- An iron ore mining company in Indonesia’s Sumatra Island has continued operating despite the local government telling it to halt its activities, local villagers say.
- An inspection by provincial authorities had found the company, PT Faminglevto Bakti Abadi (FBA), to be lacking permits and posing risks to the environment and nearby communities.
- The company’s reported violation of the order has prompted locals to set up camp outside the concession as an act of protest.
- The villagers are demanding the government to revoke the concession, citing ongoing and potential damage to the environment and their livelihoods.
JAKARTA — Villagers in Indonesia’s Sumatra Island have demanded authorities revoke the permit of an iron ore miner after it continued operating in violation of an order to halt its activities.
That order stemmed from a July 7 field visit by local government officials, who found a myriad of violations at the site operated by PT Faminglevto Bakti Abadi (FBA) in Pasar Seluma village, Bengkulu province. The company had allegedly been operating without a permit, dumping waste in a nearby river, and mining within 30 meters (100 feet) of the coast, which is prohibited.
The Bengkulu marine affairs agency also found that FBA’s operation had the potential to damage the marine ecosystem in the area, as the company planned to mine 350 m (380 yards) offshore.
Based on the findings, Bengkulu Governor Rohidin Mersyah ordered FBA to cease its operation.
“That’s why [the mining operation] has to be temporarily halted until the company obtained complete permits,” he said on July 10 as quoted by state news agency Antara. Rohidin also submitted a request on July 22 to the ministry of mines in Jakarta to carry out an inspection and revoke FBA’s mining permit if necessary.
However, Pasar Seluma villagers say they witnessed the company continuing to mine in the area as of July 24.
“The mine hasn’t stopped working even now,” Elda Nenti, a Pasar Seluma villager, said at an online press conference on Aug. 1. “[Even] today, they’re still working and dredging. This really troubles us.”
Ledianto Ramadhan, a lawyer for FBA, denied the allegation, saying the company was simply testing its equipment. He also said FBA had complied with all regulations.
“The statement that we don’t have permits is false. Our permit is valid until 2030,” he said.
Dozens of Pasar Seluma women, including Elda, have since set up an encampment in the mining area as an act of protest. They’re demanding that the mining minister, Arifin Tasrif, follow up on the Bengkulu governor’s request by revoking FBA’s mining permit.
They’ve also asked the ministries of marine affairs and the environment to investigate the matter, and for mining inspectors to force FBA to cease its operations. The villagers say they also want the Bengkulu governor to report FBA’s alleged violations to law enforcement.
The Bengkulu chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), which has been advocating on behalf of the Pasar Seluma villagers, said FBA finally stopped mining on Aug. 12 based on the locals’ observations.
“Because there was repeated pressure [from the villagers and the local government], the company stopped [operating],” Walhi Bengkulu advocacy head Dodi Faisal told Mongabay.
But that came more than a month after the Bengkulu governor issued the order, and long after protests from the locals, he said.
In January, Erwin Octavian, the head of Seluma district, where Pasar Seluma is located, also issued a letter asking FBA to halt its operations pending an assessment by provincial authorities of the company’s permits.
Dodi said FBA had a history of dismissing locals’ concerns and government orders, adding there’s no guarantee the company wouldn’t resume its operations in the future. He said part of the problem is that the order from the provincial authorities was merely verbal and not written.
“If it’s only a verbal warning, it’s not powerful enough, and that’s been proven by FBA defying the local government’s repeated orders [to halt operations],” Dodi said.
He said the locals are still waiting for the central government, in this case the mining ministry, to issue a written order to FBA.
“If not, then we’re afraid [the company will resume its operations],” Dodi said. “We’re afraid there will be attempts to eliminate the evidence [on the ground].”
He said Walhi, the villagers and the provincial mining inspector had sent a letter to the mining ministry, asking it to issue a written order to FBA, but hadn’t received a response yet. Once a written order is issued, the villagers could use it to stop any future resumption of activity by FBA, Dodi said.
In the meantime, the villagers will continue to monitor the mine from their camp, which has been set up right outside the front gate to FBA’s concession, Elda said.
“We will remain [here] until the governor and the ministry come to the location,” she said.
This is the second protest camp the villagers have set up at FBA’s site. In December 2021, they staged a similar move. But because they set up camp inside the concession, the police bulldozed their tents and arrested 10 villagers.
With the fate of FBA’s mining concession still up in the air, Walhi Bengkulu coordinator Frengky Wijaya said the government should be more decisive and revoke the concession altogether.
Right now, it seems like there’s still a chance for FBA to obtain the necessary permits and resume full operations once it has fulfilled all the requirements, he said.
“It’s such a shame that the provincial government is not decisive, even protecting investments that violate [the law],” Frengky said during the online press conference.
Elda said all she wants is for FBA, which has operated in the area since 2010, to get out of her village. She said the mining operation has impacted the villagers’ livelihoods, which depend on water clam farming.
She said the villagers used to be able to earn up to 300,000 rupiah ($20) per day from farming clams. Now, they struggle to make even a third of that, blaming wastewater from the mine for polluting the beach where they run their aquafarms, Elda said.
“We’re only asking for the mine to immediately get out of our village,” she said.
Banner image: Image of iron ore mining company, PT Faminglevto Bakti Abadi (FBA), operating in Pasar Seluma village, Bengkulu province, Indonesia, in August 2022. Image courtesy of Walhi Bengkulu.
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