A Strong Economy No Cause for Complacency
Indonesia’s economic performance continues to trigger joyous optimism as we enter the new year, not only in the government but also among economists, businesspeople and the country’s elite.
Indonesia, which boasts the largest economy in Southeast Asia and the 16th largest in the world, has posted real growth in gross domestic product this year of 6.5 percent. Meanwhile, the middle class keeps growing and foreign direct investment is expected to top $20 billion, as companies continue to benefit from the country’s natural resources and booming domestic market.
And that’s not even mentioning the other economic success stories of the year, such as the credit upgrade by Fitch Ratings.
But despite the rosy picture and optimism for the new year, there are problems that must be anticipated, especially in the plantation and mining sectors.
The recent human tragedies in Mesuji, both in Lampung and South Sumatra, and in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, signaled that we may see more conflicts in the future due to the forced eviction of traditional settlers and farmers to make way for oil palm companies and gold mining.
If left unattended, and with no comprehensive solution in sight, these agrarian and mining conflicts could lead to more chaos in many more regions.
The Mesuji and Bima tragedies happened because police sided with the companies instead of protecting the people who have been living on their ancestral land for generations. The establishment of the armed PAM Swakarsa, or the private militia that helps the police carry out forced evictions, has made matters worse in Mesuji, especially where many people have died or lost their homes.
Meanwhile, in Bima, police at the port of Sape fired live ammunition on demonstrators protesting against an Australian company that is carrying out gold exploration and mining activities on about 25 hectares of land. Television footage showed police brutality, including shootings and wounded victims who avoided the hospital in fear that they might be arrested.
The current administration’s pro-job and pro-poor policies are just rhetoric.
In a year-end discussion, an analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Indria Samego, said that these incidents could have been avoided if the government had fulfilled its promise to distribute 9 million hectares of land to farmers. Based on the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Decree No. IX of 2001 on Land Reform, the president was required to reorganize land distribution, land use and land ownership. But alas, after 10 years, not much has been done.
Samego said root causes of the incidents include slow bureaucracy, siding with capital owners, rampant corruption in almost all government offices, uneven distribution of new infrastructure and poor law enforcement. “As long as the social [gap] is still very wide and the government is not fulfilling its promises, the incidents will continue to happen,” he said.
On Nov. 13, the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) sent a recommendation to the regent of Bima and the management of Sumber Mineral Nusantara, a subsidiary of Australia’s Arc Exploration, to pay attention to the local people. That warning also fell on deaf ears.
From a historical perspective, the Indonesian archipelago has been gifted with vast natural resources. As a result, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Japanese occupied Indonesia for nearly four centuries. History has seen how insurgencies or social conflicts can be linked to foreign intervention, and indeed, most of the conflict areas experiencing social unrest have vast natural resources and host foreign companies. Aceh has gas reserves and Mobil is based there, Papua has its gold reserves and Freeport is based there, Kalimantan has its coal, East Timor has its rich oil and gas reserves, and now Bima has its gold reserves.
But aside from that, we must remember that the recent cases of bloody violence were also due to an erosion of our social capital from cultural and religious wisdom. The values of honesty, exemplary leadership, justice and generosity are diminishing due to economic pragmatism and cultural permissiveness. And in this condition, the common people are vulnerable, like highly flammable dry grass that is easily ignited by the slightest spark, or in this case, by the interests of people with money.
The government should prevent further escalation of social conflicts by preserving the nation’s social capital, with an emphasis on cultural and religious values for national development. Development should put people’s welfare as its top priority. There are 103 regions identified with the potential for conflict. But nobody, not even the authorities, has the right to evict people from their ancestral land.
And as far as law enforcement is concerned, the whole Indonesian police corps should be audited. The police doctrine and standard operating procedures must be reviewed.