07 September 2007

Lapindo - The Mud Continues to Flow

The Lapindo mud flow crisis although no longer an every day news grab, the issue remains within the national interest and on the radar of the House of Representatives (DPR). Moves to an interpellation of the President over the handling of the Lapindo issue has been averted for the time being with the DPR deciding to establish a Parliamentary Supervision Team whose essential task is to monitor the Government’s handling of the ongoing mud flow. The time frame for headway to be made is 3 months and presumably without any significant positive change then the interpellation of the President is back on the agenda.

Yet, this conceivably may be interpreted as just another attempt to postpone the obvious as the Government has had ample opportunity to make headway on the crisis and has failed to do so. Consequently, the decision to establish a Supervision Team was not without opposition with several parliamentary parties noting that the people have been suffering for more than a year and that it is irresponsible to prolong that suffering for a further 3 months.

The questions that arise relate to issues of conflict of interests as the Coordinating Minster for People’s Welfare and Prosperity whose family owns the company that is alleged to be the cause of the mud flow and whether any influence has been exerted to delay a detailed investigation of the matter and the apportioning of legal blame rather than a simple Presidential Regulation as to how compensation is to be determined and paid to the victims.

Interestingly, and something that is not being overtly debated is whether or not if this had been any other company and any other affiliation whether the treatment would have been the same? It is hard to say one way or the other, but what is clear is that Lapindo has been granted a lot of slack to deal with the crisis and has not. It is also clear that the Government's handling of the crisis has been unusual to say the least! The fact that the DPR has now created an oversight team might be testament to the lobbying powers of Lapindo officials rather than a testament to the DPR's commitment to seeing an equitable resolution...This latest move reeks of political posturing and grandstanding among the parties as they position themselves in the lead-up to the 2009 general elections...

The other critical question that arises is whether increased Parliamentary oversight of the handling of this crisis is going to be beneficial over the short, medium, or long term.

Nevertheless, the ongoing Government and Parliamentary involvement is likely to mean that Lapindo is able to avoid responsibility and the financial implications of any adverse findings against them for the immediate future. This involvement also gives rise to the spectre of the Government picking up a large portion of the tab where the responsibility must be with the company that causes the damage.

The reality is that the Government even with the assistance of the Parliament cannot stall accountability and action on the mud flow forever. However, for the victims the most important issues are not only how are they going to be compensated but more importantly when.

The next 3 months will determine whether the Government and Parliament is serious about addressing, and resolving, the issues that have arisen as a result of the mud flow crisis that has inundated the Sidoarjo and surrounding areas...Nevertheless, the longer the Government allows this crisis to go on the less credibility it will have with the constituency...With SBY the leader of what is essentially a minor party reliant on the support of the party of the VP, a lack of decisive action will not bode well for his chances of re-election for a further 5-year term...If the recent Jakarta election is any indication then the voting public appears to be much more discerning now than it was in 1999 and 2004...

Power to the People and then maybe Indonesia will really have a Government of the people, by the people, and for the people!

Viva Democracy!!!

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