Environmental groups predict that land disputes over mining and plantation activities will intensify throughout the country in the coming months and they have called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to immediately audit the operation of palm oil and mining companies.
The groups, including palm oil business watchdog Sawit Watch and the Mining Advocacy Network ( Jatam ) said that Yudhoyono should lead the cross-departmental audit, especially of the companies’ operating permits.
“The President must immediately evaluate every operational permit issued to all companies throughout Indonesia, particularly in the palm oil and mining sectors. This will tell us how many of these companies got their permits illegally through dubious administrative processes that have given rise to conflicts with local communities. The audit must also check the number of companies operating without land-use certificates,” Sawit Watch executive director Abetnego Tarigan said.
He said the audit would also help to paint a complete picture on where investors should really operate.
Sawit Watch said there were currently 11.5 million hectares of oil palm plantations throughout Indonesia. The government has also issued licenses for companies to operate in another 28.9 million hectares of land.
Sawit Watch campaigner Edi Sutrisno said that transparent and comprehensive data on the legality of the companies would also prevent conflicts with locals.
“The police and TNI [the Indonesian Military] set up security posts to secure oil palm plantations and take sides with the companies without verifying the status of the companies. No wonder they have become involved in so many land conflicts,” he said.
Sawit Watch recorded 664 unresolved land disputes involving palm oil companies up to this year. This year alone, it found that the TNI and the National Police were involved in 11 disputes.
Sawit Watch has identified strong opposition to oil palm plantations in Mandailing Natal regency in North Sumatra, Muaro regency in Jambi and Tanjung Jabung Barat, also in Jambi. Other conflict-prone areas include four regencies in West Kalimantan, three regencies in East Kalimantan and two in Central Sulawesi.
“The President must not wait any longer,” said Abetnego, adding that Sawit Watch and other nongovernmental organizations would call for help from the international community if the government refused “to listen to the people”.
Jatam has also come up with a map of potential hot spots for conflict over land for mining activities.
Jatam cites Bima in West Nusa Tenggara as one of the most conflict-prone areas in mining. Other hot spots include Sumbawa, also in West Nusa Tenggara, Aceh Besar in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, Obi Island in North Maluku and Timika in Papua.
“The high level of opposition toward mining activities in those areas and the overlapping authority as to who should issue mining permits has turned these places into hot spots for conflict,” said Andrie S. Wijaya, coordinator of Jatam.
Data from Jatam showed that the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry had issued 5,374 mining licenses up to November this year. However, Jatam found that 8,000 mining companies were operating in the country.
“We must verify which of the other 3,000 or so companies are not registered by the ministry. Overlapping authority between the central and local government might have caused this,” he said.
Among the 5,374 registered mining companies, 349 are operating in protected forest areas.
Forestry Ministry secretary-general Hadi Daryanto said that the government was not to blame. He said that the government had changed the designation of 927,648 hectares of protected forest and this had allowed 13 mining companies, including PT Sorikmas Mining in North Sumatra and PT Freeport in Papua, to operate in what had been protected areas.
“Apart from these 13 companies legally operating in protected forest areas the rest are illegal operators,” said Hadi. ( msa )