MAC: Mines and Communities

Country wide condemnation greets Indonesian government decision to allow mining in forests

Published by MAC on 2003-07-03

Country wide protest and condemnation greet Indonesian government decision to allow mining in forests

Source: Miningindo

July 03, 2003

Since the announcement of the Indonesian government's decision last week to allow 15 to 22 mining companies resume their exploration and mining contracts in areas previously banned to open pit mining by the Forestry Law of 1999, the government has come under increasingly strong criticism from local and international environmental groups.

A press conference on Wednesday (July 2) held by a coalition of NGOs rejected any further mining activity in protected forests. The NGO's are looking at the legal perspectives of policies made by both the national parliament (DPR) and the government, particularly in relation to the economic parameters of mining in protected forests. (See miningindo news for more detail).

Protests erupt nation-wide…

The director of the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (Kehati), Ismid Hadad, criticized the government for disregarding environmental problems. Hesti, a member of Walhi, said that the Australian government displayed double standards in dealing with mining operations in Indonesia’s forest conservation areas. She said that based on information from an Australian NGO strongly affiliated with local NGO Walhi, the Sydney-based Mineral Policy Institute (MPI), senior officials at the Australian embassy in Jakarta had for several times met Indonesian government’s officials to discuss the opening or resumption of mining activities in the country’s 150 forest conservation sites. (See miningindo news for more detail).

International support for NGOs….….

A recent report by the World Bank said environmental degradation was a threat to the people of Indonesia in particular air and water pollution. The report named mining as one of the contributors to this pollution from waste disposal. (See miningindo news for complete story).

The organisers of the protest by the coalition of NGOs maintain their action was in line with the stance taken in a letter sent by UNESCO's director Prof Stephen C. Hill to countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and East Timor warning the governments that world heritages in the countries including Indonesia have been jeopardized because of mining industries. UNESCO says three of 25 of the world's greatest heritages are in Indonesia.

Government approval wins House support…....

The government's approval of mining in conservation areas recently won support from the House of Representatives (DPR) following a two-year long and often bitter debate. At the hearty of the dispute is the issuance of Law No. 41/1999 on forestry areas, which annulled several mining contracts approved by the previous government and still valid by contractual law.

The Department of Energy and Mineral Resources (DEMR) has consistently argued that these Contracts of Work (COW) with the Republic of Indonesia should be honoured as a matter of principle and to safeguard Indonesia's already very tarnished image with international business. Last week the government announced that 15 companies would be allowed to resume their exploration or development activities in areas previously zoned protected forest, provided there was a demonstrable "significant or strategic resource" able to be developed.

The mechanism….

Industry sources close to the negotiuations told that the President will issue a Presidential Decree (or Kepres) approving submitted and pre-approved areas to be designated "non-forest". These areas will be effectively excised from the forestry areas and exploration, mine development and production will be allowed to continue in accordance with the current COWs.

However, Aminuddin of Jatam was quoted by The Post saying that DPR member Tari Siwi Utami of the FKB political party faction said that it (the decision) was not final yet and the DPR had yet to approve the 15 mining operations in protected forests. DPR House Commissions VIII and III will hold a plenary meeting on Thursday July 3, 2003.

In a follow up to an inter-ministerial meeting on June 27-30 the DPR's commissions III and VIII conducted site visits to a number of mining sites including:

It was the second visit by the parliament after their visit to PT Weda Bay Nickel and PT Nusa Halmahera Mineral in Maluku, PT.Citra Palu Mineral in Palu, and PT Gag Nickel on Gag Island which formed the basis for the resolution to the problem and the process for the way forward.

No choice….

Many commentators feel the government can not reasonably procrastinate on this issue any longer and has no choice but to allow those companies involved in this three-year long process to resume operations. With an election fast approaching in March 2004 now is a politically good time to redress some decisions made earlier in the administration's tenure and under very different pressures and circumstances. However, there is still no word from the Ministry or the DEMR on the fate of the long awaited new Mining Bill and 8th generation COWs. Perhaps these will be left to the next incoming administration.

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