PT MSL starts an oil palm nursery in South Manokwari, claiming pressure from local people.

PT Mitra Silva Lestari (MSL) has reportedly put local people to work in Yarmatum village, Tahota Sub-district, South Manokwari Regency, planting oil palm seedlings.

However PT MSL is believed to not yet be in possession of a valid environment permit, and has not completed an Environmental Impact Assessment process with the Papua Barat Provincial Environment Agency.

A.J. Siregar, who is a manager with PT MSL, confirmed that if his company had started to plant oil palm seedlings it was because they had been requested and urged to do so by local people. Meanwhile the EIA document was still being processed, he claimed.

“Local people have been urging us to give them work, so we have cleared an area of around 2 hectares which used to be a forest garden for a palm oil nursery, so that local people can start filling polybags”, Siregar explained yesterday when the Tahura Pos called him on his mobile phone.

Siregar claimed that PT MSL had been put in a dilemma, as local people had said that if they had to wait too long to get jobs from the company, then they would no longer want to accept the company’s plans.

For that reason, he continued, the company would accede to the people’s request to plant seedlings. “So we started the nursery, but we did it in an area which had been used by the people as a forest garden,” he said.

After getting this request, Siregar continued, his company co-ordinated with the South Manokwari Regency Administration, in this case the head of the one-stop permit service.

“We asked him what should we do, since the local people are insisting. He advised us that we should offer some work to local people, but that we shouldn’t clear any forest. That is the reason why we’re getting the seedlings ready. Aside from that, the local people also wanted to offer us the land they had previously used as a forest garden, so we wouldn’t need to clear forest,” he said.

On the other hand, the head of Environmental Planning and Enforcement and the Papua Barat Provincial Environment and Land Agency, Daniel L Haumahu, claims that PT MSL still does not have an approved EIA document.

“We have still not processed an EIA for PT MSL. They have previously asked us to explain the plans to local people as part of a EIA process, but we judged it to not be in accordance with the proper mechanism, and so we recommended that the project initiator should co-ordinate with us first, involving the relevant government bodies at the provincial level. However they have never come back again to try to process the document”, Haumahu said when contacted by the Tabura Pos yesterday.

For that reason, he stressed, PT MSL should not use local people as a shield in order to impose its will. It should instead process the permits and follow valid procedures. If it doesn’t, that’s a criminal offence.” he said

He added that although South Manokwari Regency does already have a Environment Agency in place, it does not yet have a technical team that is capable of processing an EIA document, so the company is obliged to process the document through the Provincial Environment Agency.

Bua, the head of the Food Security and Agriculture Agency for South Manokwari says they have not received any reports about the oil palm nursery.

“Actually there was a meeting and information about the plantation plan at the Bupati’s office not long ago, but at that meeting the District Secretary made clear that the company should not commence working before there was an EIA in place. We mustn’t collide with regulations the government has put in place,” Bua said.

In response to these events, Yohanes Akwan, an environmental activist from Pantau Gambut Papua Barat stressed that before the permit process is complete, there should be no ground work whatsoever, even if it is in the forest garden of local people.

“Even if it is in the local people’s gardens, if the government has not given permission, then no work can be done without a permit,” Akwan said yesterday.

He said, that the key point was that no activity was permitted and that it really did not make sense to say that it was because the local people had pressed for it. “There have been cases here in Papua Barat where local people have regretted handing over their customary land to oil palm plantations, and have been deceived by companies,” he said.

Before the permits are issued and certainty around local people’s rights, Akwan said, work is not allowed, even if the reason is pressure from local people.

He continued to say that he had heard that there had been several meetings and that it wasn’t the whole community in the area which had agreed to accept the oil palm plantation company’s plans.

“There are still some people in favour and some against, so the government should come and sit with all the different elements of the community and hold a joint decision making meeting so that conflict doesn’t break out within the community at a later date,” Akwan concluded.

Source: Tabura Pos (print edition 8 August 2019)

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