Last week the US President, George Bush, visited Indonesia to discuss amongst other things “investment”.
No doubt some radical environmentalists along with some Islamic fundamentalists don’t want foreign investment in Indonesia. Like the activists in the new documentary ‘Mine Your Own Business’ they would perhaps like the many Indonesians still living a subsistence existence to remain “happy peasants”.
Activists are also behind the campaign to jail Richard Ness.
There are miners who have done the wrong thing and impacted the Indonesian environment. Just last week, more deaths were reported from the mud flow in East Java associated with gas exploration by Santos.
But to quote Andrew Wilson, president director of Australia’s BHP Billiton-Indonesia, in the case of Richard Ness,
“This is Indonesia at its worst in terms of picking the wrong guy and saying: you are a criminal. You couldn’t get a person who has given more back to Indonesia. He’s community oriented. He looks for the long-term good rather than taking short cuts.”
Then last week, following the visit by George Bush, the US Ambassador B. Lynn Pascoe was reported in the Jakarta Post to have commented:
“A lack of legal certainty remained a major problem for Indonesia in attracting foreign investment, pointing to the prosecution of Newmont Minahasa Raya president director Richard Ness, an American, who is facing three years imprisonment if convicted in a North Sulawesi court of causing pollution, as setting a bad example.
“What we want is Indonesia to become a competitive place … one thing you don’t do … is bring court cases against somebody where you don’t have any evidence. This is exactly what has happened in the Ness case.”
I recently summarized the case against Richard Ness in a piece for On Line Opinion entitled ‘The Campaign To Stop Mining’:
“New York Times journalist Jane Perlez championed the case for the activists in a feature “Spurred by Illness, Indonesians Lash Out at US Mining Giant” in which she suggested the waters of Buyat Bay had been polluted by the gold mine with villagers developing “strange rashes and bumps”.
The article relied heavily on an interview with a member of a team of public health doctors flown in to investigate. Dr Jane Pangemanan was quoted claiming symptoms exhibited by the local villagers were consistent with mercury and arsenic poisoning.
Another key accusation in the New York Times article is that Newmont Mining was illegally and inappropriately disposing of the mines tailings into Buyat Bay and a police report showed mercury contamination.
…The same day the New York Times published its feature, the World Health Organisation published a detailed technical report (pdf 4.01MB) which concluded that Buyat Bay was not contaminated by mercury or cyanide and that levels of mercury among villagers were not high enough to cause poisoning and that the health effect of mercury and cyanide poisoning were not observed among Buyat Bay villagers.
This was the first of several reports, including a detailed report by Australia’s CSIRO and another by the Indonesian Ministry of Environment, which directly contradicted the Indonesian police report and found the bay to be unpolluted.
Of the six executives initially incarcerated, only the president of Newmont Mining in Indonesia, Richard Ness, was eventually charged. His son, Eric Ness, established a website dedicated to the trial, and in October last year reported that under cross examination, Dr Jane Pangemanan denied she ever told the New York Times that the illnesses observed in the villagers were caused by arsenic or mercury poisoning.”
On 10th November as part of the post trial phase the prosecution asked the court impose a three-year jail term on Richard Ness.
Richard Ness has responded with comment that,
“These ridiculous recommendations by the JPU make a complete mockery of the legal system. It seems like whoever wrote these charges never sat in the courtroom, or does not understand the substance of the overriding evidence that Buyat Bay is not polluted. For one, the prosecutors charged us for not filing environmental reports since 2002 while in fact, their own witness from the Ministry of Environment, Sigit Reliantoro, testified that he evaluated completed sets of reports up to 2004.
“With such unfair, unsubstantiated claims against innocent parties, this is yet another roadblock to the government’s efforts to attract much needed investments back to the country, investments that will create jobs and improve the quality of life. I have lived in this country for 30 years, love its people and have adopted many of its ways but this is a profound travesty and a disappointment to all who hope for a society based on the rule of law.”
It seemed incredible to me that the case is proceeding at all. Then again, as Phelim McAleer documents in ‘Mine Your Own Business’, unsubstantiated accusations from environmentalists can appear compelling. Their claims may be false, but they command the moral high ground. Yet sadly in the end, by hindering or stopping development and investment, they contribute to a vicious cycle that condemns the world’s poorest to a life of subsistence.
Richard Ness will be back in court next week on Tuesday 5 th December. The final judgment is likely to be handed down some time in January.
This trial is about more than the destiny of one man, it represents the struggle between development and poverty – the struggle between opportunity and radical environmentalism.
I have never met Richard Ness. But I have got to know him a little through this blog and through his son Eric who has a blog dedicated to his Dad’s trial.
Like many readers of this blog, Richard has a keen interest in the environment and like some of us is a collector of wildlife photographs.
On behalf of the many readers and contributors to this blog, I wish Richard Ness all the best for next Tuesday.
“Using an old cream separator with local villagers to try see if we could increase the production of coconut oil,” Richard Ness, Buyat Bay in Indonesia.