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Jakarta Post

Hazardous giant black holes

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, December 27, 2018   /   09:01 am
Hazardous giant black holes A coal mine in Kalimantan. (JP/Indra Harsaputra)

It is horrifying to learn that the government has not acted firmly to strengthen the oversight of coal mining operations in Kalimantan even though many companies have failed to reclaim, revegetate and restore their former mining pits, thereby leaving behind giant black holes that have caused water pollution and even fatalities.

Several environmental NGOs that recently announced the findings of their investigative study into the coal industry in East Kalimantan revealed how corruption had allowed thousands of firms to mine coal illegally. Many licensed miners had also simply abandoned their mines without rehabilitating them, which is mandatory.

The report said many giant black holes had become large ponds containing very acidic water, as well as metals such as aluminum, lead and mercury that had polluted rivers in East Kalimantan. They have claimed the lives of 32 people, including children.

A few months ago the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK), the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and several civil society organizations sounded the alarm against the acute lack of law enforcement against coal mining companies, especially regarding their obligation to deposit reclamation and post-mining guarantee funds.

They revealed that thousands of small coal mining firms in Kalimantan had not deposited reclamation guarantee funds, as required by the 2009 Mining Law. The law requires mining companies to fill in and regreen mining sites and put up financial guarantees for the reclamation and restoration of mining sites. 

Miners are required to place reclamation and post-mining funds in a state bank on behalf of the license holders in the form of joint accounts, term deposits, bank guarantees issued by a state bank or in accounting reserves to support their commitment to conducting reclamation and post-mining activities. But many coal companies have simply abandoned their mines and left behind giant black holes. 

The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry is not able to deal directly with recalcitrant miners because the 2009 Mining Law vests the licensing authority with regional administrations.

However, since many mining concessions have been awarded to the relatives of regents, governors and local political leaders, miners have often simply walked away from their mines without any penalties. In East Kalimantan, for example, hundreds of abandoned open-pit mines have deteriorated into death traps for children because many of them are located not far from residential areas, according to the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).

The BPK confirmed after an audit in 2016 that there were many problems in the management of reclamation and post-mining guarantees in East Kalimantan. The audit found that many companies either had not completed reclamation plans at all or did not have the specified guarantee funds in place. 

The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry has acknowledged that only 48 percent of the 9,721 holders of mining business permits as of 2016 had made deposits to finance rehabilitation activities by regional administrations where they operated.

The big question is, are the central government and local administrations so incompetent or feeble that they are powerless to stop the environmental damage inflicted by recalcitrant miners?