Down to Earth No. 42 1999

Central Kalimantan mega-project

The Central Kalimantan Mega-project, or 'PLG', as it is known in Indonesia, has been an unmitigated disaster. The ecology and biodiversity of a vast area has been devastated; indigenous communities have lost their resources and livelihoods; and the transmigrant families who were brought in to work on the project remain dependent on government assistance as their harvests fail repeatedly.

Although scientists and NGOs warned from the outset that the project could not succeed, the bulldozers continued to plough through the peat, wrecking the natural water regulation system. They were acting on the instructions of then President Suharto - and nobody was allowed to get in the way of his prestige project. Logging companies moved in to drag away the valuable timber, laying waste to one of the biggest remaining habitats of the orang utan; the remainder was set alight to make way for more canals, transmigration sites and paddy-fields. Central Kalimantan was one of the areas worst affected by the 1997/98 forest fires when the whole region was blanketed in a choking smoke-haze. Indonesian environmentalists regarded the PLG scheme as a means to get access to cheap timber or a way to open up more forest land for oil palm - or both.

Following pressure from within Indonesia and internationally, a damning study by the World Bank and a similar Indonesian government study, the project has now been officially cancelled. Government ministers have admitted that the mega-project - which has wasted around Rp 2 trillion (US $ 300 million) so far - is a failure. In June, Secretary of Development Operations Lt. Gen (ret) Sintong Panjaitan said the government had decided to act as the project had not achieved what was intended, was harming the environment and "was improperly designed". Forestry Minister Muslimin Nasution said that the forestry department had repeatedly suggested that the project be cancelled. He said the project had had an especially negative impact on the ecosystem, and admitted that the irrigation canals built for the project had led to a spate of illegal logging and forest destruction as they provided access to forest areas to timber thieves.

The government has also acknowledged the poor conditions on the transmigration sites, where 61,000 people have been resettled. Their crops have failed three times because of an invasion of rats and water shortages in the dry season. According to Sintong, the irrigation canals, which were supposed to bring water to the fields, act instead as drainage canals, leaving the land too dry.

Yet the most recent government plans for the area are not focussing on rehabilitating the badly damaged forests, nor restoring the land and resource rights to the indigenous Dayak communities. The Habibie government has opted instead to turn the area into a KAPET - an 'Integrated Economic Development Zone.' This means that the large-scale commercial orientation of the original project will be retained and the needs of the indigenous communities will continue to be ignored. KAPET status also means that companies are given incentives, such as tax holidays, to 'develop' the area. There are KAPETs in other parts of the country, including in West Papua, where in April another 'million-hectare' project was announced, this time for rice, sago and oil palm (see page 12).

According to some statements, the Kalimantan development area will be scaled down in size; in May a Public Works department spokesman said now only 150,000 hectares would be developed, of which 80,000 hectares had already been cleared. The month before, an official source from the same department had told Bisnis Indonesia that around 40,000 hectares would be available for development by the private sector (see DTE 41, p.16). However, since the KAPET decision was announced in June, the figures have been less precise. According to Central Kalimantan Governor, Warsito Rasman, President Habibie instructed the provincial administration to make use of the facilities which have already been built - 92,000 hectares of rice-fields, and over two thousand kilometres of irrigation channels. "If there are businessmen who want to invest in the region," he said, "the door is open." In July, the Indonesian daily Suara Pembaruan quoted the head of the National Planning Board Boediono, as saying that 275,000 hectares would be used for agriculture, 375,000 hectares for plantations and 420,000 hectares for reforestation/conservation. The plantations will use the nucleus estate/smallholder system.

The transmigrants are expected to stay put too. Habibie has instructed the government to provide Rp 57 billion, most of which has been allocated for rat poison. The transmigrants - of which 60% are from Kalimantan - won't be sent home, says Sintong, but will be 'guided' and 'developed' so that they can be self-sufficient in their new area.

WALHI calls for rights and rehabilitation

Habibie's plans for Central Kalimantan prompted an angry response from Indonesia's main environmental NGO, WALHI. In a strongly worded statement, WALHI calls the mega-project one of the worst ecological disasters of the twentieth century. It condemns the new plan as top-down and damaging to the indigenous community. WALHI calls on the government to:

(Sources: Kompas 12/6/99; Jakarta Post 2/6/99; Media 8/6/99; Republika 2/6/99; Antara 27/5/99; 7/5/99;WALHI Press Release 13/6/99; Suara Pembaruan 14/7/99. See also past issues of DTE 29/30 onwards for more background.)

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