The Indonesian government has charged a local unit of Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp., the world’s largest gold miner, with damaging the environment at its mine near Manado in eastern North Sulawesi province. The government also charged Newmont of Indonesia’s president, Richard Ness. “He was aware of what was happening,” Robert Ilat, spokesman for the North Sulawesi prosecutor’s office, told a district court.
“The Newmont case has not been helpful for the investment climate, that’s for certain,” said Hans Vriens, managing director of the Indonesia unit at APCO Worldwide, a firm that provides political risk advice. Indonesia has the world’s largest reserves of tin and copper, and is among the top exporters of thermal coal. It also has large deposits of nickel, gold and silver.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono seeks to attract investors to meet a pledge to lift annual economic growth to 7.2 percent by 2009. The economy expanded 5.1 percent in 2004. The World Bank says the country of 238 million people needs at least 6.5 percent annual growth to releive poverty.
The Ministry of Environment claims Newmont’s local unit in North Sulawesi, PT Newmont Minahasa Raya, has contaminated local waters with mercury and arsenic. Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar asserted last year that Newmont waste caused arsenic levels in a nearby seabed to rise to 10 times the levels allowed in the US. Villagers near the mine complained to authorities in July 2004 of health issues after eating fish from nearby Buyat Bay. Newmont contends its waste-disposal processes are in line with legal limits.
“The facts show there is no pollution and Newmont has not negatively impacted the water, the fish nor caused harm to the people,” said Robert Gallagher, vice president of Newmont Indonesia. “There has been no crime committed.”
If convicted, Ness could face ten years in prison and a $50,000 fine. The Minahasa mine in question opened in March 1996 and closed in August 2004 after gold reserves were depleted. Indonesia accounts for 30% of Newmont’s net income. More than $2 billion has been invested in the company’s operations there since 1985, said Gallagher.
Newmont’s only working mine in Indonesia now is in Batu Hijau in West Sumbawa province, where 7,000 workers excavate copper and gold estimated to last until 2033. Last year, it produced more than 600 million pounds of copper and 600,000 ounces of gold, Gallagher said.
Newmont has been exploring another site in Sumatra, which it estimates may have 3 million ounces of gold, or eight years of mine life. The company’s only working mine in Indonesia now is in Batu Hijau in West Sumbawa province, where 7,000 workers excavate copper and gold estimated to last until 2033. (NYT, Bloomberg, Aug. 5)
Sulawesi Island has recently been the scene of violent communal conflict between Christians and Muslims—a conflict invoked by Dick Cheney in support of restoring US military aid to Indonesia. However, rights activists claim the local Islamic militia implicated in attacks on Christian communities are supported by the government. See WW4 REPORT #s 49 & 16
See our last post on indigenous and ecological struggle in Indonesia.