Strong Men Behind Makassar Reclamation

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaThe extraction of sand for the reclamation of Makassar New Port threatens the livelihoods of fishermen. Matters will get worse after the omnibus law is passed.

    THE conflict over the extraction of sand around Kodingareng Lompo Island, South Sulawesi, illustrates a classic development problem that often sidelines the poorest in our society. The local government has failed to defend the interests of the fishermen who for decades have earned a living from the area.

    The large-scale extraction of sand has disrupted the livelihoods of hundreds of fishermen around the islands and coastline of Makassar. It has been taking place in the Spermonde Block, in the sea west of South Sulawesi since the beginning of February. Three times a day, a 24,000 cubic meter capacity ship transports sand away. As a result, the seawater becomes muddy, while the sound of the machines that suck up the sand has driven the fish away.

    The sand is being used for the reclamation of land for Makassar New Port. The government began planning the 1,428-hectare project since 2013. Three years later, President Joko Widodo added it to the national strategic program. It has been proclaimed as the future largest port in eastern Indonesia. The second phase of the construction began at the beginning of this year.

    The South Sulawesi government chose the easiest and cheapest way to obtain the sand needed for the reclamation. It is being taken from the waters around Kodingareng Island, which is home to around 5,000 people. Naturally, the amount of fish caught in the area fell drastically after the dredging started. Locals protested by organizing a series of demonstrations starting in June.

    As in other places, the demonstrations were confronted by state violence. The police questioned three people from Kodingareng in relation to strange charges. The three were accused of being in breach of article 25 of Law No. 7/2011 on the national currency. This was because they had torn up envelopes containing money given to them by the sand extraction contractor. The police also arrested three islanders who demonstrated on Saturday, September 12.

    Two of the companies holding sand dredging permits are owned by people who are close to South Sulawesi Governor Nurdin Abdullah. These two companies had only been established a few months when they were awarded permits to extract sand from an area of almost 13,000 hectares wide. According to locals, the authorities did not tell them about the plan to extract the sand before it started.

    Ironically, those who came to power as a result of a democratic process - as often happens in other places in this country - find themselves opposing the people. The usual jargon is being used: in the name of development. As well as moving local people away from the places where they seek their livelihoods, the arbitrary dredging of sand in Takalar will damage the maritime ecosystem, especially if it is carried out by inexperienced companies.

    The two companies in Makassar that are believed to include people close to the governor, should have only been awarded extraction permits after completing an environmental impact analysis. While completing this document, there is an obligation to inform the public and to calculate the risks of the extraction on the balance of the ecosystem. These companies obtained these documents extremely quickly, in much less time than is usually the case.

    The conflict in Makassar is only one example in Indonesia. The same problem will occur time and time again if the clause requiring an environmental impact analysis is removed from the omnibus law that is currently being rushed through the House of Representatives. There are concerns that environmental damage as a result of "development activities" such as the arbitrary sand extraction in Makassar, will only increase.

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