17.1. Mining and the Inequality of Natural Resource Extraction in Post Reformasi Nusa Tenggara Timur

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Create Date10 October 2016

Maribeth Erb (National University of Singapore)
Lasarus Jehamat (Universitas Nusa Cendana)


In the mid 2000’s natural resource extraction became a booming enterprise in Nusa Tenggara Timur province. Within a short period of time over 300 licenses for mining exploration were allocated by heads of districts, newly empowered by regional autonomy laws to control resource allocation permits in their districts. Conflicts began to emerge when it became evident that the laws and the district heads, gave little concern to the rights of the local communities to even know what mining activities were planned on their land, let alone have a role in the decision-making about these activities. The most radical of these was the plan to move many villagers on the island of Lembata to a nearby island so that the reputedly large deposits of gold and copper could be mined by an Indonesian mining company. In this paper we examine several cases that highlight the severe inequality in rights over control of natural resources that has become increasingly evident in the conflicts that have occurred over mining in the province. We will suggest that it is the construction of the idea of “natural resources” as a separate category apart from the communities that live in and among these “resources” and use them, that allows for the alienation of these resources from the communities. We will argue that it is the differentiation of “natural” versus “human” resources, and their quantification (low, high), that are the basis of the inequalities that emerge, and the injustices that are done, in the name of “development” and “progress”. This reputed search for “prosperity” ends up being particularly destructive for provinces such as Nusa Tenggara Timur in eastern Indonesia.