The Kodingareng Island in South Sulawesi is the site of much-contested sand mining for the Makassar New Port and Galesong to the Center Point of Indonesia. Involved former governor of South Sulawesi, Nurdin Abdullah, was detained on 28 February 2021 by the Corruption Eradication Commission.
He faces corruption allegations in the bribery case worth 5.4 billion Indonesian Rupiah (US$ 370,000) for four other infrastructure projects. Two sources tell Global Ground Media, that other projects of the former governor, including the Makassar New Port, should also be investigated for possible corruption.
“We checked documents and found that the permits granting the mining area [for the Makassar New Port] were signed by Nurdin Abdullah including an explorative mining business license and environmental permit,” said Muhammad Al Amin, executive director of the South Sulawesi chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).
According to Amin, the companies were registered a mere months before receiving permits. “Both companies do not have any “track record” and experience in sand dredging/mining, but surprisingly, they are given permits for mining by the governor [in] such short time,” Amin states. Abdullah did not respond to a request for comment made via his former lawyer and family.
In addition, the companies granted the licences for the Makassar New Port are headed by people involved with the campaign of the former governor, according to Amin. Akbar Nugraha and Abil Iksan, the directors and shareholders of the companies were part of Abdullah’s campaign team of the 2018 gubernatorial election, Amin states. Nugraha and Iksan did not respond to a request for comment.
Taufik Fachruddin, Abdullah’s brother-in-law recalls Nugraha. “I never heard of Abil Iksan. As for Akbar [Nugraha], he was helping out in the media division but did not have an official position,” said Fachruddin.
Anti-corruption activist Jusman agrees with Amin’s assessment. In January 2021 he sent a report to the Corruption Eradication Commission of Indonesia about the Makassar New Port project.
“We found possible illegal acts. Firstly document doctoring. And secondly, the emergence of a monopoly which is contrary to the law,” says Jusman, coordinator of the Inter-NGO Sulawesi Communication Forum referring to Article 26 of Law Number 5 of 1999, concerning the prohibition of monopolistic practices and unfair business competition.
Amin wants the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center and the acting governor of South Sulawesi to investigate possible corruption, trace the financial transactions of the involved companies and revoke the mining permits in the fishing areas.
Even before the corruption allegations surfaced, the sand dredging around Kodingareng island was controversial because of the impact on the livelihoods of the fishermen.
“Before that Dutch ships, I had never heard of any other ships or individual mining sand in that area. In my 37 years of life, as far as I know, dredging did not exist in the waters around our island. Since then, our economy dropped,” said Sitti Aisyah, who has three children and is eight months pregnant.
“[The] majority of fishermen in Copong are Kodingareng’s fishermen, who bear the brunt of the impact,” said fisherman Ikbal Usman Saleh (40) while adding that Coppong is 9 to 13 miles southwest of Kodingareng Island.
Sand and gravel are the most extracted group of natural resources worldwide estimated at 40 billion tons a year and “exceeding fossil fuels and biomass”. The sand mining process can cause “destruction of benthic fauna and flora” and “can devastate the local fish population”.
The United Nations Environment Program warned that the scale of extraction is more than nature can provide at “twice the yearly amount of sediment carried by all of the rivers of the world”. Already, entire islands disappeared from Indonesia’s map as a result of construction projects in the region, the New York Times reported.
With a total investment of IDR 1.51 billion (about US$ 104,000), Makassar New Port is one of 245 projects making up the National Strategic Project, launched by President Joko Widodo. In 2019, Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V. (Boskalis) won the tender for the Makassar New Port. Boskalis did not respond to a request for comment.
Two villagers told Global Ground Media, that the government or any of the involved companies did not consult the villagers at Kodingareng Island before the start of the sand mining.
Facing declining income from fishing, the fishermen, children, and women from Kodingareng Island demonstrated against sand mining in front of the governor’s office, official house, and Regional People’s Representative Assembly from July to November 2020.
At sea, they waylay Boskalis’ dredging vessel, called Queen of the Netherlands, with 48 small boats. “There are 13 protesters arrested by the police so far,” says lawyer and Head of the Ecosob Rights Division at Makassar Legal Aid, Muhammad Ridho who is supporting the islanders in their demand for compensation.
“So far, we have focused on supporting the arrested and their families,” said Ridho. Ridho does not exclude filing a lawsuit against the companies involved in the project for compensation of lost livelihoods due to the sand mining.
Article by Arpan Rachman.
Editing by Anrike Visser.
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