Indonesia must act on illegal gold mining or fall for fool’s gold

Author: Muhammad Beni Saputra, UIN Sulthan Thaha Saifuddin Jambi Indonesia’s illegal gold mining problems reveal deeper issues with local level corruption and economic inequality. In Sumatra, gold miners have complained about inconsistencies in the police’s tough security measures to eradicate mining. While there was a harsh crackdown on individual miners — with some ending up […] The post Indonesia must act on illegal gold mining or fall for fool’s gold first appeared on East Asia Forum.

Indonesia must act on illegal gold mining or fall for fool’s gold

Author: Muhammad Beni Saputra, UIN Sulthan Thaha Saifuddin Jambi

Indonesia’s illegal gold mining problems reveal deeper issues with local level corruption and economic inequality. In Sumatra, gold miners have complained about inconsistencies in the police’s tough security measures to eradicate mining. While there was a harsh crackdown on individual miners — with some ending up in jail — most oligarchs behind the lucrative business remain untouched.

Illegal gold mining (known in Indonesia as Pertambangan Tanpa Izin or PETI) is a controversial problem, which has worsened since the country’s decentralisation program in 1998. With the loosening of central government control and the diminished role of national oligarchs, local oligarchs were able to take control of the environmentally destructive mining sector.

There are generally two types of oligarchs in the PETI business. One is small-scale, local bosses who usually have several floating mining docks or holes. The other type is regional oligarchs whose business practice employs more modern machines, such as excavators and bulldozers.

Both types of oligarchs pose a serious threat to the environment and local communities, but regional oligarchs are far worse. Their excavators can reach impenetrable forests, while their political power, money and influence can buy security. North Sulawesi’s former police chief was once offered Rp 3 billion (US$200,000) per month by oligarchs for business protection. So it is not surprising that few regional oligarchs are brought to justice despite regular police and military raids across Indonesia.

Some Indonesians welcome the business opportunities that the oligarchs can bring to their villages. For those who are lucky enough to find gold on their land, PETI could mean an end to poverty. These landowners are usually offered 20 per cent of every rupiah generated from the illegal mining activity.

But PETI is not supported by all. In Teluk Langkap village, a bloody conflict between the villagers and PETI miners over river pollution resulted in the eradication of PETI for good. In Lubuk Bedorong village in the Sarolangun regency, people fiercely opposed PETI due to environmental exploitation, but their struggle has not been successful. The story is the same elsewhere in Indonesia, from Kalimantan to Papua.

Law No. 3/2020 on Mineral and Coal Mining allows regional governments to designate areas of up to 100 hectares as so-called People’s Mining Areas (Wilayah Pertambangan Rakyat or WPR) that can be mined freely by members of the public. The concept is a boon to regional oligarchs, who can lobby provincial governments to designate gold-rich areas as WPRs so they can expand their business legally — albeit at the expense of locals.

Though seemingly feasible, WPR is unlikely to offer a win-win solution because PETI generally operates in pristine forests or rivers. If this mining is legalised, there will likely be more mining activities taking place, leading to greater environmental damage. The rivers that are now muddy and chemically contaminated as a result of PETI will get worse — taking away villagers’ access to clean, drinkable water sources.

It is high time for Jakarta to strengthen its commitment to solving the PETI problem. Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo must cut off PETI oligarchs’ patronage networks from local governments and security apparatuses. It is an open secret that some politicians, police, military personnel and even village heads are involved in PETI.

Jokowi needs to introduce a measure to get all government officials, politicians and security personnel to sign an integrity pact that indicates their commitment to ending PETI. Such a policy has been in place in some regencies in Jambi, but its implementation remains far from effective. The Jokowi administration needs to demonstrate consistent law enforcement with strong political will to ensure everyone in the PETI business is held accountable before the law.

The government also needs to prioritise employment opportunities for unskilled labourers so that they do not turn to PETI to put food on the table in the first place.

The most effective solution would be to overcome the decade-long rubber price plunge from Rp 20,000 (US$1.4) per kilogram before 2010 to just Rp 9000 (US$0.6) today. The price drop has been an economic catastrophe for millions of villages in Jambi and other rubber-producing provinces, as daily survival relies on the commodity. Many of these residents would rather listen to a deal put forward by PETI oligarchs than leave their rubber plantations earning nothing — for all they know, their plantation soil could contain massive amounts of gold if the oligarchs are allowed to dig deep enough.

PETI continues to be a controversial issue in regional Indonesia, with clear winners and losers. Jakarta needs to address this problem now or see the oligarchs and their counterparts become too big to contain.

Muhammad Beni Saputra is a lecturer at the Sultan Thaha Saifuddin State Islamic University Jambi (UIN STS Jambi).

The post Indonesia must act on illegal gold mining or fall for fool’s gold first appeared on East Asia Forum.
Source : East Asia Forum More   

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Blinken Meets Tibet Exile Government Representative in India

The New Delhi rendezvous was is being read as a message to China and others.

Blinken Meets Tibet Exile Government Representative in India

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a meeting with a representative of Tibet’s exile government in New Delhi, India Wednesday, a move that Tibet analysts said showed Washington’s commitment to supporting Tibetan rights in the face of harsh Chinese rule.

Blinken met in the Indian capital with Ngodup Dongchung, a representative of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan exile government based in Dharamsala, a northern Indian city that has hosted the Dalai Lama since he fled his homeland in 1959.

Vijay Kranti, a Sino-Indian analyst and journalist, told RFA’s Tibetan Service the meeting represented a “very significant diplomatic development at the international level. It simply shows a big change for the Tibetan movement.”

Kranti said the meeting sent a message to Beijing and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who made an unannounced visit to the Tibetan capital Lhasa last week. Chinese state media did not cover the visit until two days after it happened.

“It is a very interesting contrast that has happened within just one week. Secretary Blinken met with the Dalai Lama’s representative openly, but Xi Jinping had to visit Tibet in secret,” Kranti said.

“This will also send a message to the Indian government, the European Union, and all those countries who had been waiting for years for some kind of initiative on Tibet, and they could join too,” he said.

The latest in a series of U.S. contacts with the CTA shows that President Joe Biden is delivering on his campaign promises regarding Tibet, says Tenzin Lhadon, a research fellow at the Dharamshala, India-based Tibet Policy Institute.

“President Joe Biden said that if elected, his administration will meet with the Dalai Lama and work on resolving the Tibetan issue, and the administration also as mandated by last year’s Tibet Policy and Support Act 2020, I think this visit reassures Biden administration’s commitment to Tibetan issue”. 

The Tibetan Policy Support Act of 2020 affirms the right of Tibetans to choose their next Dalai Lama, whose advancing age has brought to the fore uncertainties in recent years over his possible successor. Beijing claims the right to name his successor and the 86-year-old Dalai Lama says that any future Dalai Lama will be born outside of China.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson, when asked about Blinken’s meeting with Dongchung, told RFA in an email that Washington respected “the Dalai Lama’s dedication to the rights of all people, including Tibetans around the world.”

“The United States also supports Tibetans’ religious freedom and their distinct religious, cultural, and linguistic identity. We respect Tibetans’ right to select, educate, and venerate their own leaders, like the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, according to their own beliefs, and without government interference,” the spokesperson said.

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago, following which Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India and other countries around the world.

Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on Tibet and on Tibetan-populated regions of western China, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to imprisonment, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

Reported by Lobsang Gelek for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Eugene Whong. 

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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