Indonesian province calls time-out on mining

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A mining site in East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia. Image courtesy of JPIC-OFM.
  • The new government of East Nusa Tenggara, a mineral-rich province in eastern Indonesia, has pledged to reform its mining sector as officials and environmentalists cite the lack of benefits from the extractive industry.
  • The administration said it would not accept new mining license applications, and that those awaiting approval would be rejected.
  • Some environmental groups have praised the new government’s plan to reform the mining sector, calling it a positive step for sustainability.

MAUMERE, Indonesia — A newly inaugurated governor in Indonesia has called a time-out on mining in his province, citing a lack of benefits for residents from the extractive industry. “We are going to impose a moratorium on all kinds of mining, and this is a policy that will be implemented in the near future,” Viktor Laiskodat told reporters in Jakarta after his inauguration earlier this month as governor of the province of East Nusa Tenggara.

The green part of the map of Indonesia shows East Nusa Tenggara province in Indonesia. Image courtesy of Bwmodular/Wikimedia Commons.

Viktor said mining only contributed 1 percent to the economy of the province, home to 5 million people. He also blamed mining for damaging small-scale agriculture and increasing the risks of floods and landslides. “Mining is not the right choice for improving the economy of the people of East Nusa Tenggara,” he said during his first speech as a governor on Sept. 10, as quoted by local news outlet Tempo. “Post-mining open pits contain dangerous acids.”

Deputy Governor Josef Nae Soi clarified in an interview with Mongabay that the administration intended to review existing mining operations and revoke the licenses of those found in violation of regulations or damaging the environment. There are 309 mining licenses in force across East Nusa Tenggara, the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), an NGO, said in February. Seventy-seven are set to expire by the end of this year. “I will call the chief of the [provincial mining] office and evaluate the permits that have been issued,” Josef told Mongabay. “There’s a risk of me going to court, but I’m ready to face it.”

While the new administration’s policy is likely to be unpopular with mining companies and the national government, Josef said he didn’t mind. “What’s important is that the people like us,” he said, adding the administration would focus on developing tourism and small-scale agriculture.

The measure would resonate with a national program to reform mining governance that was initiated in 2014 by the country’s antigraft agency, the mining ministry and the environment ministry. The initiative, called Korsup Minerba, was established to assess the legality of mining permits and determine whether they adhered to all relevant permitting and environmental laws. As per April 2017, data from the energy ministry showed that 2,187 permits had been canceled or their operational period had ended and not been extended. At the time, the total number of permits active in Indonesia was 8,524 mineral and coal mining permits. Of these, 2,522 were tagged as “not clean and clear,” indicating that a site assessment was lacking.

East Nusa Tenggara Governor Viktor Laiskodat. Image courtesy of East Nusa Tenggara Provincial Government/Wikimedia Commons.

Born in Kupang, the East Nusa Tenggara provincial capital, Viktor, now 53, was elected to the national parliament in 2004 as a member of the Golkar Party. He left the party at the end of his five-year term and joined the National Democrat Party, with which he was again elected to parliament in 2014. He quit his seat this year to run for governor of his home province, where he won a four-way race with 36 percent of the vote.

Prior to entering politics, Viktor worked as a lawyer and legal consultant, with his own law firm in Jakarta. His deputy, Josef, is also a seasoned lawyer, having worked as a special adviser to the minister for law and human rights since 2015. That legal expertise may come in handy if the administration follows through with its plans to revoke existing permits, as companies elsewhere in the country have challenged similar decisions in court.

Some environmental groups have praised the new governor’s plan to reform the mining sector, calling it a positive step for sustainability. “Mining doesn’t empower local farmers, but instead destroys the environment and stifles the development of agriculture,” said Carolus Winfridus, director at the Forum for Independent Agriculture, an environmental group based on the main island of Flores in the province. Mining and agriculture, he said, cannot coexist, since the former poses a threat to a healthy environment that is needed for the development of the latter.

Many of the islands of East Nusa Tenggara are officially categorized as small islands, endowing them with special protections under a 2014 law. “Small islands must be protected from destructive activities,” Carolus said.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) also welcomed the plan, while noting that any moratorium on mining permits must extend to the construction of smelters as well. A 2009 law stipulates that new mining projects can only operate if there is a smelter in place. Walhi pointed to an ongoing plan to build a smelter in Kupang by PT Gulf Mangan Group, an Australian-owned company.

“East Nusa Tenggara comprises 1,192 islands that are vulnerable to mining development,” Yuvensius Nonga, manager of coastal and small islands division at the provincial branch of Walhi, told Mongabay. “It’s clear that mining is not for small islands.”

Walhi called on the new East Nusa Tenggara administration to engage NGOs to monitor the mining permit moratorium. The group said all ongoing mining operations in the province had failed to adhere to the region’s environmental capacity. Many parts of East Nusa Tenggara are experiencing a shortage of clean water, which has been linked to mining activities, Walhi said. The impacts from mining have also contributed to a food crisis, the group added, forcing the province to import much of its staples from elsewhere in Indonesia.

Article Source: Mongabay