By Feri Irawan
from Simpul Jaringan Pantau Gambut

Amidst efforts to restore the environment, President Joko Widodo signed the Omnibus Law or the Job Creation Law. The term Omnibus Law itself was first introduced in Jokowi's speech after being sworn in as President for his second term.

According to the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), a total of 454 rules in the 76 laws were simplified to support ease of investment and job creation purposes. Many articles were amended or even deleted, including the Forestry Law, the Plantation Law, and the Environmental Protection and Management Law. 

Unfortunately, President Jokowi's intention to attract investors through the Omnibus Law actually threatens the environment and the safety of the Indonesian people. Objections to the Law rose in a number of places, many people refused and even opposed the law. The investment efficiency and ease of doing business offered by the Omnibus Law poses a great environmental risk.

Some environmental organizations even consider the Omnibus Law to be an effort from the government to eradicate crimes committed by the government against the environment.

The Omnibus Law clearly attempts to dismantle the protection principles in the environmental sector. Many key articles were removed. Environmental permits and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) criteria are abolished, the permitting process was made more flexible for the sake of investment.

Environmental Monitoring Efforts (UPL) and Environmental Management Efforts (UKL) is regulated in Article 1 number 22, are no longer part of the decision-making process required for business operation permits.

Article 1 number 35 concerning industrial obligations in obtaining environmental permits is also removed and changed to environmental approvals. The local governments' involvement in supervising and imposing a penalty against environmental damage perpetrators is also eliminated.

However, President Jokowi still has the support of his ministers and the Indonesian House of Representatives. They united in addressing all the accusations that were expressing disapproval against the President's intentions.

One example is the explanation provided by the Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, in a press conference on the 7th of October. She explicitly stated that the Job Creation Law will be able to resolve permit/license disputes in the provinces since the 1999 and 2004 Local Government Laws have been enacted.

However, many parties doubted this and believe that the chaotic and messy natural resources permitting process in Indonesia will never be resolved through the Job Creation Law.

If that is the case, how will the Job Creation Law or Omnibus Law affect indigenous peoples and natural resources, especially in Jambi?

The fact is that even without the Omnibus Law, the environment in Jambi has been damaged due to mismanagement. More than 70 percent of Jambi's peat area has been granted a concession permit.

Thousands of canals dividing the peat domes and water catchment areas make the peat dry and prone to fire. Forest and land fires still persist as annual threats. Environmental damage also triggers ecological disasters in a number of regions.

Ironically, the government seems to provide a red carpet for entrepreneurs to extract resources without regard to the environmental impacts.

Weakening the Role of the Community

The Omnibus Law has eliminated the community’s direct involvement in deciding the project implementation. On the other hand, as we all know, the community is the first affected and most disadvantaged by environmental damage.

However, the community’s involvement in establishing a good and healthy environment is constrained by the government.

This is clearly reflected with the deletion of Article 36 of Law No. 32/2009 concerning Environmental Protection and Management (UUPPLH) which requires environmental permits as a business requirement.

In addition, this elimination also affected the deletion of Article 38 which states that environmental permits can be nullified by a state administrative court decision. As a result, the community has lost its right to sue.

Only directly affected communities will be allowed to take part in preparing the EIA. On the other hand, environmentalists and indirectly affected communities are now unable to be involved.

The Omnibus Law also restricts the right to information and eliminates articles that protect indigenous peoples' local wisdom. This is concerning because it will trigger new issues.

In the case of forest and land fires, the merun culture makes it easier to criminalized small-scale farmers because they could be accused to have caused the fires. This then leads to food shortage because the farmers could not cultivate their land.

In addition, the Omnibus Law also seems to facilitate forest degradation. The minimum limit of 30% forest area, especially in watersheds or islands, has also been removed.

Weakening Law

Another obvious negative impact of the Omnibus Law is the law enforcement officers’ weak role in environmental protection. The Omnibus Law has removed the strict liability principle that applies to polluters. This is reflected in the amendment to Article 88 of the Environmental Law concerning the strict liability of environmental degradation perpetrators. 

The Environmental Law stated that all parties whose actions, business, or activities involve the utilization, production, or management of hazardous and toxic waste, hence posing a serious threat to the environment hold strict liability for the losses incurred, without requiring the proof of misconduct.

The Omnibus Law states that the term "without requiring proof of misconduct" has been omitted. However, many of the government/state’s lawsuits against corporations have been won due to this.

On the other hand, the government seems to provide relief for business actors who are guilty of causing environmental damage by changing the nature of the sanction, from being prosecuted by criminal sanctions to being prosecuted by administrative sanctions. The Omnibus Law also removes the State Administrative Court’s authority to revoke permits, removing their authority to enforce sanctions by freezing and revoking the companies’ permits.

The Omnibus Law will also reinvigorate the rule concerning the HGU contract period, i.e. 90 years. The Constitutional Court had previously revoked this clause as it was against the 1945 Constitution.

Crossing the Line

The Omnibus Law has made the central government a core player with control over the whole investment permit process. However, this is actually a cause for concern.

The government with the power it wields, will not be able to meet the demands of this enormous responsibility due to the extensive scope of the environmental sector.

Legal practices that are too pro-investment and do not put sufficient consideration to the indigenous peoples’ rights will ultimately pose a threat to the environment and the local communities. The natural resources that have been so massively exploited without regard to the community’s right to livelihood will escalate conflicts.

Through the Omnibus Law, the government is actually exacerbating ecological disasters for future generations. The community in Jambi is really in danger.

We regret the fact that the ecological regulation is being weakened at a time when the Jambi environmental conditions are facing a myriad of serious issues.

The government should be aware that an environmentally friendly political commitment towards sustainable development is greatly needed. (*)

*The author is the Director of the Green Association and the Coordinator of Simpul Jaringan Pantau Gambut Jambi


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