PT Austindo Nusantara Jaya Tbk, owned by the Tahija family, is currently planning to expand its oil palm business in areas administered by the Maybrat Regency, through a subsidiary company called PT Pusaka Agro Makmur (40,000 hectares).
PT ANJ Group already operates an oil palm business in the Maybrat area and across the regency border in South Sorong, through two other subsidiaries, PT Putera Manunggal Perkasa (which holds cultivation rights title (HGU) on 22,687 hectares) and PT Permata Putera Mandiri (which has HGU rights on 26,571 hectares). Apart from this PT ANJ also owns a company called PT ANJ Agri Papua which has a concession to extract non-timber forest products, in this case sago, from a 40,000 hectare sago forest, located in Metamani district , South Sorong Regency, West Papua Province.
The three oil palm companies were originally owned by PT Pusaka Agro Sejahtera and three Singaporean foreign investment companies Xinfeng Plantation Pte Ltd, Xinyou Plantation Pte Ltd and Wodi Kaifa Ltd. The three companies were bought in stages by PT ANJ Group. PT Pusaka Agro Makmur was the last to be acquired by PT ANJ, in October 2014.
In Papua there are some domestic and foreign companies in the plantation business which engage in the practice of ‘land banking’, selling on natural forest for which they have managed to obtain development permits to new owners, often those which like to present a “green, welfare” image. This technique benefits these new companies because it means they can avoid responsibility for problems in the past. It is a new method to conceal companies’ shady practices connected with land acquisition, land disputes and forest destruction.
PT ANJ gave its 2015 annual report the title “Responsible Development for the Future”. PT ANJ has also committed to improve its corporate image to “produce quality products that are environmentally-friendly while adhering to best management practices that help us to achieve excellent performance, ensure good employee welfare and empower the community as equal partners”. A noble and populist ambition sure to capture people’s attention.
One of the places the company wants to realise its ambition is Papua. “We have planned for our principal source of future production growth to come from eastern Indonesia, through the development of new plantations in West Papua, and in 2013 and 2014 we acquired 105,159 hectares of landbank across three concessions.” (ANJ 2015 Annual Report).
In a public consultation event related to PT ANJ’s plans to develop new land, which was held in the Martua Sesna Hotel in Teminabuan, South Sorong Regency, a company representative reportedly stated the company’s commitment to increasing local communities’ standard of living, by recruiting local labour, upholding local wisdom, and conserving biodiversity in the area.
However, the majority of local people didn’t really trust PT ANJ’s commitment. A community leader from Saga village in Metamani sub-district, South Sorong, said that “We don’t really believe in the company’s commitment to community welfare, as the fact of the matter is that the sago company operating in Saga, a subsidiary of PT ANJ Agri Papua, buys or gives the community compensation for sago at 5000 Rupiah per length of trunk, which would fetch 100,000 Rupiah in the local market. That’s called impoverishing a community, it’s not fair”, said Adam Rariaro from Sorong City.
Communities in Kais and Metamani sub-districts, South Sorong, already have some negative experience with PT Putera Manunggal Perkasa (PMP) and PT Permat Putera Mandiri (PPM), they only received 75,000 Rupiah per hectare as compensation for their ancestral land. This land was obtained by manipulative means, with the company getting the signatures of certain individuals without the knowledge of all people who hold collective customary land title. For this reason, the community in Puragi village have brought a case against PT PPM in the Sorong District Court, which is still ongoing.
These on-the ground realities surrounding the company’s existing operations in South Sorong is the reason why KOMPEKSTRAM, a Coalition of Youth and Students from neighbouring Maybrat Regency, is now urging the Forestry Minister, the West Papua Provincial Governor and the Maybrat Regency Administration to revoke PT ANJ Group’s permit to operate in the Maybrat indigenous people’s area.
On Monday 20th June 2016, hundreds of KOMPEKSTRAM members and supporters joined a street demonstration to defy government police and show their opposition to PT ANJ’s oil palm plantations. The crowds gathered in different places: Ayawasi village in East Aifat sub-district, Susumuk village in Cetral Aifat and Kumurkek in Aifat sub-district. They headed off towards the Maybrat Regency People’s Representative Council building.
Speeches and chants from the participants made their opposition to oil palm plantations and transmigration programmes in Maybrat Regency clear. Mario Yumte, the KOMPEKSTRAM co-ordinator stated that the objective of this resistance to oil palm was to save the Papuan people and forest. “We also demand that the local government revokes PT Austindo Nusantara Jaya’s permit to operate in Womba village, Southeast Aifat sub-district and Susumuk village in Aifat Tengah”, Mario said.
KOMPEKSTRAM’s statement in Indonesian can be read here: Surat Pernyataan Kompekstram Penolakan Kelapa Sawit dan Transmigran di Maybrat
Oil palm companies operating in Papua have yet to prove that they can ensure the welfare of indigenous Papuans – on the contrary they destroy indigenous people’s sources of livelihood, and use methods which contravene the law to acquire land.
The Papuan Special Autonomy Law, number 21/2001, article 43, paragraph 4, states and makes clear that ” if land on which indigenous communities hold customary land rights is to be supplied for any purpose, it must involve a participative decision making process (musyawarah) between indigenous customary communities and other relevant local residents to reach an agreement to surrender that land and compensation needed”. The meeting between the parties needing the land and relevant indigenous communities must precede a permit being issued and rights granted by the relevant government authority. Reaching agreement in this discussion is a condition for a permit to be issued. The same goes for obtaining land which is subject to individual title, the agreement of customary leaders is not sufficient. In most cases transfer of rights to land violates this law.
“The local government has already embarked on an erroneous policy. It has not involved the Maybrat people who own the land. The local government should really ask leave of the people who own the land”, said Fransiskus Korain, field co-ordinator of the KOMPEKSTRAM action.