Merah Johansyah | Coordinator of the Indonesia Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM)

As each person struggles to take care of his or her own health, many businesses take advantages of government’s regulations during the Covid-19 outbreak, and continues to destroy the important air, food and ecological infrastructure as the markers of ecological social immunity and community, when dealing with the pandemic.

For mining tycoons, the Covid-19 pandemic period provides ample opportunity to make profits in their own interests and to re-regulate the planet in danger. They also put the defenders of the earth at the forefront—who were already constantly dealing with threats—in their place, through more greater and forceful tendencies and patterns that escape the (public) eyes.

First, they brought out the danger of the pandemic quite deliberately by continuing business operations, leaving communities and miners exposed to the high risk of Covid-19 infection.

Mining communities are restless because PT. Dairi Prima Mineral (PT. DPM) in Dairi, North Sumatra, continues to work on its construction and bring in workers from outside the Dairi region. The intensity of its working environment and physical interactions makes the community filled with anxiety. In Banyuwangi, East Java, despite continuing protests from the community, the gold mining operation of PT. Bumis Suksesindo (PT. BSI) is still running. As a matter of fact, PT. BSI will continue to devour the next mountain after Mount Tumpang Pitu, which is the (still) unspoiled Mount Salakan.

Similarly, the operation of the battery industry complex in Morowali, Central Sulawesi, through Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP) and Indonesia Weda Bay Industrial Park (IWIP) in Halmahera, North Maluku, still continues despite the initial controversy. All this because of the role of the Coordinating Minister for Maritime and Investment, Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, who continues to force the entry of foreign labor competition (TKA) from China to come and work in Indonesia.

Not only residents or communities, the working class has also become a victim of this policy. For example, the dredges operating in Bangka ships by PT Timah in Bangka Belitung Province. The Bangka Dredger Mining has become the ‘label’ name as the epicenter of cluster distribution of the epidemic, following the identification of three of its workers as Covid-19 positive.

In the mining complex of Kaltim Prima Coal (PT. KPC), in East Kutai, a worker of this giant coal company, was exposed to Covid-19 after traveling home from India, in April 2020. In this east kalimantan province, this early june, totally 7 mining worker exposed to Covid-19 and in central Kalimantan, 4 Covid-19 cases also link to Indo Muro Kencana, the large scale gold mining operation. 

Also in another ‘mining province such as North Maluku, 23 mining workers also exposed to Covid-19, this province are one of the center nickel and electric vehicle batteries industrial complex in Indonesia.   

In Mimika, Papua, the condition of the workers of PT Freeport Indonesia (FI) is even more pathetic. On the record, as much as 150 cases workers of gold and copper dredging companies were exposed and identified as Covid-19 positive, even the wives and families of workers have contracted Covid-19. Until May 26, 2020, two workers have died, and this number will continue to grow.

The central government—in their own over-confidence—had divested PT FI’s 51 percent stake in the previous year. Divestment of shares also means having dominant control over a decision to make a temporary suspension of PT FI’s operations, which many argues was the correct and rightful path at the time when the pandemic hit. But shamefully, the central government did not budge and chose to continue the operations for the sake of production targets and profits.

In fact, the regional government through the Mimika Regent, the Chemical and Energy Mining Workers Union (SP-KEP) and the All Indonesia Workers Union (SPSI), had from the beginning—when the outbreak was officially identified and announced—demand that mining operations be suspended. The reason being, unhealthy working conditions and the forceful practice of forcing workers to continue to stay in the mining area, are no different than slavery, and an act of blatant indifference towards workers’ life and safety.

To date, clause 113 of the Coal Mining and Mineral Law (Minerba Law) which regulates the possibility of temporarily terminating operations due to emergencies, including epidemic emergency, is not applied by the government to save communities and mining workers directly affected by such emergencies.

If traced, in 2018 PT FI had recorded revenues of 4.4 billion US $ or equivalent to Rp 62.16 trillion and profits of US $ 1.28 billion or equivalent to Rp 18 trillion. Thirteen commissioners and directors have total salaries of US $ 4.9 million or equivalent to Rp 70 billion and PT FI commissioners’ salaries of US $ 454 thousand or equivalent to Rp 6.5 billion a year. Meanwhile, this amount is equivalent to the cost of the Tangerang Regency government budget reallocation in handling Covid-19, which is Rp 70 billion.

Imagine if such a large amount of funds were used to subsidize thousands of PT FI workers and to temporarily stop operations for the health and safety of the workers. There is no reason to continue to pursue more profit, because PT FI’s income has been well above during these past years. Reducing operations will not affect the company that much. It is too low a risk for companies, but colossal risks for the working class.     

Second, they continue to organize violence to the community and to the defenders of the earth who are at the forefront of the resistance despite the pandemic.

Every year, the curve of violence against communities and environmental defenders continues to increase. According to the data recorded by the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), there were 71 mining conflicts that occurred during 2014 to 2019, and 40 cases of criminalization of citizens and environmental defenders, which included 210 people who were criminalized.

Death, assault, criminalization, intimidation, and terror are a variety of organized violence that occurs in the mining sector and are carried out by a variety of actors, ranging from official security forces, mining company officials or corporate paid actors such as thugs.

This violence also continued during the Covid-19 pandemic with a number of recorded incidents. In Banyuwangi, East Java, protest actions were initiated by the community against PT BSI from Mount Tumpang Pitu to Mount Salakan, by setting up protest tents since the end of 2019 until the Covid-19 pandemic took place. They suffered two consecutive physical attacks to disperse tents set up by protesting residents.

The attack was carried out by corporate mercenaries, the police, and the Indonesian National Army (TNI) using the pretext of pandemic emergency, law enforcement within the National Vital Objects (Obvitnas), and also the physical distancing policy. All these, while mining operations were still taking place rather ‘smoothly’, even during Covid-19 outbreak.

In the karst mountains of Kendeng, precisely in Pati and Rembang regencies, Central Java, peaceful protests organized by Kendeng women against eleven illegal limestone mining operations were even intimidated by thugs. The operations of these mines are thought to be connected to the controversial cement supply chain, namely PT Semen Indonesia (SI). PT SI is located in the groundwater basin and karst ecosystems that threaten the sources of agricultural water and food for local residents.

The same thing happened in Samboja, Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan. Angry residents took action to stop the operation of coal mining excavators by burning it. This was done because the dredging machine had reached the lip of the Samboja Reservoir, which was the main source of agricultural irrigation and food for the residents of Kutai Kartanegara. Instead of cracking down on these illegal mines, the opposite happened, residents were intimidated by thugs who were suspected of being backed and protected by local police.

Ironically, all these things happened right when Jokowi made an appeal to the mass media, so that the people could ensure their respective food security in various regions to anticipate food deficits due to weather changes and pandemics. What a pseudo and contradictory appeal.

This organized violence also affected the working class, as was the case at the IWIP industrial complex in Halmahera, where a number of labor activists—who protested against the company during the Mayday celebration on May 1, 2020—were arrested. The arrest of IWIP workers ignited a wave of solidarity to this day.

A series of harmful ideas emerge, such as civil emergency, the emergence of six Kapolri telegrams regarding the enforcement of cyber security and physical security as well as mass movements, including the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of police and army personnel in the new-normal, are huge threats to freedom, civil democracy and even environmental struggles . The perpetuation of an emergency, has the potential to undermine democracy by replacing it with a dictatorship that will also preserve organized violence.

Third, the mining companies and industry shamelessly frame themselves in disgusting political manuevering as heroes during the pandemic, through ample donations, medical logistics, and medical devices to cover up their dirty mining practices.

At the end of March 2020, the Indonesian Coal Mining Association (APBI) donated Rp 540 billion which they collected from coal mining companies incorporated in APBI, such as Adaro as much as Rp 20 billion, Bakrie Group (PT KPC & PT Arutmin Indonesia) also donated more than Rp 40 billion to Berau Coal. At the same time, these coal company names are the names of the companies that have been recorded leaving the most poisonous mining pits open, appearing as epicenter of conflicts with local residents and indigenous peoples, even various money and tax flow scandals.

Almost all well-known mining companies run corporate social responsibility (CSR) and poured a number of assistance on the grounds, other than using money, to help residents during the pandemic. PT Indominco Mandiri (PT IMM) located in Santan, Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan, brought personal protective equipment (PPE), basic food, to hand washing installations.

At the end of March 2020, ten mining companies and the nickel, cobalt and metallurgical industries from China also donated thousands of masks, swab test kits, and other PPE items to the Maritime and Investment Coordinating Ministry. These companies include Huayue Cobalt Co., Ltd., Stainless Steel Decent, PT Halmahera Persada Lygend (HPAL), Brunp Recycling Technology Co., Ltd., and Tsing Shan. These mining and industrial companies operate in Morowali, Kendari, Konawe, Teluk Weda, and Obi Island.

At the same time, since before the pandemic, some of these companies, namely PT Huayue Cobalt Co. Ltd, PT HPAL, PT Tsing Shan and Brunp Recycling Technology are also indicated to be submitting a permit process for the disposal of tailings or mining waste into deep sea waters to a number of relevant ministries. The planning of this activity was supervised by the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment (Maritime Coordinating Ministry). The aforementioned companies plan to dispose of their mining operations waste in Obi Island waters, North Maluku Province, and Morowali waters, Central Sulawesi Province.

Disposal of this mining waste will sacrifice the livelihoods of coastal residents and fishermen, indigenous peoples on small islands, to the biodiversity in the coral triangle area that has important natural services and values.

Now, through a political marketing strategy and promotion of mining industry awareness carried out by the Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs, the Maritime Coordinating Ministry framed these mining industries in a framework that would consider them as heroes, who came to help Indonesia in this difficult time dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fourth, it ensures the safety and comfort of the mining business by removing public control and facilitating mining investment licensing during a pandemic. Rescuing the mining business began by extending incentives to mining businesses, through Minister of Finance Regulation (PMK) No. 23/2020 which was expanded to include eleven new sectors including the whole commodity mining sector. PMK 23/2020 then continued with the revised PMK No. 44 of 2020 back in the middle of April 2020.

The expansion of incentives provided by Sri Mulyani, the Minister of Finance, included incentives regarding export and import taxes, facilities for importing export destinations (KITE) to incentives for corporate tax installments. Through this incentive, as much as Rp 35 trillion of public money from the state budget is added to the post handling of Covid-19 economic impacts that flow to mining businesses.

Using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse, dated from February to March 2020, several institutions such as the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN), the Coal Mining Association such as ICMA – APBI and also the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM) sought to cancel the obligation to use ships national barge in coal exports regulated by Minister of Trade Regulation (Permendag) No. 82 of 2017 concerning Provisions for the Use of Sea Transportation and National Insurance for the Export and Import of Certain Goods which have only been in effect since May 1 2020.

Then, from March to April 2020, exploiting the current situation, the Indonesian Nickel Mining Association (APNI) also urged the government to provide relaxation of low-grade nickel exports, even though it had previously been banned because it was obliged to follow the domestic downstreaming program.

A week ago, at the end of May, the Indonesian Coal Mining Association, APBI, through Executive Director Hendra Sinadia even dared to submit a request for relaxation of royalties, on the grounds that the pandemic had made commodity prices depressed, due to market oversupply. APBI asked the government to change its regulations for the safety of coal entrepreneurs.

Not only that, the most deranged opportunism is the ‘deregulation’ for the mining and coal business, packaged in a new face that goes by the name of the Draft Employment Bill (Ciptaker Bill) and the Revision of the Mineral and Coal Mining Act (Minerba Law). The payload also overlaps with a number of crucial mining issues, although the discussion has drawn protests and especially in a pandemic situation, it continues.

In both the Work and Minerba Laws, there are articles that benefit the mining and lethal coal energy industries such as fiscal and non-fiscal incentives for mining and coal integrated Steam Power Generation (PLTU) downstreaming and 0% royalties. In the new Minerba Law there is also the abolition of article 165 regarding criminal acts and corruption sanctions of officials. They propose a definition of mining legal territory that gives a permit limit and the size of the mining area becomes unlimited, up to article 169 regarding automatic extension, without auction and reduction of the area of ​​a giant coal company. Related to this automatic extension, it refers to several coal companies which will expire soon, such as PT Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC), Arutmin, Adaro, Kideco Jaya Agung, Berau Coal and Multi Harapan Utama (MHU).

All of these articles are discussed and issued as part of policies to ensure the safety and comfort of the mining businesses, without any consideration for the safety of the people and/or nature.

These four trends and patterns clearly show how the mining business continues to benefit from the Covid-19 pandemic and continues to destroy ecological social immunity throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

Oligarchy Immunity and New Dictatorship

Behind this mining business is the control and accumulation of profits that will save and concentrate more wealth on the mining oligarchs, it is their immunity that is increasingly thickened.

PT Indomuro Kencana, there are Heritage Resources Pte, Ltd which is a shareholder from Singapore, they control 47 percent of the company’s shares, the rest are director and commissioner positions held by Agustin Teras Narang, former Central Kalimantan Governor and General Mathius Salempang, a former Police General who was once related to the fat bank account case scandal, ten years ago.

Behind a row of coal mining giant companies that benefited from the Mineral and Coal Law such as PT Adaro Indonesia, there were the names of the Thohir, Garibaldi or Boy Thohir families controlling the company while his brother Erick Thohir became Minister of State-owned Enterprises. The silence of Minister Erick Thohir as Minister of State-owned Enterprises in the automatic extension of the company which is connected to his family’s business has left an alleged conflict of interest.

Likewise with PT Arutmin and PT Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC), which is like getting new fresh blood through the Mineral and Coal Bill (Minerba Act), an analysis of rating agency companies such as Moody’s previously gave the yellow light to the Bakrie family oligarchs because they had to restructure debt and credit due on 2022, the Minerba Act is like vitamin c that saves their immunity, especially since the Bakrie company’s track record is already bad because it has defaulted, failed to pay debts, the experience of riding and utilizing citizen resources has been done by Bakrie in the Lapindo mud flow case in 2006, public money through the state budget was utilized precisely to save the riots they caused.

By utilizing citizens’ resources through the state budget, the government—infiltrated and ridden by mining business actors—in its actuality extracts public money within the state budget.

The use of public money sought not to strengthen ecological social immunity at various mining ring sites, but to strengthen corporate-oligarchy’s immunity by giving them provision of subsidies, incentives, and to conduct bailouts to mining businesses. In the end, it is the social-ecological’s immunity that will be very much declined, and conversely, the immunity of corporate oligarchies will be increased rapidly. This immunity includes strengthening the oligarchic body’s immunity by mobilizing organized violence in the name of pandemic and the “new normal” discourse. And if it comes to that, we should all be wary of the corporate-oligarchs hijacking democracy, perpetuating emergencies, providing a way for new dictatorships—dictatorships under the banner of mining capitalism.