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The abandoned mines haunting Indonesia

March 20, 2023

Latest company news about The abandoned mines haunting Indonesia


Many countries mandate for post-operations clean-up as part of the mining permit issued before operations begin. In areas with effective law enforcement systems, these clauses limit the liability of the extraction company to the letter of the license. While an operation in the US, for example, might risk a legal battle with someone who stubs their toe on a discarded helmet 30 years later, a clean-up clause would specify a company’s specific liability: nothing less, and nothing more.

In countries with less effective enforcement of clean-up, these clauses instead represent a hazard themselves. Once operations end, can a contract holder be certain that their liability ends? Can they be sure that the government will take note of the standard of clean-up? In 30 years’ time, will that government accuse the license holder of not fulfilling their contract, or of actions they were never liable for in the first place?

These are questions that Indonesian mining companies ask themselves with no clear answer. Some in power certainly have the will to ensure effective post-operations mine clean-up and registration, but face a daunting task to improve mining logistics in the country. As it stands, 2,000 unregistered mines could stand in the way of the country’s bright future.

Indonesia, abandoned mines, and the consequences of corruption

As the world’s greatest thermal coal exporter, mining plays a big part in the economy of Indonesia. Indonesian law holds mining companies responsible for cleaning up after excavation, but these laws often go unenforced.


Part of the problem lies with the laws themselves. Ecologist David Woodbury wrote for non-profit Mongabay: “The law states that coal companies must restore the ‘original condition’ of the landscape — an unrealistic target that even in the best-case scenarios is not supported by current science on mine rehabilitation.


“By suggesting that restoring the ‘original condition’ is possible, the law clouds the extent and scale of degradation left behind after surface mining. It misrepresents what is feasible through ecological rehabilitation,” Woodbury finished.


Without effective enforcement, mine restoration becomes an ’unnecessary’ expense for those driven only by profit. Cleaning up mines makes whoever does it less competitive with no tangible reward.


This does not mean that the average Indonesian has no interest in cleaning up ex-mines. Between 2014 and 2020, 168 people died after falling into abandoned pits, which are often steep-sided and filled with water. A parallel industry of illegal mining causes some of these, while also putting workers at risk with no consequences, and with no liability to clean up after the end of operations.


Our Head of Legal and Network Division, Muh Jamil, stated on @KompasTV that there are several roles of the police officials in backing the illegal mining operations according to JATAM’s finding.#illegalmining #coalmining #mineralmining #Polri #percumalaporpolisi #tambangilegal


— Mining Advocacy Network – Indonesia (@JATAMupdates) November 29, 2022

According to the Indonesian Ministry of Mineral and Energy Resources, 2,741 illegal mines operate in the country. These illegal operations can only survive by paying local law enforcement for their silence, which Indonesian mining trade body JATAM says happens on several levels.


Cleaning up Indonesian mining means cleaning up Indonesian police

This dynamic of miners paying officials off-the-record bears many of the hallmarks of more above-board legal processes, so in theory, the transition to a more robust legal framework may not be out of the question. But recently, the spotlight has turned onto the Indonesian police.


In late 2022, simultaneous scandals saw government reports blame police for a massive crowd disaster, an officer accused of drug trafficking, the high-profile trial of a police general and a former officer admit to the police’s systematic involvement in illegal mining.


The country’s police force struggles with allegations of corruption, brutality and acting above the law. A report by consultancy Gan Integrity says that two in five Indonesians consider most or all of the police as corrupt. Approximately 30% of Indonesians have paid bribes to police.


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