Aerial view of Indonesia's Grasberg mine in West Papua, which the Indonesia government recently took control of from US mining giant Freeport McMoRan. Picture: Facebook

When the Indonesian government took a controlling stake in one of the world’s richest gold mines late last year, proponents hailed the move as a historic step toward national and economic resource sovereignty.

The breathless media coverage of the transaction, which saw the government take a 51 percent stake in PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), previously majority-owned by Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan, framed it as the “return” of a prized asset — the Grasberg gold and copper mine — to the Indonesian public after decades of foreign control.

But little was said about the long legacy of toxic pollution from the mine, or how exactly the new arrangement, at a cost of $3.85 billion to Indonesia, would finally bring real benefits to the indigenous people on whose land the mine sits, and who remain among the most impoverished communities in Indonesia.

Under the terms of the acquisition, a 41.2 percent stake in PTFI goes to state-owned smelting company PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium, better known as Inalum. A 10 percent stake is held by the government of Papua province, where Grasberg is located. That latter stake, in turn, is managed 60:40 between an Inalum-controlled company and a province-owned firm. And Freeport remains operator of the mine.

But along with ownership in one of the most coveted mines on Earth, Inalum and the Papua government have also inherited a pollution problem stemming from the mining waste, or tailings, churned out by PTFI over decades.

“Does completion of the divestment deal mean that the environmental problems can be resolved? No,” said Merah Johansyah Ismail, national coordinator of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), an NGO. Given the takeover, he says the national and provincial governments will now also have to take the brunt of the fallout over environmental damage caused by the mine’s operations.

That fallout could amount to some $13 billion — the estimated cost of environmental damage wrought by PTFI, according to a review by state auditors. After a subsequent audit, which identified a wide range of irregularities in the company’s operations and contract, the government imposed sanctions on PTFI. The findings included signs of reckless mining and the disposal of mining waste into rivers, forests and the sea.

In April 2018, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry  followed up with a pair of decrees ordering PTFI to overhaul its waste management plan as a prerequisite for the divestment. They included slashing toxicity levels at dumping sites and producing a strategic environmental impact assessment, known as a KLHS.

PTFI has since complied, according to a top official, who said that, under the supervision of the environment ministry, the miner had drawn up a roadmap to manage its tailings disposal through to the year 2030. PTFI produces 167 million metric tons of tailings a day and dumps it directly into the Aghawagon and Ajkwa rivers in Papua’s Mimika district, as permitted by local government decrees.

“What we’re pushing for is how to use this amount of tailings,” said Ilyas Rasyid, the Environment ministry’s inspector general, in Jakarta on January 9. “Based on field observations, it can be used as material to make roads, bridges, including district office buildings. Therefore we will do research on the use of tailings.”

The audit that spurred the sanctions and decrees over PTFI’s waste management practices also found that Freeport had used 45 square kilometers (17.5 square miles) of protected forest area without obtaining the proper permits, costing the government $20 million in lost fees between 2008 and 2015.

Ilyas said the environment ministry had issued a permit, known as an IPPKH, to PTFI on December 20 for 38 square kilometers of forested land for its waste management. But he said PTFI would still have to pay fines for the previous unpermitted operation.

Criminal offense

Merah criticized this decision to simply fine the company as disappointing. Under Indonesia’s 1999 Forestry Act, mining operations in forest areas without an IPPKH permit constitute a criminal offense, with a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison.

“The resolution here is just a fine, yet there’s a clear criminal violation. Where’s the criminal punishment?” Merah said. “There are layers of criminal acts and they’re being allowed to be washed away by paying a fine.”

Henri Subagiyo, executive director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), a green advocacy group, also criticized the government, saying it had failed to include civil society representatives in its discussions about PTFI’s roadmap for the mining waste management.

“What exactly is the roadmap talking about? Does it comply with stringent environmental regulations? How exactly does the divestment deal mandate for environmental protection? The public deserves to know the answers to these questions because this is a public matter,” Henri said.

“What we had hoped for from this acquisition was not only economic benefits but also better protection for the people of Papua.”

Maurits J. Rumbekwan, executive director of the Papuan chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said taking a majority stake in PTFI didn’t necessarily mean an end to the problems arising from the mine.

“Every day [PTFI] postpones rehabilitating the damaged environment, while every second the waste that enters the river poses a threat [to communities],” Maurits said.

Ahmad Redi, an expert in natural resources law at the University of Tarumanegara in Jakarta, said PT Inalum would be left legally and financially responsible for the environmental damage caused by PTFI’s previous activities. He said the government would have gotten a more beneficial deal had Freeport’s work permit been allowed to expire in 2021, including not paying as much for the controlling stake in PTFI, and getting a more advantageous tax arrangement after 2021.

“The direct and indirect economic benefits would then be for the people and economy of Papua,” Ahmad.

In the decades since the first shipment of copper left Grasberg in 1972, the wealth of the mine has barely trickled down to local communities, activists say. Papua remains one of the least developed and most impoverished provinces in Indonesia, with high rates of illiteracy and infant and maternal mortality. Instead of an economic boom, the people have been mired in conflict with the mine operator and security forces.

The region’s indigenous Amungme and Kamoro communities traditionally subsisted on sustainable agriculture, fishing and hunting until the opening of the mine in 1967. They were stripped of their rights to 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) of their ancestral land, and over the following decades have been further displaced and marginalized by migrants from elsewhere in Indonesia drawn to the mining boomtown.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), a state-funded body, said in March 2017 that PTFI had never compensated the indigenous people as the original stewards of the land where it operates, characterizing Freeport’s concession as a land grab.

Fred Boray, head of Papua Province’s mining agency, said in July the proceeds from the 10 percent stake granted to the local government after the takeover would benefit both the provincial administration and traditional landowners, though he did not clarify how such funds would be divided. PTFI has also previously committed to dedicating 1 percent of its annual revenue to community development projects.

Clean up the mess

Those schemes, however, are seen by many as inadequate to compensate the huge social and ecological losses communities have borne in the past decades.

“The divestment deal cannot be seen as an effort to improve the welfare of the indigenous communities there — to think otherwise is silly,” Maurits said.

“People shouldn’t have to depend on funds given by the company,” Maurits said, adding that the company should clean up the mess it left behind so that local people can once again rely on the environment to meet their needs.

In August, a coalition of Papuan activists called FMPPF staged a protest calling on the mining company and the Indonesian government to make community rights and welfare a central part of the takeover deal.

Their <demands included more participation of indigenous people in the mine’s operations, recognition of traditional land rights in the company’s concession area, and more involvement by indigenous communities in drafting the company’s policies.

“The company and the national and provincial governments must not forget that the mine isn’t an independent entity,” Maurits said. “There were communities that lived safely there before the company arrived.”

– This story first appeared on Mongabay. The original report can be accessed here

Join the Conversation


  1. Does your site have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it improve over time.

  2. hi!,I like your writing so much! share we keep in touch more approximately your post on AOL? I require a specialist in this house to resolve my problem. May be that’s you! Looking ahead to see you.

  3. Good post. I study one thing tougher on different blogs everyday. It’ll always be stimulating to learn content from other writers and observe somewhat one thing from their store. I’d prefer to make use of some with the content on my blog whether or not you don’t mind. Natually I’ll offer you a hyperlink on your net blog. Thanks for sharing.

  4. of course like your web-site but you need to check the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very troublesome to tell the reality then again I’ll surely come back again.

  5. This design is wicked! You obviously know how to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  6. Sea cual sea su avería, bien sea en un frigorífico Lynx de última generación en modelos más antigüos, nuestros técnicos solucionarán su avería con la misma eficacia y rapidez, haciendo que su frigorífico aparato de frío, funcione como el primer día de su compra. Uno de nuestros técnicos le visitará para evaluar el problema, detectar el origen del mismo y ofrecerle las posibles opciones. El segundo error es no haberse informado bien de la marca INDESIT y del Servicio Técnico.

  7. Nota común a la Agrupación 43.- Cuando los sujetos pasivos realicen las actividades comprendidas en esta Agrupación, exclusivamente, para terceros y por encargo, con un número de obreros inferior a 10, la cuota será el 25 de la asignada a la rúbrica correspondiente; si el número de obreros fuera superior a 9 e inferior a 25, la cuota será el 50 de la asignada a la rúbrica correspondiente.

  8. Apelo pues a su profesionalidad y les invito a ponerse en contacto con Jose Antonio, de Cocinas Campos en Córdoba, quien también les podrá confirmar lo que les digo, pues ha sido normalmente a quien hemos llamado antes incluso de dirigirnos a su servicio técnico, dada la confianza que tenemos en ellos. Buenas tardes, les escribo con motivo de emitir una queja, ya que estoy indignada con el servicio técnico de Electrolux en Logroño. A mediados de julio se rompe el módulo de potencia de mi aspirador, ya que tiene dos años de garantía y cumplía en septiembre, sobre finales de julio de este mismo año lo llevo al servicio técnico, sito en Av. xxxxxxxxx, en Logroño.

  9. Nuestros técnicos además de realizar su servicio técnico en Valencia, le aconsejarán y le enseñaran trucos para evitar que su avería vuelva a producirse y para evitar posibles nuevas averías. Después de nuestra larga experiencia en el sector de la reparación y servicio técnico de electrodomésticos en Valencia, conocemos perfectamente los hábitos que favorecen la aparición de averías en sus electrodomésticos. La reparación de electrodomésticos en Madrid se realizará en el domicilio del solicitante del servicio, realizando previamente un presupuesto de la reparación.

  10. La reparacion electrodomesticos en Madrid se realizara en el domicilio del solicitante del servicio, realizando previamente un presupuesto de la reparacion, asistencia técnica tienen una garantia de 3 meses. Estamos presentes con nuestro servicio técnico de lavadoras, servicio técnico de lavavajillas, servicio técnico de cocinas y hornos, servicio tecnico de termos, disponemos de técnicos con los conocimientos y habilidades técnicas para poder reparar en los barrios de Madrid.

  11. Empresa dedicada a la reparación e instalación de gas, calefacciòn y aire acondicionado. Después de perder mucho tiempo navegando por la complicada web de asistencia de Sony VAIO, dí con un un número de teléfono. Inocente de mí, al no haber pasado dos años de la compra, llamé al nº de teléfono para equipos en garantía. Ahí, un ordenador me dijo al introducir el nº de serie que ya no lo está, que es sólo de un año: primera ilegalidad: en España la garantía de los productos electrónicos es de 2 años por ley. Creo que no compro nada SONY , en mi vida y; !Ojo a navegantes¡si compras tecnología desde luego piensa en el servicio de postventa, no en SONY.

  12. Al final del libro vienen unos anexos con una serie de tablas y datos de gran interés para diseñar, instalar y mantener las instalaciones frigoríficas (tablas, diagramas, legislación, recuperación de gases refrigerantes, reducción de emisiones, símbolos, unidades, etc.). En definitiva es un libro fundamental para todo el sector del frío, la refrigeración, la climatización y en definitiva para todo el sector de las instalaciones relacionadas con el frío y calor.

  13. En IDC, empresa de Madrid especializada en venta de equipos informáticos y ordenadores de segunda mano, oportunidades y Km0, encontrarás los mejores equipos de ocasión totalmente revisados y garantizados por nuestro servicio técnico. En demasiadas ocasiones, y con el afán de atraer para sí a los votantes de la izquierda radical, algunos partidos, incluidos los partidos nacionalistas institucionales, lanzan mensajes más cercanos al discurso político de la izquierda radical, que al discurso político de su formación. Estos mensajes que en demasiadas ocasiones se contradicen con sus actuaciones pasadas, presentes y futuras, hace que algunos de sus votantes terminen desencantados de los mensajes y promesas no cumplidas y busquen cobijo en un partido muchísimo más cercano al discurso y a las actitudes de la izquierda radical como es Aralar. Pero, claro, si empiezas por dirigirte al público como si tu auditorio estuviera formado por peces desmemoriados la credibilidad se resiente.

  14. Importante empresa necesita contratar a 2 bachilleres técnicos en mecánica como ayudante de taller mecánico para la ciudad de quito sector sangolqui,los candidatos deben tener disponibilidad de tiempo,disponibilidad para viajar y tener destrezas físicas. Nuevo local de comida rápida dentro de centro comercial busca el mejor personal para atención y preparación de sandwich chilenos, fundamental buena disposición para atención al cliente, proactividad y sentido común. Empresa de servicios industriales requiere Ingeniero Mecanico, con minimo 5 años de experiencias en estructuras metalicas, diseño de tanques, soldadura de tuberias.

  15. Los mecanizados CNC en Sevilla se ajustan a las habilidades de los trabajadores modernos. En la producción de muebles de la empresa Riedinger se han utilizado tanto una chapadora de cantos AURIGA 1308XL, como un centro de mecanizado CNC de 5 ejes PRO-MASTER 7225.

Leave a comment