Development | Southeast Asia

9 August 2022

As it embarks on moving its capital, Indonesia’s government must consult the Indigenous residents of East Kalimantan and protect their political rights with a local legislative body, Albert Rapha and Azeem Amedi write.

Earlier this year, the supermajority coalition that controlled 471 of the 575 seats – 82 per cent – in the Indonesian parliament successfully passed the State Capital Bill into ‘Law No 3/2022 on the State Capital’, making it the fastest bill to ever pass the Indonesian parliament, with the process taking only 42 days.

The Law is intended to act as the legal basis of President Joko Widodo (Jokowi)’s new national capital development agenda, which aims to pave the way toward making Indonesia a high-income country and spur the realisation of inclusive growth envisaged in the Indonesia Maju Vision 2045.

It may seem positive that the bill was passed so swiftly, but this meant less consultation with Indonesian citizens, notably the representatives of the Indigenous peoples who will be affected by the development of the new capital city, and who will live there once it’s built.

President Jokowi did visit influential Indigenous leaders in East Kalimantan – the location of the new capital – but only after the bill had been passed, raising the critical question of how the government engaged Indigenous representatives throughout the decision-making process.

He and the supermajority coalition in the parliament tend to evade public criticism and dissent that might complicate their ambitions. However inconvenient they might seem to leaders, Indigenous communities surrounding the location of Indonesia’s new capital city must be more involved in policy-making processes that affect them so directly.

Planning large projects like this in places Indigenous communities live without their participation disregards their rights. Indigenous peoples must be guaranteed the right of Free, Prior and Informed Consent as recognised in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is the right of Indigenous peoples to participate in decision-making processes that may affect them.

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According to a report by Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), a total of 21 Indigenous communities reside in the area of Indonesia’s new capital city, consisting of 19 communities in the Penajam Paser Utara Regency and two in the Kutai Kartanegara Regency.

AMAN also identified 11 areas inhabited by Indigenous communities in the new capital’s core development zone and noted the potential for agrarian conflicts between the state and Indigenous communities.

Regrettably, the ‘participation’ mandated in the current state capital law is obscure.

Though the law claims that the process is open to Indigenous participation, what that representation would look like, whether it be a council or a forum of some kind, is absent. This means Indigenous peoples’ only path to being heard is to wait until a channel like this is opened, as the law mandates.

While a strategic move by the central government to make their governance more efficient and effective by relocating the nation’s capital is welcome, if this situation continues, it will overlook the rights of local residents, including Indigenous peoples.

More on this: A matter of principles

Not only would inaction cut them out of participation in this project, but set a precedent that the government can exclude communities from decision-making in future developments.

On top of ignoring Indigenous communities during its development process, the capital project also threatens their political rights in its current form.

Currently, the residents of the new capital zone will only be able to vote for representatives in the central government, since the law does not mandate the creation of a local representative municipal council in the capital city.

The Indonesian Constitution guarantees the right to partake in governance, but in this case, residents of the capital would see their say narrowed only to national matters, with the central government implementing local policy without their input.

Aside from being unfair, the government ignoring their responsibility to create a legislative body at the local level could infringe the constitutional rights of the residents. The government must urgently implement the mandate of Article 18 (3) of the 1945 Constitution by creating a legislative body at the local level in the new capital, regardless of its specialised regional status.

There is no reason for the Indonesian government not to grant the general public, particularly Indigenous peoples’ representation in the ongoing development of the new capital city, and their political rights as residents of East Kalimantan. If not, they will be ignoring its obligations to Indigenous communities, and risking the inclusive growth it aims for by relocating the capital in the first place.

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