Representatives of the Lembaga Masyarakat Adat (Customary People’s Assocation), together with other people affected by the MIFEE mega-agriculture project, made a visit to Papuan provincial capital Jayapura just before Christmas. In meetings with Papuan media, they explained the new problems local communities in the Merauke Area are facing as different companies rush to develop oil palm and sugar cane plantations. Here is a selection of articles published in local media Tabloid Jubi and Alliance for Democracy In Papua(ALDP). Amongst the issues the delegation raises are the companies’ broken promises about the facilities they said they would provide or the compensation for the land, pollution, lack of information about the legal status of the land and coercive behaviour from the military that back up the companies. When they have accepted work in exchange for giving up their forests, wages have been too low to provide for daily needs. They also ask for all company permits to be revoked, as local people have not been involved in decisions about development.
Company’s promise to build education facilities were lies.
A company’s promise to build health and education facilities for local land owners around its investment site in Muting, Elkobel and Ulilin districts in Merauke Regency,has still not come to fruition.
“It was all lies, we’ve waited until now but there has been no answer. Blueprints have been drawn up, but they remain no more than sketches,” said the head of the Malind Bian Customary People’s Association (Lembaga Masyarakat Adat LMA), Sebastianus Ndiken in Jayapura last Friday.
According to him, when the company was informing the indigenous clans that own the land in Muting District of its plans some time ago, they had promised employment and also to improve education, including giving scholarships to local youth. “We have already asked when this will be, but the company has said not yet, we have no idea when it will actually happen, but they have been operating on our land for some time,” he said.
Mr. Ndiken related that one of the companies operating in Muting is PT Agriprima Cipta Persada (ACP) After about four months of operation, we are starting to see logging of the people’s forests in the area. “Look, here’s the plans I’ve brought with me. It shows plans for a school. The plans are well-drawn, but the school has never materialised,” he repeated.
Amongst the big companies that are developing oil-palm plantations in Merauke are PT Korindo Tunas Sawaerma, PT Bio Inti Agrindo, PT Berkat Cipta Abadi and PT Papua Agro Lestari.
When they move in, the companies say they are only borrowing the land on a 35 year contract, and after that it will return to its owners. “We believed that. But now we have found out that one oil palm company, PT Bio Inti Agrindo, has already obtained a permit for commercial use (HGU). We realised that in principle, HGU rights mean that after 35 years of commercial use the land will be returned to the state. To us this means that the company has failed to settle the issue of our customary rights as the true owners of the land”, he explained.
He is asking for the company to immediately fulfil it’s promises. “We don’t want problems, don’t let what happened in Mesuji occur in the land of Malind Anim. [awasMIFEE note: at least nine farmers, maybe more, have been killed in clashes with oil palm companies in the Mesuji area of Sumatra in the last two years]. We want progress, but progress that doesn’t deceive the people”, he concluded.
The most recent data from the Merauke government was that 10 of the 46 companies with investment plans were actively pursuing their operations in early 2012.
The project location is the local indigenous people’s only source of wood, animals and staple foods. Merauke Regency covers 4.7 million hectares, of which 95.3 percent is classified as forest.
Customary People’s Association wants big companies out of Merauke.
The Malind Bian Customary People’s Assocation (LMA) has requested the government to revoke and cancel all location permits of companies in the plantation sector in Merauke Regency, including oil palm.
“We have witnessed ourselves how companies are felling our customary forests that we have always protected and looked after. Destroying the forest has also caused the loss of several varieties of traditional medicine,” said the head of the Malind Bian LMA Sebastianus Ndiken on Friday.
He told of how it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to find sago, animals to hunt, materials for traditional clothing and other traditional items that had previously been found easily in the forest. For them, the damage to the customary forest is also the loss of the Malind Anim culture.
“Companies come to the village but never give us full, clear and true information. The company also doesn’t involve indigenous people and landowners from the outset. Similarly, information about regulations and permits is not given openly, clearly and in detail, including information about the potential impacts to our customary land that could arise from those company permits”, he said.
There has never been full involvement of all clans in the process of informing about plans, consultation and verification of which clans own which land, Mr. Ndiken continued. The company only talks to the clan chiefs and community leaders, including district government officials, so the customary lands can be evicted and destroyed. The kind of involvement the LMA would like to see would include attending the process of compiling environmental impact assessments, and consultations and evaluations about those environmental impact assessments.
“The LMA which is comprised of representatives of indigenous communities, has frankly not been involved. Neither have landowners whose land has not yet been evicted and destroyed. This means that not all our desires and aspirations have been properly conveyed”, he said.
According to him, the government, which should have a duty and obligation to protect, respect and advance the people’s rights, is not on the side of the indigenous landowners.
Amongst the large companies operating in the oil palm sector in Merauke are PT Korindo Tunas Sawaerma, PT Bio Inti Agrindo, PT Berkat Cipta Abadi and PT Papua Agro Lestari.
When the companies moved in, the government said that customary land would only be borrowed for 35 years and then returned to its owners. “We believed that. But now we have been told that one oil palm company operating on our land, PT Bio Inti Agrindo, has obtained a permit giving the company commercial use rights (HGU). We realised that in principle, HGU rights mean that land is returned to the state after 35 years of commercial use. To us this means that the company has failed to settle the issue of our customary rights as the true owners of the land”, he explained.
He also said that this means that the company has deliberately deceived and disregarded the people and erased their customary rights by gaining agreement for commercial use rights. “So we must make clear that if the company wishes to continue using customary land then it must ask for our agreement as landowners and must ensure that the land will be returned to the clans that are the customary landowners once the company’s tenure is finished”, Mr Ndiken said.
He said that the LMA is also demanding the immediate cancellation of all location permits on customary land. The companies must also take responsibility for restoring the forest and giving compensation to people along the Bian river as far as Kaptel. “The government also needs to take action and start tackling the disruption and environmental pollution that the company’s activities have caused.
Yeinan People Reject Oil Palm Company
The Yeinan ethnic group in Merauke Regency, Papua, reject the oil palm company which wishes to operate in their area. This oil palm company is part of the Wilmar Group.
A Yeinan man, David Dagjiay, said to reporters in Abepura on Friday (21/12) that he was currently negotiating with PT Wilmar Group that are trying to start an oil palm plantation in the Yeinan area. “We are still trying to agree some trade-off where we could agree to the company’s presence. On the whole people reject oil palm companies”, he said.
PT. Wilmar Group plans to plant 40,000 hectares with oil palm. However, until now they have not commenced clearing because local landowners have not agreed to surrender their lands. According to David, the Yeinan people inhabit six villages: Poo, Torai, Erambu, Kweel, Bupul and Tanas. “Out of these six villages, two have agreed to release their land to the company. The other four have not yet agreed”, he stated.
The people don’t want to be lied to. The Malind people have learnt from the experience of oil palm companies already operating on Malind Anim lands in Merauke. Now they (the Malind Anim people, which includes the Yeinan), are suffering as a consequence of oil palm. They have lost their livelihoods. It is difficult to hunt deer in a forest when the trees have all been cut down by the company. People can also not consume river water nearby because it is contaminated by waste from the oil palm company.
David stated that there was already one company operating in Yeinan, PT Hardaya, which is planting sugarcane. “For us, one company is enough, no need for any more. We accepted the sugar cane company because sugar cane does not need a long time to grow. Oil palm on the other hand, needs a long time. Then it depletes the land leaving it barren and dry”, he said.
State Security Forces are still backing up companies in Merauke.
To secure logging areas in Merauke Regency, several companies are using the services of Indonesian state security forces.
“And that’s been kept secret, and we want to let people know that. They are involved from the moment when plans are first presented to the people right up until the development starts in the field”, said Paustinus Ndiken, the Secretary of Malind Bian Customary People’s Association in Jayapura.
According to him, the involvement of security forces personnel has meant that it has been easier for the companies to persuade people to surrender their land. “There have been times when they have also been there asking the people to give their land over to the companies, a prominent community member was once even beaten up while the company was presenting its plans. The situation was tense at that moment, I don’t know why, and then a customary leader was suddenly struck by a member of the security forces”, he stated.
He added that the people didn’t agree with police or military intervention in the process of discussions to transfer land rights. “If they want to keep the area secure, fair enough, but don’t get involved in this process – that’s the business of customary landowners, the government and the companies and no-one else”, he said.
The head of the Malind Bian LMA, Sebastianus Ndiken said that the companies had contracted their land at low prices. In 2007, land was released for 50,000 rupiah per hectare ($6), later it rose to 70,000 Rupiah ($8) and is now 350,000 rupiah per hectare ($40). “We are being very strongly affected. We demand the price rise to 5,000,000 rupiah per hectare ($600). But the company doesn’t agree”, he related.
He also said that the companies had promised to build health and education facilities. “But these agreements have not been met, promises are still just promises”, he said.
David Dagijay, a Yeinan man from Merauke, said that the Malind Anim people do not want to be lied to. “We doubt that the company will ever build a school. Meanwhile, the land contract lasts for 35 years. Don’t let it become the company’s property after that”, he concluded.
The Yeinan area includes Toray, Poo, Erambu, Tanas and Kweel villages. Yeinan is part of the larger Malind Anim ethnic group.
Workers Frustrated because wages are insufficient.
Hundreds of employees of PT Berkat Cipta Abadi in Merauke are frustrated because the company is not paying a fair wage for the work they are doing. Employees are working for a daily wage of 62,000 Rupiah ($6.40).
“That is extremely low, while we are working in the heat. We ask for wages to rise to 80,000 or 100,000 rupiah a day”, said Melkias Masik-Basik, an employee of Berkat Cipta Abadi, in Jayapura.
He said that he has been working in the tree nursery for six months, without being absent a single day. “But it’s physical work. Yeah, this is money we would use for our daily needs”, said the 27-year-old man.
According to him, the company should pay the wages that have been established by law. Only receiving 60,000 a day means that Melkias gets on average 1.8 Million Rupiah a month ($190). If compared with what the company management recieves, it is far less. “That’s what is so frustrating for us, we want a raise”, he said.
PT Berkat Cipta Abadi (BCA) is involved in the oil palm plantation business. Apart from BCA, PT Korindo Tunas Sawaerma, PT Bio Inti Agrindo and PT Papua Agro Lestari are also operational. For Example PT Korindo puts thousands of people to work on oil palm plantations covering tens of thousands of hectares. Korindo is a joint venture between Korea and Indonesia which controls land between Boven Digoel and Merauke Regencies [awasMIFEE note: PT Berkat Cipta Abadi is also a subsidiary company of Korindo].
Neles Tuwong, an activist with the Justice and Peace Secretariat of Merauke Diocese adds that it is the company’s responsibility to provide security for its workers. “This on its own is a problem which must be overcome. I believe that landowners should be getting a bigger share”.