Sun, 23 Apr 2000

President marks Earth Day, admits tough decisions

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid emphasized the government's commitment to environment preservation but conceded that compromises must sometimes be made for the country's economic interests.

During a commemoration of the 30th Earth Day at the State Palace on Saturday, the President cited that he was often at a paradox on several issues including the controversy over pulp and rayon firm PT Inti Indorayon, in Porsea, North Sumatra.

Saying he personally could understand people's demands for closing of the factory due to alleged environmental degradation, but as head of state, he also is bound to honor international law and protect the interests of foreign investors.

"If the arbitration decides that the (factory operation) should go ahead, then we must allow its operation but with our own conditions," the President remarked.

Nevertheless he maintained that he would not forsake the country's environment for the mere sake of short term economic benefit.

"We are often in the position where we have to make a median decision. Sometimes we have to harm the interests of a certain group," he said.

Abdurrahman asserted that he would not hesitate taking drastic measures if the country's interest were in great danger, citing a recent decision to cancel a foreign investment in an oil refinery in South Sulawesi.

He said he canceled the decision of his predecessor, B.J. Habibie, to permit PT Hemoco Selayar International Oil Refinery, a joint venture between a Kuwaiti firm and its local partners, to build a US$2.4 billion oil refinery and petrochemical complex on Selayar island.

He said he had asked the company to find another location in Sulawesi, because the company's operation in Selayar island would pollute the sea around the island and endanger its coral reefs.

"As Pak Habibie was too concerned with technology, he gave the permit. But I decided to scrap the permit after learning the real situation there," Abdurrahman noted.


State Minister of Environment Sony Keraf has been trying to boost the commemoration of Earth Day by, among other things, calling on people to refrain from using automobiles on Sunday.

Aware of the appeal, Abdurrahman said he could not oblige.

"Tomorrow (Sunday) I must go to Surabaya. It's impossible for me not to use a car. You should have informed me about the program much earlier," the President said with a smile.

Separately, residents in the capital showed mixed reactions over the appeal not use their private vehicles on Sunday.

"It won't be a big problem for me to follow the call as it is a holiday," said businessman Gunawan Tjahjadi.

Restaurant manager Johny Nicholas said that he could only follow the appeal after going to church in the morning. "There's no other choice then using my private car to go to the church tomorrow," he said.

Earlier on Saturday around 1,000 pedicab drivers in Jakarta commemorated Earth Day by pedaling their becaks on the city's main thoroughfares even though existing law actually prohibit them from passing through these streets.

"The becak is an environment-friendly vehicle. But the vehicle is banned from operating in Jakarta by the administration," said Edi Saidi, the rally coordinator

Meanwhile, in Denpasar, Bali, environment non-governmental organizations staged various events.

Members of WWF Wallacea Bioregion Bali and the Center for Environmental Education (PPLH) cleaned the solid garbage heaped underwater in the Nusa Lembongan area.

A "different" activity was conducted by the Ashram Bali Gandhi Vidyapith, one of the noted spiritual groups in Bali. The group together with other spiritual groups held a prayer called Mahasanti Puja Jagra Bumi (a prayer to preserve the earth) at the legislative council building in Denpasar Saturday night.

Meanwhile in the Central Java capital, Semarang youths and students used the occasion to urge the government to care more for the environment.

At least 1,000 students grouped in Indonesian Alliance for the Earth and Life (AIBKB) staged a peaceful demonstration at the Simpang Lima area to protest development programs which neglect the environment.

The Bandung administration is also calling for its residents not to use their private automobiles from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Administration spokesman Ishaq Rauf announced through local radio stations and publications that the appeal was in response to the state minister's request.

Ishaq claimed air pollution in Bandung had reached an intolerable limit. "This can be seen at city parks where most of the plants do not have flowers," he said without elaborating. (har/zen/25/ind/asa/sur/prb)