Towards people's mining

Print edition : December 05, 2003

In Dongi village, a home on land acquired for mining. If a landowner declines to surrender his land to the holder of the mining authorisation, he can be imprisoned for 10 years for violation of law. -

The mining industry, Indonesia's most important source of employment, needs to be decentralised and made more people friendly.

"Come to `Mining Indonesia', the most mineral-rich country on this earth. Utilise its `Sunken Treasures' - without mineral exploration, the treasures remain unfound, without mining, the treasure chest remains unopened." This is an excerpt from the vast publicity material prepared by the Indonesian Mining Association, consisting of the national mining companies, to proclaim why Indonesia should be the destination of foreign companies and how "mining will continue here in one way or another".

"Imagine a country where nearly 60 per cent of the total land area - 84,152,875,92 hectares - has been given by the government for mining operations to 908 mining licensees between 1967 and 2000." This is from the Jaringan Advokasi Tambang (JATAM), a mining advocacy network formed to protect the environment and the communities.

The country's laws say the government has the right to designate any land as mineral land, either for exploration or for mining operations, through a special permit called `mining authorisation'. If a landowner declines to surrender his land to the holder of the mining authorisation, he can be imprisoned for 10 years for violation of law (Mining Law No.11 of 1967). Further, all the lands and minerals of the country are under the control of the state, so much so that the power to regulate the use and maintenance of the land and the legal relationship of human beings to land, water and airspace (Agrarian Law No. 5 of 1960) is vested in the government. Foreign mining investment gets special privileges. One such, the Contracts of Work (COW), is an exclusive contract for 30 years between the government and the foreign investor. The COW does not have to comply with any provisions of the mining laws or any other laws, unless specified. The COW is more than equal to mining authorisation, and thus the landowner has to surrender any land allocated to the mining investor as a contract area, which may cover an area as large as millions of hectares.

"Talk of protest? You can simply be shot at if you dare to touch the mining area," is the comment often heard.

Meet Gunawan, a 20-year-old resident of Jalan Dikin Puruk Cahu village of North Barito district in Central Kalimantan, who was shot at the PT Indo Muro Kencana (IMK) mine site by the elite security force Brimob. The incident shocked Gunawan to such an extent that he cannot speak now. His old father Budiman narrates the incident: "Saturday, January 19, 2002. Gunawan and two of his friends, Barin and Ungkin, were wandering in the Kerikil pit area operated by the PT-IMK, and were searching through the waste rock that sometimes contains traces of gold. This was normal practice with the unemployed youth. The Brimob brigade arrived all of a sudden, and while the youth were running away, they aimed and shot at them."

Twenty-year-old Gunawan, resident of a village of North Barito district in central Kalimantan, lost his speech after being shot at by the elite security force, Brimob.-

There are many more cases like this. Epak, a resident of Oreng village, was shot in the legs, and then accused of stealing. Brimob men are so trigger-happy that even minor issues make them open fire. In July 2001, two people died and one person was injured in the leg where they were shot while attempting to break a waste rock into pieces.

People are often accused of `stealing'; stealing some coal, sand, or gold and tin. In the IMK case, the chief of the North Barito Resort Police labelled the victims as `attackers'. But, the villagers spoke of land acquired without compensation, entire villages displaced without rehabilitation, community rights crushed for the development of mining areas, intimidation and environmental destruction.

DONGI village centre is in Sorowake, Luwu district, South Sulawesi. It derives its name from the Dongi tree, which used to grow in abundance around the village. Its residents are the indigenous Karonsi'e people. Their tribe's name is derived from Karo and Si, meaning main rice barn; the region is known as Lembo moboo or the valley where the harvest rotted. PT-IMK has taken over all the land - 6.6 million hectares - in the region, under a COW with the Indonesian government. Thus, today neither the trees nor the rice fields are to be seen. There are only stretches of mines and a few patches of houses belonging to the indigenous population. On the lands taken over, there are PT-IMK golf courses, housing colonies of PT workers, landfills and playgrounds.

"Do you know how much was the compensation paid for the lost lands? Rp 15 (less than $2) per square metre. Not even the price of one plate of rice," tells Naomi Mananta, member of the Karonsi'e Dongi community. They have been given no opportunity to defend their lands. Their settlement is now a golf course and people are spread over various regions of the country.

Indonesia has more than 17,000 islands that are known for their natural beauty and marine resources, rain forests and biodiversity. Coal, gold, bauxite, and the ores of nickel, copper, silver, tin and iron are the main mineral deposits. Until 1999, there was no area that was declared closed for mining. Foreign investors, who control most of the mining operations, could come and legitimately mine in any area of the country. There is not a single regulation stipulating that mining projects be judged on their economic and environmental viability. A repressive regime, consisting of a centralised resource allocation system and profit-sucking foreign investors, had left the mining sector as the worst legacy of the autocratic regime of the past. The fall of the old regime in 1998, the demands for reform in the political, economic and legislative systems, and the enormous structural changes occurring in the country have had some impact on mining. The new Act on forestry, the ministerial decree on small island management, and the government regulation on water pollution have come as salutary steps.

Who would have thought a few years ago that after an incident like the Jalan shooting, hundreds of villagers would block the main road to the PT-IMK processing plant and the mining location? Nobody imagined that the firing at Epak would lead to a massive demonstration against the elite force. And in an unprecedented move, the government of the city of Palu, Central Sulawesi, rejected a proposal for mining by PT Citra Palu Mineral (PT-CPM) in the protected Palu forest park area, against the diktats of the Central government. The Palu municipal government's opposition to gold mining companies follows from the results of a research, which shows that while the volume of gold mining did not amount to much, the estimated negative impact of the projects on the environment in the protected forest area was very high. A series of demonstrations held by the villagers in front of the Mayor's office and the Local House of Representatives in Palu also influenced the decision.

The Bedugal area, once called the `food basket of Bali', has been notified for mining and geothermal projects.-

If mining has to be a source of livelihood for the community that lives in and around the mining areas and at the same time has to be done in a manner that is sensitive to the ecology, then Indonesia needs a new mining policy. The mining advocacy network, JATAM, proposes a moratorium. Chalid Muhammad of the organisation puts forward three arguments in favour of such a move. First, unclear mining regulations provide space for corruption, nepotism and collusion between the government bodies and the mining companies, causing heavy financial losses to the country. Secondly, the total number of permits/licences given to the mining sector, 890, and the more than 84 million hectares of area set aside for mining are both irrational and need to be revised, with the carrying capacity and the local ecology in view. Thirdly, existing mining operations have led to many disputes among the local people.

While JATAM and other organisations protest, the government continues to issue licences to mining companies. Close on the heels of a new Act on forestry comes a government order allowing mining in protected forest areas. The Regional Autonomy Act gives the local government the authority to manage the natural resources, but mining remains the exclusive domain of the Central government. The government starts drafting a mining law but stalls the process midway, in deference to a request by the Indonesian Mining Association. The need to increase investment in the country's mining sector impedes any attempt to preserve the environment, protect the people's rights and conserve the country's mineral wealth for future generations.

In the Bedugal area, once called the `food basket of Bali', one realises that things do not change easily. The whole area, consisting of 120 villages and the Bedugal Botanical Garden, has been notified for mining and geothermal projects. In the areas surrounding Candi Kuning village of Tabanan district and Pancasari village of Buleleng district, construction activity for the project has begun. The public sector PT-Pertamina and the American private firm California Energy Company will take charge of the region for the coming 30 years. Things have not changed even after the head of the garden section of the Bali Forestry Department expressed his concern about the impact the project was likely to have on the environment. And the anthropologist Ngurah Bagus wrote in a local newspaper that the environmental impact assessment of the project was incomplete and a mere eyewash.

There have been three public hearings and many meetings and campaigns on the likely impact of the mega-project on the forests, the waterbodies and the lives and livelihoods of the local people. People know the impact of mining, but the geothermal plants are new and they fear it will discharge hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide, boron, arsenic and other heavy metals during the operation and the testing of its well. "Fear and anxiety are there everywhere," says activist Widiana Kepakisan in Candi Kuning village.

Mining remains an important national and global interest in Indonesia owing to its capacity to generate employment, earn export revenue and make profits. Mining contributes to 2.4 per cent of the gross domestic product, or Rp 31.4 trillion; 14.1 per cent of the total non-oil and gas exports, and Rp 6.8 trillion in government revenue. The sector provides direct employment to 13,00,000 Indonesians. The governments (central and local) still consider it their natural right to control and use all the natural resources on behalf of their population. (Land, water, and natural resources contained therein are controlled by the state and shall be utilised for the maximum prosperity of the people: Article 33, Para 3 of the Indonesian Constitution.)

Foreign and multinational companies continue to dominate and threaten to pull out if COWs are amended. It is `business as usual', and the possibilities of a radical restructuring of the mining policy are not in sight, at least in the near future. Rachman Wiriosudarmo, a scholar on the mining issues of Indonesia, sums up the situation: "The people and the local government are demanding a fair distribution of wealth previously controlled by the Central government. They are demanding compensation against the injustices practised by the Central government in the past, including, but not limited to, involuntary land acquisition by the industry, human rights abuse, and damage caused to the environment by the industry. Violence is erupting and both the Central and local governments seem powerless. The only option for the government is to reform completely the current mineral policy."

What then is the future? What are the ways and means to ensure a sustainable and suitable policy for mineral development? What are the forms in which people's demands and struggles are taking shape? It is only recently, in the wake of the upsurge of democratic struggles, that many alternative policy frameworks are being articulated. First, mining development influenced by colonial policy excludes the right of the people to participate in mining. Foreign mining investment projects cover the entire mineral area in the country, especially those endowed with gold and coal resources. The rights of the community and the people to mine should be recognised. Secondly, the potential for developing a community mining model - to enhance the role of community-based endeavours for supporting poverty alleviation programmes, to promote the role of the community in controlling the environmental fallout of mining, to integrate various resource potentials capable of assisting community mining at the national, provincial and district levels - should be explored.

Thirdly, the emphasis should be on small-scale mining (SSM). If SSM is made the priority, then the requirement for foreign investment will be reduced and the role of the local people has to be recognised, not just as workers in the large-scale mining projects. Fourthly, there has to be the development of people's mining in its real sense - it should be acknowledged in national legislation on mining. However, it is also emphasised that the democratisation and decentralisation of natural resource management, also placed in the framework of regional autonomy, is an essential precondition in the search for a new mining policy.

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