Indonesia and director of government relations with Newmont is on record as saying of JATAM and Walhi (Indonesian Environment Forum) that "their persuasive logic is that any inequality in the whole area related to the mining project reflects social injustice. It feeds into a poverty mentality of, 'Let's focus on divvying up all the cake we have', rather than an enterprise mentality of, 'Let's focus on creating more cake'.

Exploitation of the environment and people for short-term capital gain are the modus operandi of individuals and organizations, often from outside the area, who offer advocacy services (the organization of protests or other disruptive activities) either to secure a 'success fee' if the company settles the dispute through payments, or to increase their political prestige as champions of the masses.

I was encouraged to read that JATAM admits that "we do recognize that small-scale mining is very destructive to the environment and is a real problem in Indonesia", until I realized that was it - no clarification of what their network is actually doing about it.

I do admit to a certain satisfaction though in learning that "many of the allegations regarding JATAM's conduct are exactly those made by the public relations staff of key foreign mining companies operating in Indonesia. Quad erat demonstrandum or, if the cap fits, wear it.

Bill Guerin
Jakarta, Indonesia

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