The Government is urged to swiftly implement the Palm Oil Moratorium in Papua.

Last November, the head of the Awyu ethnic group in Boven Digoel Regency, Egidius Pius Suam, sent a letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, with copies also sent to several ministries, the Governor of Papua Province, Boven Digoel’s Bupati and leaders of civil society organisations in Papua and Jakarta. The letter detailed the Awyu indigenous people’s oppostion and grievances against seven large-scale plantation companies that have been trying to set up on the Awyu’s traditional lands.

The letter was also signed by five clan chiefs, the heads of Metto, Hobinanggo, Ujung Kia, Kapogu villages and of Ki sub-district and the head of the LMA Boven Digoel, along with the support of three other heads of ethnic groups in Boven Digoel: Wambon, Kombai and Korowai.

The seven companies referred to in the letter are: (1) PT Perkebunan Boven Digoel Sejahtera (with a concession of 39,440 hectares); (2) PT Perkebunan Boven Digoel Abadi (37,010 hectares; (3) PT Boven Digoel Budidaya Sentosa (39,190 hectares); (4) PT Perkebunan Sawit Kifofi 19,940 hectares); (5) PT Perkebunan Dugu Fofi (38,160 hectares); (6) PT Perkebunan Papua Sentosa (38,725 hectares); and (7) PT Indo Asiana Lestari (38,525 hectares).

The companies’ concessions cover part of several administrative sub-districts: Subur, Ki, Jair, Mandobo and Fofi, all in Boven Digoel, Papua Province. The total amount of forest under threat of being handed to these oil palm plantation companies is 250,990 hectares.

The reason these community leaders are opposing the company is because of the threat it poses to their land and culture; they risk losing sites where they carry out cultural rituals and obtain customary artefacts as well as their food sources and sources of livelihood, as well as the loss of biodiversity, damage to the environment and social conflict.

“We are asking the Indonesian President to cancel and revoke the companies’ permits, and put a stop to the process of allowing oil palm plantation companies to operate in forested areas on the land of the Awyu indigenous people, based on a consideration of Law 29/2009 concerning the environment, Constitutional Court Decision No 35/PUU-X/2012, Presidential Instruction 8/2018 concerning a moratorium and re-evaluation of permits for palm oil plantations, and the rights of the Awyu indigenous people.”, asked Egedius Pius Suam in his letter.

However, the community has still not received any meaningful replies to the letters they sent. In the meantime, the company has kept up its attempts to influence members of the community to accede to its plans.

“According to our research the majority of these concessions are located in the area where plantation companies owned by the Menara Group obtained plantation business licences in 2011 and then got permits to release state forest land from the Forestry Minister in 2012. However, those companies did not make optimal use of the land and were then sold to new owners based in Malaysia: Tadmax Resources Bhd and the Pacific Inter-link Group”, explained Franky Samperante from the Pusaka Foundation.

The government of Boven Digoel Regency and the Investment Agency and One-stop Permit Centre, revoked location permits for [some of the] Menara Group companies in 2015, and [some of their] Plantation Business Licences in 2018. However, the local government just handed out new permits for the same land to the companies mentioned above.

The practice of companies buying and selling land from each other, and the government issuing permits to new companies, has all taken place without a process of consultation and collective decision making to obtain the consent of local indigenous people who hold rights in the area. This goes contrary to principles laid down in law and business norms which are supposed to respect the rights of indigenous people, including through the principle of Free Prior Informed Consent).

“Currently the Awyu indigenous people have not been able to obtain any information or permit documents, including copies of Environmental Impact Assessments and agreements that have been made by the Menara Group”, explained Father Anselmus Amo, MSC, leader of the Justice and Peace Secretariat for Merauke’s Catholic Diocese.

We have found that in this case, both local and central government have shown negligence from the outset and there have been a string of violations of regulations concerning the issuance of location permits, plantation business licences, environmental permits and forest release permits. This includes issuing location permits and forest release which exceeds the maximum permitted area: Agrarian Ministry / National Land Agency regulation 5/2015 states that location permits can only be issued for 20,000 hectares in a single province or 100,000 hectares in the whole of Indonesia; Agriculture Ministry Regulation 98/2013 states a maximum of 100,000 hectares of Plantation Business Licence should be given to a single company or corporate group; and Environment and Forestry Ministry Regulation P.51/2016 states that the area of forest estate released to a single company or corporate group should be no more than 60,000 hectares and should be issued in stages, no more than 20,000 hectares at one time.

“According to Environment and Forestry Ministry LHK P.51 Tahun 2016, it is forbidden to transfer the ownership of conversion production forest which has formerly been released to a different party and start work in that forest, because the new licencee will not have met the obligations. The way government issues permits and the ways companies transfer them is agaist the law. This case shows just how poor the governance of forest and other land in Papua is”, explained Aiesh Rumbekwan, the Executive Director of Walhi Papua.

Because of this, the Pusaka Foundation, Walhi Papua and the Justice and Peace Secretariat of Merauke Catholic Diocese urge the central and local government to swiftly implement the Oil Palm Moratorium legislated for in Presidential Instruction 8/2018, by taking proactive and transparent steps to stop the companies mentioned above from working and undertake an evaluation, revoking the permits of companies which violate communities’ rights and come into conflict with the law.

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