Al Jazeera: Indonesia relocates families to build resorts? (Link to Article)
So I decided to take my opinions to a more appropriate space in the interwebs, having understood that maybe Facebook isn’t really the best place to offer food for thought to my friends. With that said, hopefully my two cents are appreciated and will improve my writing skills to prepare me for grad school. I hope none of my comments offend anyone and allow a space for folks to engage in calm, direct critical discussions.
Al Jazeera recently featured an article discussing a phenomenon that started a few years ago in Indonesia where “100 islands have been effectively sold to investors… in bid to boost tourism.” In the article, the writer, focused on Gili Sunut Island located near the Eastern side of Lombok where 109 families used to live there but have been relocated as Ocean Blue Resorts, a Singaporean development firm, is planning to build a “six-star resort“. The families were against the idea of relocation but had no choice in the end.
“The People’s Coalition for Fisheries Justice in Indonesia (KIARA), a sea and land rights advocacy group, says many more islands will effectively be sold to foreign buyers, trampling the rights of fishermen and threatening traditional livelihoods.”
As compensation for the relocation, Ocean Blue Resorts has built new bungalows for the families in their new living site and given each household between 3 – 5M Rupiah or $246 to $411. The article also says that tourism is booming on the island of Lombok and that development “promises to bring new wealth to the region, but for many villagers the pace of change has been disruptive.” In addition, despite the benefits of jobs and roads, it’s apparently against the Indonesian Constitution as it is illegal to sell the islands. According to KIARA, the government has bypassed the Constitution with an “Island Adoption Programme” where the owners/investors manage the island for 30-50 years. Gufrin Udin, an official from the Lombok regional government has “downplayed” the complaints and believed that these projects will create job opportunities and the rise in tourism will improve the locals’ livelihood.
There are many things that are wrong with the events described in the article but I will focus it into three ideas. Firstly, it is alarming that islands could be bought for a monetary value when there are folks living on it for hundreds of years or more for the sake of tourism demand and view it as a project of development. Second, the compensation for relocation is not enough because money and housing is a shortsighted gesture not capable for sustaining life. Lastly, it is shocking that an “Island Adoption Programme” is used to dodge the Constitution, which is nostalgic to Freeport’s rental agreement with Indonesia for exclusive mining rights on West Papua’s copper and gold reserves.
The expression “out with the Old and in with the New” seems to epitomize the development rhetoric utilized since the mid-20th Century. This is very true in Indonesia as it is struggling to transition to become a “modern” country that is largely famed for its unique, rich and diverse traditional culture. With its beautiful environmental features, Indonesia offers a paradise-like atmosphere that people around the world would pay top dollars to experience it. As a result, it becomes a double-edged sword. It is, then, difficult for a country who has been recently labeled a “rising-economy” and member of the ever-prestigious G20 to compete to get ahead.Thus, Indonesia’s agricultural lands and forests have been one of the cornerstone for the development projects as found in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Now through the lens of tourism, islands are the next marketable space to engage in development projects.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the beauty of a country’s natural and built assets; however, to reclaim land from people in order to convert them into a cash and leaving those residents out is problematic. This would be a different story if the locals were able to stay as they have a better chance to participate in the wealth creation than to be relocated. Just because the local government has the authority to move the people, it doesn’t mean it is right. Development is suppose to be benefited by all members of those impacted by it. However, the Jamaica would disagree as it has become dependent on foreign aid, despite a thriving tourist industry as seen in the documentary Life and Debt. Only the resort areas will see investment and areas outside will be neglected. The fact is that benefits of development are unequal as those investing or directly connected will receive them. In this case, the former residents will be left out when the resort will be finish and the environment that these people have acted as stewards of will also suffer.
Although compensation has been distributed by Ocean Blue Resorts, housing and some money for repayment is inadequate. Relocation has been done to many groups of people throughout history from the Native Americans to the Jews, which has and will still be unlawful. Frankly, how do you determine compensation to a group of people whose livelihood is majority depended from the land or water and not in sales? These are the same people who produce the very rituals and “culture” that Indonesians are proud to show off when they go abroad. Economic models cannot and WILL NOT quantify in monetary value the worth of practices found in traditional way of life, unless ticket sales for a culture show counts. The Lombok official, Gufrin, suggested that jobs and the tourism demand will increase their livelihood. Those jobs that he claims will appear are not guaranteed and without the proper education these folks cannot utilize the burgeoning market to become entrepreneurs if in fact tourism is booming. The article does not mention it but like any site offering labor with paid compensation will attract folks outside of the area, thus, possibly squeezing out the locals, or in West Papua’s case, migrant workers are brought in by the employer to fill the labor need. The issue of transportation is not addressed too and what if they can’t manage the daily commute? What will possibly happen is that as folks do not have skills or way to cover costs to adapt in their new “home”, poverty and the potential for crime will develop. If the government actually did their job, services and oversight would be organized with the influx of revenue so that folks can adjust to their new surroundings and have a chance to thrive instead of leaving these locals’ welfare at the hands to the market’s mercy. In the end, government officials are then the real beneficiaries of the so-called “new wealth” as they reap the tax revenues and/or kickbacks.
With respect to this new flow of capital, it seems that such an “Island Adoption Programme” is a crime as it not only jumps over the Indonesian Constitution but it also denies the rights of the people living on the land that is proposed to be bought. In city planning, I’ve learned that “imminent domain” is a useful tool utilized by planning and zoning commissions across the US to take land. However, such tactic is the last resort if residents are unwilling to sell or move after the vested parties have gone through the necessary steps in reappropriating the land which includes in compensating residents. In this situation, it does not say what the stakeholders have done to work with the locals. It only says that the residents have sought for many “consultations” but it was inevitable for the move. Such compensation is not enough because the value of the land will be worth far more than their payment and that is literally stealing from these people. It is basically what happened in West Papua when Soeharto gave the exclusive rights to Freeport to mine for gold and copper for 100 years denying the local people’s voice to object it. The communities on the mountain were relocated to a place where they have no knowledge of surviving as their way of life was tied to the mountain. Many if not all of them did not see a single drop of the ridiculous amount of wealth excavated from their mountain as migrants from other islands took the jobs with the company. Now this part of the country is ravaged by poverty and in constant uproar for justice as they know they were cheated out of their own land. This is what I predict would happen in many of the islands that have been bought up by “investors”.
Today’s society values money, consumerism and innovation as the defining tenets of culture. It is frightening that the livelihood of some are worth more than others in order to accomplish these items. With every island bought, more cultures and traditions are lost as the attachment these folks have to the land and water are severed. To add insult to injuries, these officials’ claims for “new wealth” and jobs are just empty promises. They are unsupported until the benefits of the projects do reach the locals. One factor for China’s quick jolt in economic growth was largely in part to it’s government’s brilliant negotiation victory for technical training is mandatory by the companies for its workers. Many of these individuals were able to use their knowledge to get a formal education and become successful. If the government want to save some headache and potential public relations nightmare, they can do their due diligence and provide social services for the folks they have displaced or negotiate a clause with the new anchor tenants of the islands in guaranteeing jobs or some social mobility opportunity for the people. If not, the infamous mid-20th Century public housing project in St Louis called Pruitt-Igoe is clear cut example of what happens when low-income folks are given housing but do not have access to services to increase their mobility and prevent the cycle of poverty, which can happen to these folks. Indonesia wants to be like its Global North peers but it shouldn’t have to sacrifice its traditional ways and people’s welfare to be modern or global. With that respect, if these investors are really investing instead of buying the land, why can’t the people stay on land that is still public?