Thu, 10 Mar 2005

Harmful wate too close at home

Fadli, The Jakarta Post, Galang Baru Island

The environment minister has gone to Galang Baru Island to personally make sure 3,000 tons of dangerous waste illegally imported from Singapore goes back to that country.

However, environmentalists doubt the waste will actually leave the country and believe the minister is being duped by those responsible for the dumping.

State Minister for the Environment Rachmat Witoelar inspected on Tuesday 70 hectares of land where more than 1,700 large bags of waste had stood for more than six months.

"I want the land where the waste is piled up to return to its previous condition. I've asked my deputies to examine the land, water and environmental conditions of the surrounding area to learn whether they have been contaminated by the waste from Singapore," Rachmat said.

He then went to a small port nearby to ensure the waste had already been loaded on board a ship bound for Singapore.

Rachmat said his office had questioned five people from the company and the Batam administration over the importation.

"But the most important thing is, the waste should be sent out of the country today (Tuesday). The Navy will guard it (the ship which carried the waste) on its way to the border of Indonesia and Singapore," Rachmat said.

"If Singapore government does not consider this waste, why would they reject it? If necessary, we will send this waste to Singapore," he said.

However, on Wednesday the ship supposed to do the job was still anchored in Galang Baru port.

The Singapore Consulate General in Pekanbaru, Ajit Sing, said on Tuesday, that his government had no official confirmation that Indonesia would send material imported by PT APEL back to Singapore.

Meanwhile, chairman of the Batam Lestari environmental group Brig. Gen. (ret.) I Wayan Githa said he could not be sure if the waste would eventually reach Singapore.

"The thing that worries us is if the waste is dumped into the sea. Singapore is a country with good law enforcement. Their officials are better than ours. Even dropping a cigarette butt gets punished, let alone illegally sending hundreds of tons of waste. I feel that our government has been weak in its handling of this case," I Wayan said on Wednesday.

He expressed his concern that the minister was being deceived by those who were actually responsible for the waste's entry into the country, who had told him it would be sent back to Singapore.

"I see the ship which carried the waste is still anchored in Galang Baru island. I don't know when it will leave. Meanwhile the minister has received a report that the ship will leave soon," he said.

Hundreds of tons of the waste landed in the island following an agriculture investment proposal by PT APEL to Batam Mayor Nyat Kadir on July 21.

The proposal requested a permit to bring in 3,000 tones of organic fertilizer to Galang. After getting the permit, PT APEL dumped the bags on Galang Baru island.

However by August last year, after pressure from environmental groups and local administrations, the contents of the bags were tested and found to contain hazardous materials, which it was illegal to dump.

The Sucofindo Batam lab which tested the materials found variety of controlled metals and chemicals in the organic waste.

Based on the test results, the State Minister of Environment Office sent a letter to the Batam Mayor Nyat Kadir notifying the administration had facilitated the import of organic waste as organic materials on Sept. 1 last year.

The letter said based on the dangerous and poisonous waste definition of Law 23/1997 on the environment, the material imported by PT APEL was categorized as B3 hazardous waste. Under the law, it this waste prohibited and should be sent back to country of its origin to prevent environmental destruction at the site.

However, PT APEL operations manager Fredy Boy on Tuesday insisted the imported material was organic fertilizer that was processed from tree branches.

"And I've checked, and the case is still being investigated. The material is not B3 waste, it is pure organic fertilizer," Fredy said.

Mayor Nyat Kadi, meanwhile, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday the administration had been deceived by PT APEL.

"The Batam administration feels deceived by PT APEL, which said it was importing fertilizer, which turned out to be waste. I have reported the case to the police and the minister's office," Nyat Kadir said.

"The case has now turned into a government to government issue, between Indonesian and Singapore," he said.