A local government leader has taken the brave step of revoking the permit of an oil palm company that has already been operating for several years. Following several complaints by local civil and religious leaders about the negative effects of PT Pusaka Agro Lestari’s plantation on the Kamoro people in Mimika Regency, Eltinus Omaleng, who was recently elected as Bupati (regency head) has now declared that the company’s operations are not in the interests of the people of Mimika, and it must stop work. An article from Antara News is translated below.
This is an interesting development for the plantation industry in Papua, where the number of plantations have exploded in the last few years, amidst growing discontent, especially from forest-dependent indigenous communities who are realising that this kind of development has nothing to offer them. A recent meeting of affected communities from across the Land of Papua called for a ten-year moratorium on all plantations in Papua and to re-evaluate the MIFEE project where there are already several active plantations.
Mimika’s new Bupati seems determined to stop the plantation but the company, which is operated by Noble Agri and substantially owned by Chinese Agribusiness giant COFCO, has since been reported in the press as saying that it will file claims for all material and immaterial losses through the court system. Since the company possesses Hak Guna Usaha, a form of land tenure intended for plantation companies which allows them to operate a plantation for around 30 years, it potentially has a strong case. We will have to see how this case develops and what the implications may be for other affected communities elsewhere in Papua.
While the reason to close the company’s operations was for the indigenous people, according to the article below at least, some local indigenous people were angry with the Bupati’s decision, and together with company workers pelted the cars in his party with stones. So a few words of clarification are needed. Those who were angry were people who have become dependent on the company – either for work, or in the case of indigenous landowners, because the company is obliged to compensate them for any timber it clears while preparing its oil palm plantation. However, when people have spoken out against PT Pusaka Agro Lestari, they have mostly expressed concern for the Kamoro communities who live on the rivers downstream from the plantation, and since they are a river-based people, they need a healthy river that is not subject to droughts, flooding or pollution caused by a plantation upstream.
The fact that plantation development also has an effect on communities living remote from the plantation site is something which is rarely addressed. Usually the only communities which are consulted are those which own the customary land rights (ulayat rights) on the land covered by the plantation permit – and that consultation is in order to persuade them to let the company use the land. In theory an environmental impact assessment should address such problems, but this also is often treated as a formality, rather than an in-depth study of potential impacts. If such situations are to be avoided in the future, some kind of more integrated approach is necessary with considerable more openness so that these decisions can be made before a forest is cut down and hundreds of people become dependent on a company, and not several years afterwards.
Bupati Officially Stops PT PAL’s Oil Palm Plantation
Eltinus Omaleng, the bupati of Mimika Regency in Papua, has officially issued a decision document to call a complete stop to PT Pusaka Agro Lestari (PAL)’s activities. The oil palm plantation company has been operating in forests around Iwaka, alongside the Trans-Papua road between Timika and Paniai.
Bupati Omalen said to reporters in Timika on Wednesday that he had revoked PT PAL’s permit, even though the company also possesses cultivation rights (HGU) for a plantation, which the central government issued in 2010.
The main reason for revoking PT PAL’s permit is because the company is believed to be destroying Mimika’s forests, which are the principle regulator of water resources and the ecosystem for people who live in coastal villages in the south of Mimika.
“We have taken this decision solely in the interests of the people of Mimika, especially the Kamoro people who live near the coast. If the forest is destroyed, what does the future hold for their children and grandchildren? We do not see any benefit that the local community will get from an oil palm plantation,” said Bupati Omaleng.
On Tuesday (16/12), Bupati Omaleng together with his deputy Yohanis Bassang, the Mimika chief of police Asst Commissioner Jermias Rontini and the District Military Commander 1710 Mimika Lt. Col. Rafles Manurung visited PT PAL’s work site in Iwaka.
Upon arriving at PT PAL’s site, the legal division head of Mimika Regency Government, Sihol Parningotan read out the Bupati’s decision document concerning stopping work and revoking the oil palm plantation company’s permit.
The document revoking their permit to operate was then handed over to one of the company officials.
As Bupati Omaleng’s party was preparing to depart from PT PAL’s area, they met resistance from customary rights holders and company workers who felt that the regency government had taken unilateral action without considering the fate of the people who were dependent on PT PAL for their livelihood.
The cars in the entourage of Mimika administration officials now became the objective of the crowd’s rampage. Even the Bupati’s private car was pelted by stones by one local person. However, the security forces put a stop to the action.
Ready to be challenged.
Bupati Omaleng claims he is ready to respond to any claims that PT PAL’s management or customary landowners might have.
“Come forward, we are ready to deal with them. If PT PAL and customary landowners wish to make claims, the Mimia local government is ready to face them”, Bupati Omaleng ade clear.
Bupati Omaleng asked the Mimika police headquarters and District Military Command 1710 Mimika for their support to oversee activity on PT PAL’s land now that the permit had been revoked.
“We are going to keep checking. If people are still there and they are still working, arrest them and process them”, he said.
Since he assumed the position of Bupati of Mimika on 6th September 2014, Bupati Omaleng claims that he has received many submissions from people involved in the church, the Kamoro ethnic group indigenous organisation (LEMASKO) and other parties who didn’t want there to be investment in oil palm in Mimika.
Several of these organisations believe that the investment in an oil palm plantation is simply a way to cut down the forest with the principle aim of extracting the timber and sending it outside Papua.
The oil palm investment is also believed to threaten the survival of the Kamoro People in the coastal region, by causing rivers to dry up and destroying other ecosystems, bearing in mind that the Kamoro people depend for their livelihood on looking for and gathering products they find in nature.
The Kamoro people have always been dependent on rivers, canoes and sago palms.
The Mimika government intends to conduct an intensive program to plant cassava and other short-lifespan crops in PT PAL’s former area in order to provide economic opportunities for the hundreds of company workers and local communities who are the customary landowners.
“Starting from next year we will provide a budget for this intensive program. PT PAL’s employees and local people who live nearby will be directly involved in planting cassava and other short-lived crops. They will be the ones to enjoy the produce,” explained Mimika’s deputy Bupati, Yohanis Bassang.
According to Bupati Omaleng’s plans, he said, in the future the land formerly controlled by PT PAL will be developed into an international airport for Timika.
Marianus Maknaipeku, a representative for the Kamoro People’s Indigenous Assembly Organisation ( Lembaga Musyawarah Adat Suku Kamoro or LEMASKO), showed his appreciation for Bupati Omaleng’s decision to close down PT PAL’s activities in order to guarantee the survival of the younger generations of the Kamoro people in Mimika.
PT PAL obtained cultivation rights from the central government in 2010 to develop a 39000 hectare oil palm plantation. Before the central government issued this permit, the company had already obtained permits and recommendations from the Bupati of Mimika Regency since 2007.
PT PAL’s plantation is located from the Kamoro River in the East to the Mimika River in the west, on the Trans Papua road from Timika to Paniai.
In 2014 the company planned to have cleared 4000 hectares of forest to plant with oil palm.
Image: Tabloid Jubi: http://tabloidjubi.com/2014/12/18/bupati-mimika-tutup-perusahan-kelapa-sawit-pt-pal/