Thu, 11 May 2000

NGOs raise red flag over govt plan to lease islets

JAKARTA (JP): Several non-governmental organizations panned on Wednesday the government's plan to lease thousands of uninhabited islets to foreign investors.

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) chairwoman Emmy Hafild blasted the proposal as a desperate attempt by the government to raise money from foreigners.

She warned the government would be unable to control the exploitation of the areas once they were occupied.

"When people only rent a place, they won't be sufficiently aware of the responsibility to take good care of it," Emmy told The Jakarta Post.

"Take the Freeport (PT Freeport Indonesia in Irian Jaya) case, for example. They feel they live in their own territory -- they can dig up a mountain or dump their waste into the river at will.

"Even the government cannot enter their site without their permission."

The Ministry of Maritime Exploration announced last month its plan to put up some 10,000 uninhabited small islands across the country for lease to foreigners. It argued that it would bring in significant revenue for regions.

As a start, the ministry announced on Tuesday that between 100 and 200 islets in North Sulawesi, South Sulawesi and Nusa Tenggara would be leased.

Emmy also feared the islets could be used as transit points for drug trafficking.

Mubariq Ahmad from Natural Resources Management (NRM) rejected the project because it would sacrifice the interests of local islanders.

"When the government licensed forest concessions to exploit the forests, it was later found there were many tribespeople who had lived in the areas for ages," Mubariq said.

"The locals then were kicked out from their own homes and declared intruders."

He feared the same fate would befall the islanders.

He spoke to reporters following a news conference to announce a planned national conference to seek a "handbook" on natural resources exploitation. The three-day event will start on May 23.

Representatives of the government, non-governmental organizations focusing on the environment, the business community and scholars will participate in the conference.

National council coordinator of the Indonesian Traditional Community Alliance (AMAN) Den Upa Rombelayuk, who attended the media conference, shared Mubariq's view.

"The government will benefit foreigners at the expense of local communities," Den Upa said.

Qualified support for the government's plan came from deputy executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), Sandra Moniaga. She said the plan was acceptable but it still needed preliminary research to find out whether the islets belonged to traditional communities.

She warned it would be wrong to assume the islets were not part of local communities even if there were no permanent settlements.

"Because even if the islets are uninhabited, they may have been used as fishing sites by nearby islanders."

She said the plan should be tried on one or two islets to determine the impact on the environment and nearby communities. (08)