Indonesian UpdatePublished by MAC on 2006-06-30
30th June 2006
Haruku people prefer nature to glittering offer of gold
M. Azis Tunny, the Jakarta Post
27th June 2006
The gold potential of a village in Central Maluku has sparked a public controversy, with confusion over the office responsible for issuing an exploration permit mixing with the environmental concerns of locals.
Haruku Island district chief J. Kene requested permission from the Haruku village customary chief, Paulus Kissya, in a letter dated June 3, 2006, for a company to conduct a two-month geological, geochemistry and geophysical study in the area. Kene based his request on a permission letter dated May 29, 2006, from the head of the Maluku Mining and Energy Office.
Kene had earlier discussed the matter with Paulus and local residents on March 5, but they turned down the request for PT Galtam Indonesia to conduct research and survey in the area.
Residents had rejected mining activities on their traditional land because, they said, Haruku Island was a small island with a tiny population and such activities could damage the island's natural ecosystem.
They also expressed concern that mining activities would be a breach of the local Sasi traditions they upheld, taboos against the removal of marine and forest products, which had earned them the Kalpataru Environmental and Satyalencana Development awards from the government.
Head of the Maluku Energy and Mining Office MG Simarmata said his office had learned about PT Galtam Indonesia's activities in Haruku, but it was not his but the Central Maluku regency office that had issued the permit.
"The permit was issued by the Central Maluku administration. I was only informed by them verbally," Simarmata told The Jakarta Post.
He cited an article of the 1967 Law on Mining Principles that states the regency administration has the authority to issue permits for mining conducted on a 5-hectare plot, and sizes above which will be under the authority of the provincial administration.
However, following the amendment of the 1999 Law on Regional Administration into its 2004 form, full authorization is now granted by the regency administration.
"The Central Maluku regency administration now has full authority over the permit issuance to PT Galtam Indonesia," he said.
Despite that, Simarmata said Haruku island, which is surrounded by other, smaller islands, was not suitable for mining activities due to its tiny size, 150 square kilometers, and its consisting of only 11 villages and around seven hamlets. The distance between Haruku island and islands around it, such as Ambon, Saparua and Seram, range from just two to three nautical miles.
"I would never sell the small islands to investors due to the adverse impact it might bring," said Simarmata.
He said a study on the potential gold on Haruku had been carried out previously, but his office had not obtained any records on the possible gold content of the area.
He said PT Galtam Indonesia was still analyzing the possibility of gold in the village.
"They were only given the permit to do research and they're not in the exploration stage. I haven't received the latest information on the company's activities in Haruku," he said.
An earlier study on possible gold in Haruku was conducted in 1990, by the PT Aneka Tambang state mining company and the Canadian-based In Gold, which entered at the exploration stage. Their activities were stopped in 1997 after strong protests from Haruku's traditional community and environmental groups.
The Haruku village kepala kawang (traditional village guardian), Eliza Kissya, said the second research that began on June 3 was just a camouflage, because the government already knew about the gold in the area. Moreover, he said, the district chief had been determined to bring in the research group and had set up border markings on residents' lands without giving notice or gaining permission from the owners.
"They are obviously intending to exploit gold because earlier studies have indicated that our area contains gold. As a traditional community, we strongly reject the presence of mining activities in our area due to the detrimental effects it would have on the community, environment and tradition," he said.
Environmental activist M. Ichwan Patty said the research indicated there would be exploration activity and the possibility of gold exploitation activity on Haruku Island.
"If this is disregarded, then a tragedy like the one in Buyat, North Sulawesi, might occur in Maluku, which would be more destructive considering the tiny size of the island and as it is located among other islands," said Ichwan.