It’s our right to know local mining plans – our future is at stake

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We won’t give up our fight to access the hidden permit to mine our lands

Sometimes it’s called a tin mine, other times, a diamond mine. When I was a girl, people said there was gold here. But now a mining company has arrived, and we don’t even know what they’re going to extract from our land. We don’t know any of their plans. The company and the authorities are keeping us in the dark. 

Yet, we have the right to know about decisions that affect us. Mining in our area might devastate our lives as we currently know them. That’s why our community has spent years trying to access the contract and plans.      

We live in Dairi, North Sumatra Province, Indonesia, a highly fertile area with a water catchment, where farming provides a secure life. Suddenly, in 2017, our peace was replaced by fear and uncertainty. We learned from the media that a mining company had received a permit extension from our government, allowing them to mine for 30 years in a protected local area, affecting 11 villages – many thousands of people. Yet no one had told us anything.

When we tried to find out what was going on, the company, Dairi Prima Mineral (DPM), just held a small public awareness-raising session with a hand-picked audience that excluded our community. We later learned they’d promised prosperity and jobs at the mine, but gave no details about how this was going to happen.      

Then they started building infrastructure on our lands. Alarmed, we asked the authorities for access to the permit, but local officials said they knew nothing and that the contract was arranged by the central government. So we wrote repeatedly to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources asking for the documents. The ministry’s response was frustratingly slow. Eventually, the information officer wrote to us that the permit details were on their website, but though we searched thoroughly, we found only the permit number, nothing else. 

Yet it’s our legal right to access the permit. 

Indonesia’s laws on mining and access to public information both support contract transparency. Public access to documents is also a core principle of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which Indonesia joined in 2010. When the ministry continued to ignore our requests, we filed a lawsuit with the Central Information Commission in 2019, with support from several local and national civil society organisations, such as Bakumsu, JATAM, YLBHI and Publish What You Pay Indonesia, claiming our right to full information about the mining plans. 

To our dismay, we heard nothing for three years, until our case came to the administrative court in 2022. Justices from the Information Commission ruled in January 2022 that we should be given access to the contract and latest operational plans. We were so grateful – but another three years later, we still know nothing. The ministry refused to release any documents, challenging the ruling. Although the State Administrative Court upheld the commission’s ruling in July 2022, the Supreme Court subsequently accepted the ministry’s appeal. But what are they trying to hide? 

Our community will keep fighting. Yet for all these years, we’ve been excluded and living with uncertainty. We fear for our futures and those of our children and grandchildren. Will our farmland and water be spoiled or lost to the mining operations? I want to encourage the people of Dairi and Indonesia to assert their rights. Having transparency and full information are so important. We need to know what’s proposed, so we can participate in decisions that will affect us. It’s a long waiting game, but we won’t give up. Our future is at stake. 

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