Friday, February 09, 2007

Government hopes to find new jobs for sand miners

National News - February 07, 2007
Fadli, The Jakarta Post, Batam

The government has set aside funding for coastal regencies to help thousands of sand miners train for new work, following a ministerial decree banning the export of sand.

The director general of marine coasts and small islands at the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, Syamsul Maarif, disclosed the plan to The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

The ban was issued by the Trade Ministry on Jan. 22 and will come into effect on Feb. 6. It was necessary, Syamsul said, in order to stop the environmental destruction wrought by sand mining.

"Coastal sand mining activity does great damage to the environment and we want to minimize the ban's impact on workers in the sector by providing alternative livelihoods," Syamsul explained.

He said the central government had allocated Rp 850 million (US$92,391) in coastal economic empowerment funds for 278 coastal regencies across the country.

The Riau Islands, he added, would be among the regions receiving the largest cut. He did not elaborate on the amount.

He said the central government hoped the Riau Islands provincial administration would allocate most of the money to assist sand mining workers, who could possibly train to become fishermen or grow seaweed.

Riau Islands provincial administration secretary Eddy Wijaya said Tuesday his office had received complaints from the Bintan, Karimun and Lingga regencies, which rely on sand exports for their revenues.

"We're considering steps to be taken to deal with the impact of the sand export ban, including the fate of the workers. The regents have raised concerns about the possible impacts of the new policy," Eddy said.

He said most of the sand mining workers were fishermen who got into the business to earn extra income. Thus, most of them do not rely on mining for their livelihoods.

The provincial administration distributed Rp 22 billion last year to assist fishermen, he added.

"I think the provincial administration has paid enough attention to coastal people and the sand mining workers are a small part of them. In this case, the sand export ban will not surprise them too much," Eddy said.

Based on data from the ministry, some 16 million people across the country live in coastal areas, of which four million are poor fishermen.

Data from the Riau Sand Exporter Business Association indicates some 3,000 sand miners will be affected by the ban.

The association's chairman, Ficky Zulfikar Zaljuli, said 24 sand exporters in Bintan, Karimun and Lingga regencies planned to file a class-action lawsuit against the government for issuing the ban.

"We'll take this matter to court. We're surprised by the government's policy. Businesspeople were not involved in designing it," Ficky said.

He said although the ban would apply to the whole country, sand mining exporters in Riau would be the worst hit.

The three regencies currently export 300,000 cubic meters of sand to Singapore per month.



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