Jakarta – The government's plan to scrap the environmental impact assessment (Amdal) requirement imposed on investors intending to set up a business has been met with strong opposition from local environmental advisory groups.
"The Amdal is an obligation under the law. The requirement should be met before investors set up their business," said Maryati Abdullah, the national coordinator of environmental advocacy group Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Indonesia, on the sidelines of a discussion forum on public policy for the sustainable management of natural resources on Jan. 23.
The government plans to allow businesses to start developing their projects without having to fulfill the Amdal requirement, because such a requirement has hampered investment activities, according to Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD.
Mahfud said that even if the investors were exempt from the Amdal requirement, they should abide by all the regulations related to environmental protection.
"Issue the business permit first. If a business fails to comply with the regulation on environmental protection, we can revoke their permits," said Mahfud at an event held by law firm Dentons HPRP in Jakarta at the same event.
According to the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), investment rose to Rp 800 trillion (US$58.6 billion) in 2019 from Rp 721 trillion in 2018, exceeding the government's target of Rp 790 trillion.
The government plans to relax the Amdal requirements through the issuance of an omnibus law on job creation, which is currently being drafted. If passed, the law will amend thousands of articles in more than 80 existing laws deemed to have a deterrent effect on investment.
The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has also voiced opposition to the plan, and called for sustainable investment.
"Every project is different," Maryati told The Jakarta Post. She said that some established businesses in the mining industry, for example, were found to have violated the Amdal requirements, causing harm to the environment and people.
In April last year, a 14-year-old child was found dead in a tailings pond in a concession owned by mining company PT Mandala Usaha Tambang Utama. The child was the 33rd person since 2011 to die in a tailings pond in East Kalimantan, according to environmental group Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam).
The case drew public attention to the government's policy requiring companies to reclaim their mining areas when production is finished.
"If a project turns out to inflict damage on its surroundings, the investment is wasted," Padjajaran University economist Martin Siyaranamual said, adding that he also opposed the government's plan to bring in investment at the expense of the Amdal requirement.
"I will be even more worried if the impact is irreversible," he said. "The environment is prone to excessive exploitation, such as of groundwater in Jakarta," he said.
Jakarta, the fastest-sinking city in the world, with an annual rate of up to 15 centimeters, suffers land subsidence as a result of excessive use of groundwater, according to a study by the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). The study estimated that 90 percent of North Jakarta will be submerged in the future.
However, the city's land subsidence has slowed recently. In Muara Baru, Pluit and Mutiara Beach in North Jakarta, for example, the rate slowed by 50 percent from around 20-26 cm to 10-12 cm.
The rate has declined as companies move their factories outside North Jakarta. The number of factories in North Jakarta declined by 42 percent to 3,089 from 5,313 between 2016 and 2018, according to data from the Jakarta Industry and Energy Agency.
The excessive exploitation of the environment is a result of a lack of a "sense of crisis" among the government, businesses and public, said Gadjah Mada University economist Rimawan Pradiptyo. "We should preserve our common resources." (dfr)