Down to Earth No. 52, February 2002

MPR passes decree on agrarian reform and natural resources

In November Indonesia's highest legislative body, the Peoples' Consultative Assembly (MPR), passed a decree which provides the legal framework for the reform of laws relating to the and natural resources management.

Decree No. IX/MPR/2001 on Agrarian Reform and Natural Resources Management acknowledges the weakness of existing laws and the resulting conflicts. It provides for the "optimal, just, sustainable and environmentally friendly" management of natural resources.

Scope for progress on indigenous rights and land reform is contained in the decree's principles and policy directives, including the principles governing agrarian reform and natural resources:

and the policy directive aimed at: The decree was welcomed by the 50 or so NGOs which had come up with the original draft and had spent a lot of time and energy lobbying Indonesia's 700-strong MPR to get it passed. They see the decree as a step forward - particularly because it brings land and natural resources together under one legislative framework. At the same time, there was disappointment over elements of the original draft that were omitted in the final version - these included a provision for the establishment of a national commission to resolve land conflicts. There is also uncertainty over how far the new decree will be able to dismantle the existing strict division between 'land' and 'forests'. The fact that almost all forests are categorised as state-owned lands has been a major obstacle to gaining legal recognition of indigenous peoples' customary rights over land and resources in forest areas.

The MPR decree is a part of the NGOs' strategy to bring about fundamental changes in the way natural resources are managed in Indonesia. One of the main goals is the replacement of sectoral laws (on forests, land, minerals, marine resources etc) with a new, holistic, land / natural resources law which recognises adat rights and ensures an equitable and sustainable use of the country's natural wealth.

The current political and economic climate makes this work especially hard and other parts of the NGO strategy have not yet been successful. These include ongoing efforts to amend the constitution. An attempt to secure MPR agreement to establish a multi-stakeholder constitutional commission was defeated.

Peasants union focuses on 1960 land law

The eleven member unions of the Indonesian Federation of Peasants Unions (FSPI) have called for full implementation of the existing law on land: the Basic Agrarian Law (No.5, 1960). These organisations believe that this law already provides for land reform consistent with peasants' needs, but that governments have failed to implement it, by opting to enact conflicting laws.

There is an ongoing debate between these peasants organisations and some NGOs as to what is the best approach towards agrarian/natural resources management reform.

The FSPI thinks the November MPR decree contains several weaknesses: it is an invitation to the government to replace the 1960 land law with a new law that accommodates the interests of the free trade lobby and could lead to the kind of land market policy advocated by the World Bank. A draft land law issued in early 2001 by the national land board (BPN) and the planning agency (Bappenas) was opposed by the FSPI and other organisations. In the current political climate, which favours the interests of capital, it would be hard to get an improvement on the existing law, argues FSPI.

The FSPI also believes that the meanings of the terms 'agrarian reform' and 'natural resources' as used in the MPR decree, overlap, since 'agrarian reform' as understood by FSPI, already covers natural resources.

In a draft MPR decree of its own, the FSPI calls on the MPR to instruct the president to implement Law No.5 1960 properly, and to direct parliament to draw up new regulations which clarify the parts of the law that are open to misuse. These include articles on the authority of the state (Hak Menguasai Negara) (article 2) and on the 'general', 'national' and 'state interest' (article 18). FSPI also wants a new law which will set up land reform courts as a means of settling land conflicts.

(Source: MPR decree IX/MPR/2001; Usulan rancangan ketetepan MPR-RI tentang Pembaruan Agrarian Di Indonesia, FSPI, 24/Sep/01)

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