Ecological justice in Indonesia: in whose hands for the next five years?

Down to Earth No.80-81, June 2009

In April the Indonesian people elected their paliamentary representatives. Partai Demokrat, the party of incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), secured the strongest position with around 20% of the seats. On 8th July are the elections for president and vice-president, with three pairs of candidates in the running: SBY and Boediono, Megawati and Prabowo, and Jusuf Kalla and Wiranto. What are the prospects for ecological justice?

The following is based on work by scholar-activist George Junus Aditjondro to highlight the candidates' track record on sustainable development.1

Jusuf Kalla and Wiranto: Kalla is chairman of the former ruling party, Golkar, current vice-president and a wealthy entrepreneur. He maintains a wide political and business network. His main business, Bukaka Teknik Utama, covers engineering and manufacturing of infrastructure-related products and services, including for the energy sector.

The company's track record on the environment is not impressive. Aditjondro noted that a hydroelectric power plant in Poso, Sulawesi, was constructed before the AMDAL (environmental impact assessment) was properly conducted. Similarly, hydroelectric power plants Peusangan I and II at Tanah Gayo, Aceh, went ahead before any required assessment was made. Land for the Peusangan I project was acquired from local people without fair compensation.

Jusuf Kalla is also known to be a keen supporter of coal power plant development, such as the state power company's project to provide 10,000 MW of electricity across the country from these polluting power plants. The Kalla family's Bukaka, Bosowa and Intim groups are contractors for coal-fired power plants at Jeneponto, South Sulawesi, and at Cilacap, Central Java, with coal supplied from a mine in East Kalimantan owned by Intim Group.

The record of the notorious former general and armed forces chief Wiranto on environmental issues should be tracked back to his financial backers in the military. Military-backed businesses might benefit from his position as vice-president.

SBY and Boediono:

Speaking at a public lecture at the London School of Economics before attending the G20 summit in April, SBY claimed he was proud to play an active role in tackling climate change by hosting the 2007 climate summit (COP13) in Bali. However, he has presided over a host of environmental scandals involving corporations. The most controversial is the Lapindo mudflow disaster of East Java - clear evidence of the tight grip held by business on SBY-Kalla. Lapindo is a company majority-owned by the powerful Bakrie family, whose eldest son is one of SBY's ministers. Three years after the mudflow started, Lapindo has still not yet paid full compensation to thousands of families made homeless and landless by the incident. SBY has appeared weak on this issue from the outset.2

Awarding a 'green label' to companies with dubious environmental and social records, such as mining multinational Newmont and a 'blue label' (in other words an 'okay' rating) to Freeport Indonesia, also reflects the double standards of his cabinet.

A lack of cohesion has been a feature of 'sustainable development' policy from SBY's cabinet. Joining world leaders in addressing multiple global crises, as member of the G20, for example, has no coherent counterpart policy at home. On the one hand, SBY claims to be active in combating climate change, on the other, he permits the conversion of peatlands for oil palm and timber plantations (see article, above).

Known as a seasoned technocrat and academic, Boediono has held various ministerial positions since Gus Dur's presidency. He was the governor of Indonesia's central bank before becoming SBY's running mate. Critics of his candicacy refer to his controversial bank bail-out scheme. Banks had enjoyed lavish government support through the liberalisation of the banking system: they were also first to get state support when the banking system collapsed. There is concern that Indonesia's economic policy would become more liberal under his influence, at the expense of country's remaining natural resources.



Megawati and Prabowo:

The environmental track record of former president Megawati Soekarnoputri is not impressive. Prior to taking power, her PDI-P party was rather popular among civil society groups, due to being common victims of the Suharto's authoritarian regime. However, once the first female president was in power things changed. Her party members helped to gag the outspoken environment minister, and fellow party member, Sonny Keraf. At one point Keraf was critical of polluters like PT Toba Pulp Lestari and PT Freeport Indonesia. Afterward, he became silent.

The former general and Suharto's son-in-law Prabowo Subianto is Megawati's running-mate. His new party, Gerindra, secured less than 5% of the vote in April's legislative election. His party is a trying to create a populist image, taking up nationalist concerns about foreign investors taking over country's resources and the issue of impoverishment by foreign loans. This ambition to embrace 'wong cilik' (little people') saw the couple greeting the public together for the first time in a surreal red-carpet ceremony at a landfill site on the outskirts of Jakarta.

On top of his grim human rights record, Prabowo fails on ecological justice. Kiani Kertas, now PT Kertas Nusantara, one of his companies, forms part of the chain of deforestation in Kalimantan.3

Gerindra's aggressive media campaign in the run-up to April's elections was evidence of Prabowo's solid financial backing. Following his departure from the army, Prabowo reinvented himself as a successful businessman. He and his brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo hold over 1 million hectares of timber plantation concessions and a coal mine in East Kalimantan. In Papua, Hashim is exploring gas at 'Blok Rombebai' covering an area of 11,590 km² in Yapen district. Hashim will also clear forests in Papua to make way for 585,000 hectares of ricefields and 800,000 ha of sugarpalm in Merauke district. In total, the brothers' enterprises cover around 3 million hectares of plantations, production forests, coal mines and gas fields across the archipelago. A further 1.5 million ha of land in East Kalimantan and Merauke is due to be cleared for more projects.



Law enforcement: whose rights?

The current government does not score highly on environmental protection and ecological justice according to the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), an NGO based in Jakarta. In fact, sustainable development has never been high on the agenda of any government except on paper. There are three weak points:

  • Policy: despite various regulations aimed at protecting the environment and livelihoods, exploitation of natural resources has continued.
  • Judicial role: legal disputes between corporations and communities (eg Newmont) are decided in favour of companies.
  • International agreements: Indonesia has signed many international agreements which favour economic interests over ecological justice. Trade agreements take precedence over environmental protection agreements.



Criminalisation of opposition

The recent police clamp-down on civil society on the fringes of the World Ocean Conference (see separate article, above) is evidence of a re-emergent heavy-handed approach to dealing with civil society concern over natural resources management. Human rights watchdogs, including Kontras, legal aid organisations and ICEL, have observed a growing trend on the part of the authorities to 'criminalise' civil opposition. In this regard it is important to note that former high-ranking military personnel are involved in all three presidential race duos, and that at least two of them were involved in serious human rights abuses.

How will this influence a future presidency? In the context of climate change, for example, Indonesia is considering several controversial strategies, including carbon trading, promoting agrofuels by massive expansion of oil palm plantations and nuclear power (planning for Central Java's nuclear plants is going ahead again despite all the risks). How far will Indonesia's civil society movements continue to be able to play a critical role and ensure that crucial questions about resources are debated openly?



1 GJ Aditjondro Jejak rekam para capres di bidang lingkungan & pilihan bagi gerakan lingkungan di Indonesia (30/Mar/09)
1 See DTE 71 for background. See also for update.
3 See DTE's report No Chip Mill Without Wood.