Indonesian Activists Seek Land Reform, But House Has Other Ideas
Despite mounting calls for an agrarian reform law, especially after the recent spate of violence over land disputes, the House of Representatives appears adamant that it isn’t needed.
Activists have long been pushing for a bill that would establish and regulate an integrated system over how the country’s natural resources are used by oft-conflicting parties.
They want something more substantial than the 1960 Regulation on the Basics of Agrarian Affairs which, while clearly protective of the people’s rights to the land, is not substantial enough to safeguard those rights in practice.
Should they succeed, it would finally put into effect a 2001 People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) decree that mandates the creation of such a law.
The lack of one, activists have argued, has led to a number of land dispute cases over the years, many of them violent.
However, lawmakers don’t seem to agree.
Committee Is Enough
On Friday, a day after a massive land reform protest in front of the legislative building in Senayan, lawmakers maintained that they would not work on a new law to solve the country’s numerous land disputes.
Instead, lawmakers initiated a plan to establish a special committee that would involve members from all political factions and commissions.
Such a committee, in handling specific cases, would have the right to summon relevant people or institutions and come up with recommendations for officials and law enforcers.
An Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker, Budiman Sudjatmiko, who has spearheaded the new plan, said he had already collected 35 signatures from House members. He said they spanned all political factions, except the ruling Democrat Party, which is opposed to the idea.
Under House rules, a proposal to establish a special committee can be submitted to a House plenary session for approval if it has at least 25 signatures. But Budiman said he and the other initiators were shooting for at least 100 signatures from the total 560 lawmakers.
Even if the special committee isn’t approved, said Hakam Naja, a National Mandate Party (PAN) lawmaker, House Commission II overseeing home affairs already has a working committee on land disputes.
“And we have started working,” said Hakam, the deputy chairman of the commission. “There are 167 land dispute cases. We are going to work on big cases, and use the model to solve other cases too.”
The country’s chronic land dispute problems made headlines last month when a group of farmers from Mesuji in Lampung went to the House to report the alleged massacre of farmers in their district by law enforcers and security officers working for a plantation company.
Another high-profile incident took place recently in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, when the police killed and injured protesters during a demonstration against a gold mining company.
According to Budiman, an investigation by lawmakers found that since 2004, 189 farmers have been killed for their land, with 22 in the last year alone.
The Commission on Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) has said that it identified eight violent land disputes involving companies last year and that three people died in the disputes with another 56 injured. It said seven people were still being intimidated and 14 had been arbitrarily detained.
“I must say that a special committee will never solve the root of these problems,” said Nurkholis Hidayat, director of the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH Jakarta). “It might solve cases that are ongoing now, but not the root. If lawmakers are serious, they can work on the laws.”
Indonesia, Nurkholis said, does have a solid pro-people law on agrarian affairs. The 1960 basic law clearly ensures the rights of the Indonesian people to the land, he said. But it doesn’t go into detail, he added, only explaining the basic principles.
“And the sectoral laws [derived from the 1960 basic law] we see today do not follow the principles stated by the 1960 basic law,” he said.
Those sectoral laws include legislation on forestry, minerals and coal mining, oil and gas, and plantations. Most have been targets of judicial review requests by various groups, assisted by LBH Jakarta, Nurkholis said.
“There are so many articles that contradict the 1960 basic law. Some of them overlap as well,” he said.
For instance, according to Iwan Nurdin, the deputy secretary general of the Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA), Article 7 of the 1960 basic law stipulates that “to not harm public interests, excessive land ownership and control is not allowed.”
Despite this, Article 9 of the Mineral and Coal Mining Law puts the sole authority for deciding how much land a company can take for mining in the hands of officials and lawmakers.
In practice, Iwan said, this means the government and House only nod when a company wants a lot of land for mining.
“So a special committee cannot guarantee that problems like this will be solved,” he said.
Nurkholis said that what was needed was a comprehensive amendment of all the articles in the sectoral laws that contradicted the 1960 law, and also a new integrated law to regulate the ownership of natural resources.
Iwan added that the 2001 MPR decree on agrarian reform and natural resources mandated the House to review all flawed articles in the sectoral laws and draw up the kind of law his group had been asking for.
Still, he said, the KPA would give the House’s solution — the special committee — a chance.
“But we are going to monitor and give them a deadline,” Iwan said. “Within 100 days there should be some concrete steps taken by lawmakers to settle these problems.”
PAN lawmaker Hakam Naja, however, doesn’t buy the idea that the sectoral laws cited by the activists should be revised.
Hakam argued that using the 1960 basic law as the sole reference for sectoral laws did not make sense and that people should understand that a different social climate existed when that law was passed back in 1960 under President Sukarno.
“With the era of globalization and global investment, we need to understand that land has an economic value,” he said. “Back then in 1960, the situation was different.”
Amending the sectoral laws is possible, Hakam said, but not within one House term. And the House, he said, cannot revise all the laws at the same time.
“And there really is no need to draft and deliberate another law on natural resources,” he said, referring to the MPR’s 2001 decree.
House Commission II’s proposed committee on land disputes, he added, will help people resolve their cases immediately, without having to wait years for a revised law.
But MPR deputy chairman Hajriyanto Tohari said that lawmakers could not ignore the decree, which is binding and considered second only to the Constitution in terms of weight.
Besides, Hajriyanto said, he agreed that a new law on how the government should handle natural resources was needed.
“I think the MPR must give the House of Representatives and the government a warning. Like it or not, members must follow the MPR’s decree,” he said.
Additional reporting by Markus Junianto Sihaloho