Questions have been raised over President Joko Widodo’s commitment to stalling revisions to the Mining Law. Photo by Wahyu Putro for Antara.


Revisions to the Coal and Mineral Mining Law that would protect corruptors, criminalise communities and endanger people and the environment are now under discussion by incoming legislators, despite President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s request last year for the process to be suspended. Discussions resumed last week under a newly formed working committee, comprised of members of the House of Representatives (DPR) and the government, who are now tasked with bringing the revisions into law.


The proposed revisions to the Law on Coal and Mineral Mining (known as RUU Minerba) have been widely criticised for pandering to the coal mining industry, while posing serious threats to communities and the environment. Outright rejection of the revisions was among the top demands of students who led mass protests across Indonesia in the final days of the term of the 2014-2019 DPR legislators, which ended on 30 September 2019.


But even as protests raged across the country, late at night on 25 September officials from the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources submitted their unfinished list of 938 concerns (Daftar Inventarisasi Masalah, or DIM), signalling that deliberation of the revisions could begin. Under pressure from the public (and a call from the president to delay the process), the DPR was forced to abandon its plans to push through regardless, like it did for revisions to the law on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) a couple of weeks earlier.


This year’s incoming DPR members, made up of around 55 per cent of the same faces, seem determined to pick up where the old legislators left off. A total list of 703 concerns was put before the working committee as it convened last week, with 235 of these  proposed changes already agreed upon by members. The draft now under discussion shows no changes since last year’s mass protests and the intervention by the president.


The developments have reignited questions about Jokowi’s commitment to rectifying the problems that angered students and activists in late 2019. His re-election campaign owed its success in part to financial support from mining companies whose permits are due to expire during his current term. As the revisions promise easier contract extensions for these companies, Jokowi will likely be under growing pressure to “repay the debt”, by waving the revisions through.

Catering to industry

More than 90 per cent of the proposed revisions to RUU Minerba cater directly to the interests of businesses and investors in the mining industry – by easing permit processes, providing long-term business certainty, and reducing elements of risk and responsibility. These are likely to be very welcome changes for the 25 coal mining companies operating in Indonesia whose permits are due to expire by 2025 – among them seven of the industry’s biggest names: Kaltim Prima Coal, Adaro, Berau Coal, Arutmin Indonesia, Kideco Jaya Agung, Multi Harapan Utama, and Tanito Harum.


One major change would see companies gain the right to extend their permits without their concessions first being offered to state-owned companies, as stipulated under the 2009 Law on Mining. The revisions would allow companies two contract extensions for a period of 10 years at a time, providing certainty for decades to come.


Concession areas would become effectively unlimited – revisions would enable companies to hold more than one mining business permit (Izin Usaha Pertambangan, IUP) in a single province for the same commodity, meaning that large areas of land could be patched together under multiple permits. The current cap of 15,000 hectares under a single permit has also been dropped from the revised draft.


Community-owned ventures could benefit from an easier process to obtain permits for Community Mining Areas (Wilayah Pertambangan Rakyat). However, these permits are a known avenue for corrupt activities by local officials and security forces. There is real potential for companies to use these permits, which are far less onerous, to avoid the social, environmental and financial obligations that would apply under the normal system.


Despite this known risk, a provision on prison terms for officials who approve problematic permits under the 2009 law has been dropped in the proposed revisions, providing legal protection for corruptors. No wonder coal companies want it pushed through as quickly as possible.

A danger to communities

Several of the proposed changes will also create dangers for the rights and lives of affected communities. Yet the list of potential concerns (DIM) submitted to the legislature in September, and presented again to the working committee last week, was compiled in discussion only with business people and a select group of academics, without any input by communities, indigenous people, or civil society.


Communities are particularly concerned about proposed changes on rehabilitation of mining sites. Under the revised law, companies would no longer be held responsible for returning sites to their prior condition, including by filling pits that can stretch to several kilometres wide and deep. Instead, the revisions suggest that these pits could present opportunities for irrigation, or as tourist attractions.


In reality, these pits are endangering communities and killing their children. From 2014 to 2018, as many as 3,033 pits were left abandoned across Indonesia, in contravention of the current law, and claimed the lives of 140 people – many of them children, who often drown when the pits fill with rainwater.


Yet the revisions also aim to narrow the space for communities to make their concerns heard. While sanctions for corrupt officials have been dropped in the draft, fines and prison terms have been added for anyone who hinders or obstructs the activities of permit-holding mining companies. The right of communities to veto mining activities in their area has also been removed.


These changes will effectively strip communities of their rights and criminalise those who resist.

Accelerating environmental destruction

The proposed revisions promote economic development via the extractive industries, regardless of the cost to people and the environment. This can only result in accelerated destruction of natural resources, and a deteriorating environment for human well-being.


Consider the case of East Kalimantan’s provincial capital Samarinda, the city at the centre of Indonesia’s coal-mining boom. Deforestation and destruction of the land surface by mining activities in the surrounding area has led to increased rainwater runoff, landslides and frequent deadly flooding. From 2009 to 2014, the city experienced as many as 150 flood events. Despite this, no consideration is given in the latest proposed changes to the 2007 Law on Disaster Risk Reduction, or to reduce the environmental impact of mining.


Coal is privileged as a commodity under the proposal, in conflict with government aspirations to reduce reliance on coal as an energy source. In 2018, coal still made up 60 per cent of the country’s energy mix, showing that there is still a long way to go to achieve goals set out under the national energy plan (RUEN) and other scenarios to leave coal behind.


This means that international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet targets on combatting climate change will be at stake if the proposed revisions pass into law.


As discussions on the revised law resume, it appears that communities will not be given their say on this crucial piece of legislation. The president should be held to his promise to stall the dangerous revisions, and made accountable to the people who got him elected – not the companies.


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