Wed, 09 Jul 2003

Govt mulls lifting ban on sand exports to Malaysia

Haidir Anwar Tanjung and Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru/Jakarta

The government is considering lifting the six-month ban on sand exports from Riau to Malaysia, but it will maintain the ban on sand exports to Singapore until the outstanding maritime border issues with the latter are settled, an official has said.

The plan to possibly allow sand exports from Riau to Malaysia has been hailed by exporters and the local administration, but has been strongly opposed by enviromentalists.

Safri Burhanuddin, director of research for maritime territory and non-living resources at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said that the government's monitoring team on sand exports had visited Malaysia to discuss the possibility of allowing sand exports to that country.

"We have discussed the plan with the government of Malaysia. We are now waiting for a joint agreement for the next sand exports," he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

With Singapore, Safri said that the ban would remain in place until the two countries settled their outstanding border issues.

The Indonesian and Singaporean governments failed to reach agreement on the border issues during a meeting in March.

The two governments are expected to meet in August to discuss this problem.

The government banned sand exports and mining in January in response to protests from environmentalists that sand mining in the waters off Riau province had damaged the marine environment.

Uncontrolled sand extraction from the coastal areas of Riau has caused severe environmental damage, leading to the disappearance of a number of small islets in the province.

The sand from Riau, both legally and illegally extracted, is exported mostly to Singapore, which has a high demand for sand to support reclamation projects in the island state's coastal areas.

Indonesia fears Singapore's continued reclamation projects will affect its maritime borders with the island state.

According to a government estimate, Singapore has grown from 580 square kilometers to 660 square kilometers following the reclamation projects.

Singapore is estimated to require some 1.8 billion cubic meters of sand over the next eight years for its reclamation work.

Riau has been exporting sand to Singapore for many years. The sand is sold for S$1.5 per cubic meter to international brokers, who then sell the sand to Singapore construction firms for S$15 per cubic meter.

Meanwhile, Karimun Regent M Sani said that allowing sand exports to Malaysia would help increase the local administration's revenue.

He said that the sand business had so far contributed between Rp 70 billion and Rp 80 billion in cash to the administration's coffers.

"But since the ban came into effect, we have had to delay the development of several infrastructure projects in Karimun regency," he said.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said that lifting the ban on sand exports would not benefit the local community.

"For Walhi, the sand exports and quarrying activities have only caused damage to the marine environment and have never benefited local fisherman," M. Teguh, a senior official with Walhi, told the Post.

Chronology of RI's sand export policies

Feb. 7, 2002: Minister of Industry and Trade Rini MS Soewandi, together with top military leaders, visit Riau to inspect sand mining activities. She deplores the environmental damage caused by sand mining and the low price paid by Singapore for Indonesian sand exports.

Feb. 15, 2002: Government issues a decree temporarily banning sand exports to allow a government team to explore a better sand mining and export system.

July 25, 2002: The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries issues a decree on sand mining zones aimed at restricting the extent of sand mining areas.

Sept. 5, 2002: The Ministry of Industry and Trade issues a decree limiting the amount of sand that can be exported to Singapore.

Jan. 23, 2003: The government issues a decree totally banning sand exports.