Fate of the mine, plantation concessions revoked by Indonesia will soon be finalized

  • The process of revoking hundreds of logging, plantation and mining concessions across Indonesia will be finalized by the end of March, the government said.
  • A newly created task force will allow affected dealers to challenge the grounds for revocation, given the legal confusion and uncertainty created by the abrupt and one-sided announcement.
  • Experts warn that this “clarification” process paves the way for corruption, while giving companies time to speed up land development while revocations remain non-binding.
  • They also point out that local and indigenous peoples who also claim ancestral rights to many of these concessions continue to be left out of the process of determining the fate of the land.

JAKARTA — The Indonesian government has said it will finalize this month the revocation of hundreds of logging, plantation and mining permits announced earlier this year, following confusion and controversy. widespread uncertainty about the unilateral decision.

President Joko Widodo, who announced the revocations on January 6, has set up a working group headed by several ministers who will be responsible for assessing how the affected permit holders have used their concessions and how these concessions will be used after the revocation. revocation.

The working group held its first meeting on February 18, where it decided that all permits due to be revoked will be canceled by the end of March, according to Siti Nurbaya Bakar, the minister of environment and forests. She said in a press release that there should be weekly announcements about revoked permits.

The government’s unilateral decision to revoke the permits – not for environmental reasons, but rather because concessionaires were deemed too slow in exploiting natural resources – has created uncertainty that leaves the government open to a wave of lawsuits.

The working group aims to clarify the process, in particular by setting up a counter where dealers can contest the reasons for withdrawing their permits. For each concession in question, the government will issue a decree that will either finalize the revocation or prescribe the measures to be taken to accelerate its exploitation.

“The position [of the government] is to facilitate the negotiation of all interests,” Siti said during a parliamentary hearing on January 25. “So [the government] does not mean complicating business life, but [they] cannot complicate the life of the public and the government. that’s why [we] need clarification office.

A road made by a palm oil company clearing the forest in Jayapura Regency, Papua. Image by Asrida Elisabeth/ Mongabay Indonesia.

Room for corruption

The affected concessions include Ministry of Environment permits for 192 logging, plantation, mining and ecotourism operations, totaling 3.13 million hectares (7.73 million acres); 36 land ministry permits for plantations (34,448 hectares or 85,123 acres); and 2,343 permits from the Ministry of Energy for mines. So far, only the environment ministry has released the names of the companies involved, many of them in the palm oil sector.

Hariadi Kartodihardjo, lecturer in forest policy at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), who advised the environment ministry on the issue, said the process of clarification had already begun.

“Some companies have given clarifications to the Ministry of the Environment,” he said in a recent webinar. “The ministry then set up a team led by its secretary general [to handle] complaints. »

Syahrul Fitra, a forest activist with Greenpeace Indonesia, said it was crucial that the verification and clarification process be done transparently to avoid any possibility of corruption. He said the abrupt and one-sided nature of the revocation announcement, without any prior warning, means companies will almost certainly challenge the decision.

“Companies will send a letter and they will meet [with the environment ministry]. It’s hard not to assume that there will be [room for] a transaction [if] there is no transparency to avoid conflict of interest and corruption,” Syahrul said.

And while the process unfolds, dealerships are likely to continue operating as usual on the ground, Hariadi said. “It is reasonable to expect, because [the permit revocation] is not yet binding,” he said.

In Papua, a palm oil company called PT Permata Nusa Mandiri (PNM) began clearing more than 50 hectares (125 acres) of rainforest after the revocation list was announced. Hariadi said it could be indicative of what other affected companies could be doing or are already doing.

“Greenpeace has found that as soon as [the permit revocation] was announced, there was already an acceleration of land clearing,” he said.

Natural forest and plantation of acacia trees on the island of Sumatra.  Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler
Natural forest and plantation of acacia trees on the island of Sumatra. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Indigenous and local communities again sidelined

While companies will have the opportunity to challenge revocations, experts and advocates point out that local and indigenous communities who claim ancestral rights to many concessions continue to be sidelined.

For decades, much of Indonesia’s land has been parceled out by corporations at the expense of indigenous peoples and local farmers.

“Based on [the experience of] over the past 40 years, large companies have reached 96% [of forest concessions]while local communities with their cooperatives only got 4%,” Hariadi said.

This has resulted in a large chasm in land ownership, with just 1% of Indonesians controlling more than half of the land, including forested areas that have been cleared to make way for pulpwood plantations and palm plantations. oil, among other business activities.

The permit revocation process therefore presents a rare opportunity to consider ways to redistribute earmarked concessions to local and indigenous communities.

Hariadi said land taken from one company should not then be given to another to exploit.

“In my opinion, this should not be the case because in the issue of permits and the management of natural resources, there is a lot of conflict and injustice [stemming from disparity in land ownership],” he said.

But given the government’s long history alongside big business in land distribution, the chances of meaningful land reform are slim, he said. If the task force’s mandate is simply to reallocate the land to companies that can exploit it much faster, “then there is huge potential for institutional corruption,” Hariadi said. “It’s something that’s been going on for 90 years.”

The Widodo administration’s pro-business stance also makes it likely that the land will eventually be mined, he said. The administration may consider that the redistribution of land to local and indigenous communities does not generate the economic benefits that granting concessions to large companies would bring, he added.

“I suggest to stop using the national economic development and efficiency indicator,” Hariadi said. “Because creating justice [for local and Indigenous communities] is certainly not “economically efficient”.

Another red flag for community land rights advocates is the absence of any mention of indigenous peoples in the presidential decree establishing the task force, according to Maria Sumardjono, professor of land law at Gadjah Mada University.

“The presidential decree does not explicitly mention indigenous peoples among those who can receive land for which permits have been revoked,” she told the webinar. ” I watched [at the decree] until i have a headache [to see] who can receive the land.

Totok Dwi Diantoro, senior lecturer in environmental law at Gadjah Mada University, said the lack of mention indicates that indigenous communities will once again be left out of decisions affecting the fate of their ancestral lands.

“The presidential decree is unlikely to side with local and indigenous peoples,” he told the seminar. “If the executive order does indeed intend to do so, then there should be a clause that states [the revoked concessions] to be included in the social forestry program map.

Banner image: Oil palm plantation in West Kalimantan. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

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