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Producing a Portfolio

To complete our part of the project, Ciarleglio used ConsNet to produce a portfolio of plans for the Merauke concession. The computational work was done at the University of Texas. Plans differed from each other in the weights assigned to the fundamental objectives (with weights for all sub-objectives determined by the field work and preference elicitation of stakeholders). We realized that exempting 40 percent of the concession would not suffice for the goals. Kemp and I met with Medco representatives in Jakarta to ask for leeway. Ultimately Medco agreed to set aside around 55 percent, a very high proportion of the land to be dedicated for conservation, though this included a two-kilometer buffer around each village targeted for development. Nevertheless, biodiversity conservation goals were met in each of the solutions presented in our portfolio?

At the end of 2009 we submitted our report to CI (Ciarleglio et al. 2009b) and it was included in their final report to Medco in 2010. Kemp and I met with Medco officials to discuss the report and I traveled to Jakarta to iron out details of the plan. Medco seemed fully satisfied. We were optimistic that the plan would be implemented, and would not only be one of very few systematic conservation plans to be implemented in practice but would also serve as a model of successful collaboration between conservation NGOs, academics, industry, and local communities. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way.


Shortly after the final plan was presented to Medco, CI withdrew from all further involvement with the Merauke project. There was no formal announcement to that effect. Margules and Kemp had left CI, and their replacements, to the best of my knowledge, never contacted Medco about the fate of the plan. I visited the Medco office in Jakarta several times (for the last time in 2011) and was assured that the plan remained on the agenda for Medco in Papua. However, there were rumors that Medco Papua was facing financial problems that had slowed all its operations in that region.

There the matter lay until July 2017 when I was contacted by email by Jeremy Hance, a freelance journalist who wrote for the Guardian blog. Hance had been trying to investigate claims of malfeasance by Medco in the region. According to him, CI personnel in Washington had brushed off his questions about our project by noting that the Merauke project was in the distant past and that they had no further comment. (CI probably had good reason to avoid questions. Their regional operations had been subjected to scathing criticism by Mark Dowie [2009] whose book Conservation Refugees drew attention to the role of big non-governmental conservation organizations in trampling the rights and destroying livelihoods of local peoples worldwide.)

Hance drew my attention to online information provided by awasMIFEE! which described itself as being “created by independent activists in the UK as an act of solidarity with the social and ecological struggles of the people of Merauke and elsewhere in West Papua.”4 While I have no means of independently assessing the accuracy of this information, two parts of their online document are worth quoting. The first is about Senegi:

Kampung Zenegi, Medco Operational Area.... Medco’s approach to the village was deceitful: the company mounted a ceremony on 12th December 2009 in which it presented the village with what it termed a Certificate of Appreciation (Piagam Penghargaan). They also asked for the signatures of the village chief and leader of the village adat [governing] body on this document, and handed over 300 million Rupiah [US$33,400],

Several months later, in June 2010, conflict erupted when Medco attempted to remove wood that they had felled from the forests around this village. Local people were aggrieved because they felt there had been no discussion about how they were to be compensated for wood. Nor had the company fulfilled its promises to build a place of worship, a school, hire teachers or repair the road.

The people had regarded the money associated with the Certificate of Appreciation as a token of goodwill, and not as the compensation a company must pay for the wood they extract. But the company had a different point of view. According to them, the Certificate of Appreciation also had an appendix which they claimed had been discussed at the time. This appendix apparently includes an agreement that wood is to be compensated at a rate of 2000 Rupiah per cubic metre.

In the past, when the villagers have sold wood directly to wood traders, they are normally paid between 180,000 and 200,000 Rupiah per cubic metre. Aside from the deception, this agreement reveals that Medco believes its duty to compensate the community is only for the wood that grows on it. However Medco’s operation is more than just a logging concession. They intend to plant fast-growing trees which they can use in their chip mill, which means that local people will not be able to use the land for any other purpose. They are being dispossessed of their ancestral lands.

There are six clans in Zenegi village, and according to the Malind people’s customary beliefs, each clan is responsible for different pieces of land. Everybody knows which clan controls which area, and for a company to negotiate the surrender of ulayat [communal] rights, they must speak to the chief of each clan, not only the village chief.3

Indonesian non-governmental organizations support this story.6

The second concerns Buepe:

Kampung Boepe, Medco Operational Area. .. The company agreed with the villagers to relocate them so they could build their factory on the site of their existing village, and plant seedlings on the surrounding land. The area now is restricted and local people cannot even enter. Meanwhile, the company has failed to provide new houses. The people have been forced to stay in other villages, and no longer have gardens. The compensation money they received was only enough to build new houses and eat during that time. The inhabitants of kampung Boepe were also deceived out of their land. A certificate to release the rights to customary land was signed, where the money was also referred to as “appreciation money” (uaug penghargaari). The sum paid was 100 million Rupiah for an area of 1,000 hectares, which works out at 10 Rupiah per square metre [0.1 US cent]....

Kampung Sanggase, Medco Operational Area. During 2011 a prolonged conflict has developed between the people of Kampung Sanggase, and their neighbours in Kampung Boepe and Medco....

The conflict arose over which village had the ulayat [communal] rights over the 2,800 hectare site that Medco was using for its wood-chip factory in kampung Boepe. The survey originally carried out by CI for Medco claimed that the people of Boepe had ulayat rights over the land, and so the limited compensation that Medco paid was given to them. However four clans in Sanggase disputed that claim, saying that they owned the land, and the people of Boepe only had rights to use the land.

The first protest action, known as “tanam sasi”, involved planting coconut, banana and sugar-cane in a ritual which normally takes place 40 days after someone’s death. After not getting a satisfactory response, on the 17th January Sanggase villagers used a pole to close oft'the entrance to Medco’s factory. This form of action, known as pemalangan, is quite common in Papua. Medco closed the factor)' until the dispute was resolved, and it appears from reports that it did not reopen for many months. The people were demanding compensation of 65 million Rupiah |US$7,200] for the land.

By April, tensions were running high. On 20th April, about 20 people from Sanggase, in traditional dress, came to ... Medco Papua’s offices to demand compensation. When there was no response, some of them invaded the offices, kicking and hitting the tables and doors and shouting curses at the company. At one point a leader of Medco was surrounded by angry villagers who refused to let him move, until he was rescued by police.... |E|ventually the company offered to pay a sum of three billion Rupiah, which was accepted by the people in a ceremony on 24th October 2011.'

If these reports are accurate, and I know of no reason to question them, the location of the factories follows the recommendations of our portfolio though no other aspects of those plans appear to have been implemented. This is little solace given than Medco had not kept its promises to build schools and roads, and its relations with the local communities was now increasingly exploitative even if it had once been more equitable. What was also troubling was that CI had involved itself in local resource ownership disputes.

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