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Government revokes 406 mining permits in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan

Coal mined in East Kalimantan being transported by river barge. Almost half of of Indonesia's coal production comes from the province. Photo by Tommy Apriando for Mongabay-Indonesia.

  • Local authorities have revoked 406 coal-mining permits in East Kalimantan province, with another 403 permits to be revoked in the future.
  • East Kalimantan is the heart of Indonesia’s coal-mining industry, with over half of the province’s land area allocated for mining concessions.
  • The revocation is a part of a nationwide effort to stamp out irregularities in the the country’s mining sector, which has long been plagued by corruption, legal violations, and environmental and social damage.

SAMARINDA, Indonesia — Officials in Indonesia’s coal-rich province of East Kalimantan have announced the revocation of more than 400 mining permits, as part of ongoing efforts to clean up the industry.

A total of 406 mining business licenses, or IUPs, out of the 1,404 issued in East Kalimantan, in the Indonesian portion of Borneo, have been withdrawn by the provincial mining board. All but 12 of those revoked were deemed not “clean and clear,” meaning the companies failed to meet all legal requirements, including registration to pay taxes, land rent and other royalties.

Another 403 permits will be revoked in the future, bringing the total to 809, said Rusmadi, the East Kalimantan government official leading a team tasked with review mining permits in the province.

The move is a part of a nationwide effort to stamp out irregularities in the country’s mining industry, which has long been plagued by corruption, legal violations, and environmental and social damage.

At the national level, these efforts are led by Indonesia’s anti-graft agency, the KPK, which in 2014 launched an investigation into the mining industry by examining the legality of permits issued in 12 provinces. The investigation revealed that 40 percent of the nearly 11,000 licenses issued in these provinces were not clean and clear.

East Kalimantan, Indonesia’s coal-mining heartland, with an estimated 28 percent of the country’s reserves of the fossil fuel, is one of the provinces under scrutiny investigation. More than half of the province’s total land area has been allocated for mining concessions.

While the revocation of problematic licenses represents some progress in cracking down on violators, activists with the East Kalimantan chapter of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) say the government should have been more transparent in the process.

“The information given [by the provincial government] has never been complete,” said Pradarma Rupang, a member of the network. “The names of the companies whose permits have been revoked and the types of violations [they were cited for] were never announced to the public.”

Jatam has been trying to get the East Kalimantan government to disclose the names of companies whose permits are being revoked, submitting a formal request in May. To date, the provincial government has still not released the information.

Pradarma said Jatam had found irregularities in the revocation process. “There’s a strong indication, based on our findings, that the East Kalimantan government is trying to reinstate some mining permits that have expired and are non-clean and clear,” he said.

He also said a total of 415 permits should have been revoked, instead of the 406 announced by the authorities. “The question is, who owns these nine [missing] permits?” he said.

Rusmadi, who also serves as the provincial secretary, the number two official in the local government, declined to answer questions regarding these allegations.

In light of the lack of either a response or any transparency from the provincial government, Jatam has filed a complaint with the Indonesian Ombudsman, accusing East Kalimantan Governor Awang Faroek Ishak of violating the 2009 Public Service Law, which regulates how government agencies release information and respond to complaints.

Jatam has also criticized the local government for failing to address the issue of abandoned open-pit coal mines scattered throughout the province, which have claimed the lives of at least 27 people, mostly children.

Text: Anton Septian/Tempo. Data: East Kalimantan Office of Mines and Energy, Directorate General of Legal Administration of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

Pradarma said the government should not only revoke the mining permits of the companies responsible, but also hold them liable for the rehabilitation of abandoned mining sites, as required under Indonesia’s mining regulations. The law says companies must begin reclaiming mines within 30 days of ceasing operations. In practice, some companies simply walk away from their mines, leaving deep pits, which fill up with chemical-laden water.

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and was first published on our Indonesian site on Nov. 6, 2017.

Banner image: Coal mined in East Kalimantan being transported by river barge. Almost half of of Indonesia’s coal production comes from the province. Photo by Tommy Apriando for Mongabay-Indonesia.