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Publication Date : 11-03-2013
The plight of mudflow victims from Porong in East Java has been used for political ends, but extensive relief is yet to reach communities
Seven years ago, mining firm PT Lapindo Brantas decided to drill the earth in Porong, Sidoarjo, East Java, in search of gas.
No one would have thought that the drilling would allegedly trigger one of the most catastropic environmental disasters of all time, known widely as the Lapindo mudflow.
The company management and owners are not legally cupable, however, as in 2009 the Supreme Court ruled the mudflow was caused by natural factors, including the earthquake in Yogyakarta that occured just days before the drilling commenced.
The mudflow has so far displaced almost 40,000 residents, who have not only lost their properties but also their way of life, culture and past attachments. The mudflow continues to expand even to this day.
Not all residents have received compensation for their losses, but they have proved a useful political commodity for the elite.
It is easy to see why the mudflow victims are often cited, if not exploited, by Indonesia's political top brass. Lapindo is partially owned by politically wired Bakrie family, which is under the patronage of the Golkar Party chairman Aburizal “Ical” Bakrie.
Golkar is currently the second largest faction at the House of Representatives, while Aburizal is the party’s presidential candidate in the 2014 general election - meaning Golkar may soon go its separate way from its current coalition partner, the ruling Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party itself has been under a negative spotlight during the last two years; most of its elite have been arrested and sent to jail for graft.
Meanwhile, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Democrats’ chief patron, recently slammed Lapindo for failing to pay compensation to the Sidoarjo mudflow victims.
“I heard that Lapindo has not fulfilled its obligation. Its liability of 800 billion rupiah [US$82.9 million] has not been met. Tell Lapindo that it must keep its promise. It’s a sin if they play around with these people,” he said.
Speculation is rife that Yudhoyono’s statement reflected his effort to shift the current public spotlight on his party toward Golkar and Aburizal.
Aburizal spokesman Lalu Mara Satria Wangsa denied that Lapindo had neglected the victims.
Mudflow victim Untung, whose village - Renok Kenongo - and 4-hectare farmland is now 10 feet under the mud, said it was not unusual for the elite to utilise the victims’ plight to attack their political enemies
“Some years ago, when Golkar held its congress to elect a new chairman, Pak Surya Paloh came to me and offered me 60 million rupiah to take 20 people to Riau, so we could launch a rally against Ical,” Untung said.
Surya competed against Aburizal for the Golkar chairmanship during the party’s national congress in Riau in 2009. Surya was defeated and decided to establish the NasDem Party a couple of years later.
Untung said he refused Surya’s offer, saying he was unfamiliar with Riau.
“I’ve had many experiences where politicians and public figures have paid us to rally in major cities but then have left us stranded,” Untung said.
“We hope Nasdem is willing to pay attention to our fate and rights. The victims will never forget those who want to fight for our rights,” Untung said.
However, NasDem Party executive Ferry Mursyidan Baldan, formerly of Golkar and part of Surya’s team for the Golkar chairmanship, said Untung’s claims about Surya were untrue, and that the party had never engaged in such moves.
“Maybe, it was just someone claiming to represent Pak Surya to the victims,” Ferry said, adding that the NasDems would not exploit the Lapindo issue for the 2014 general elections.
Untung added that other political figures had often promised the victims that they would be taken care of if they voted for certain parties or candidates during election seasons.
“For example, [East Java Governor] Pak Soekarwo said during his campaign in the last East Java gubernatorial race that he would ensure the Lapindo victims would be fully compensated within one year, but many have yet to receive full compensation,” he added.
Soekarwo, a senior politician for the Democrats, won the race to become East Java governor in 2009.
Greater Indonesian Movement Party (Gerindra) chief patron Prabowo Subianto also once sent a representative to deliver his promise to the victims, Untung said.
“The representative said that one day, Prabowo would personally visit the mudflow site and residents to give us help and assistance,” but the representative had said the time was “not proper” for his visit, according to Untung.
Gerindra senior politician Desmon Mahesa said Prabowo thought it would not be proper to meddle with the Lapindo issue when the Bakrie family was still trying to compensate the victims.
“The Bakrie family has said it will fulfill its commitment by the end of May this year. Gerindra and Prabowo believe that meddling in the issue right now will only increase the political tension. In addition, we do not want the public to see us as opportunists,” Desmon said.
“Internally, we have been discusing how to manage the mudflow and what we should do after the victims have been compensated, what to do with the current affected area and victim resettlement,” Desmon added.
Another victim, Agus Kholiq, said residents could not care less about the political bickering over their fate.
“All the residents wish for now is for someone or any party that genuinely wants to help us, not just use us as a commodity for a political campaign or agenda. All we’ve wanted for the last six or seven years is to move on with our lives after all of us have been fully compensated,” Agus said.
Agus added most residents no longer believed in politicians and their promises.
“Most of us do not even believe the government anymore,” he said.
With the local residents witnessing empty promises, the result has been political apathy, Agus said.
“During the 2009 elections, most of us decided not to vote for anybody. Political leaders see us only as a commodity and nothing else,” he said.
“If this continues, we will not vote again in 2014,” Agus added.
The story so far
• May 29, 2006: Mud begins to flow in Porong, Sidoarjo, just hundreds of meters away from a drilling site belonging to PT Lapindo Brantas.
• August 21, 2006: The mudflow covers at least 350 hectares of land including crops and settlements, and threatens Sidoarjo’s famed shrimp farms and leather industry.
• October 30 2006: Police submit the dossier of their investigation to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor rejects the police report twice, latterly in April 2009. Thirteen Lapindo executives and staff are declared suspects but never detained owing to their “cooperation.”
• March 11, 2007: The affected area grows to 470 hectares, which the Supreme Audit Agency in a later report compares to the size of Monaco. As well as buried settlements major toll roads and railways are also damaged.
• April 8, 2007: A government regulation sets up the Sidoarjo Mudflow Mitigation Agency (BPLS) to replace the temporary national team on the mudflow. The regulation states all expenses for mitigation efforts relating to infrastructure will be covered by the national budget; Lapindo is responsible for paying for efforts to stem the mudflow and the construction of a spillway to the Porong river.
• May 29, 2007: The Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) completes its audit report on the mudflow disaster and concludes that human error, through numerous regulation violations, may have contributed to the disaster. BPK calculates a cost of nearly US$3.5 million to restore Sidoarjo and surrounding regions from 2006 to 2015.
• July 17, 2008: First change to 2007 regulation on BPLS, citing the mudflow impact beyond the affected zone designated on March 22, 2007; the state budget opts to cover “social expenses” in three villages outside the zone, including the purchase of victims’ land.
• April 3, 2009: The Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling that the mudflow is a natural disaster, thus the government bears responsibility for the victims and damage to public infrastructure.
• Aug. 7, 2009: East Java police drop their criminal investigation into the disaster and drops charges against the 13 suspects, citing lack of evidence that they violated the law on environmental management.
• Sept. 23, 2009: Second change to government regulation on BPLS, stating that the government and state budget will cover efforts to mitigate the mudflow.
• Sept. 27, 2011: Government issues third change to 2007 regulation on BPLS, outlining compensation for victims and public utilities.
• March 20, 2012: Bakrie family matriarch and widow of noted entrepreneur Achmad Bakrie, Roosniah Bakrie, dies. To honour her last wishes, Aburizal later promises that mudflow victims would be fully paid by the end of the year. Reports quote him citing Roosniah, who had stated that the Bakrie family must complete the purchase of the mudflow victims’ land. Aburizal repeatedly says the funds are from the Bakrie family and are to be used to buy victims’ land - not compensation from Lapindo - as the company has been acquitted by the Supreme Court.
• April 3, 2012: House of Representatives passes controversial revision to law on state budget, leading to increased state funding through the BPLS to 1.6 trillion rupiah (US$165 million) from the 1.3 trillion rupiah initially allocated for 2012. The revision allows BPLS to buy land from victims outside the immediately affected area under Lapindo’s responsibility.
• April 5, 2012: President signs fourth change to 2007 government regulation on the BPLS, which lists areas outside the immediately affected zone under Lapindo’s responsibility, where residents are entitled to compensation from the state budget.
• August 14, 2012: National rights body declares the mudflow disaster is a human rights violations for which Lapindo is responsible, among others causing 200 people to have died from poor health and 80 per cent of residents experiencing lung problems.
• December 13, 2012: Constitutional Court rejects request to change 2012 law on state budget, arguing that allocating state budget funds to rectify problems created by the mudflow beyond the immediately affected zone did not eliminate Lapindo’s obligations.
• February 14 2013: On Valentine’s Day, the President states that both Aburizal and Lapindo have failed to meet their promises to fully compensate mudflow victims.
• February 15, 2013: Lapindo executive Andi Darussalam Tabusala says that Lapindo will fulfill its promise by the end of May 2013.