CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 21 July 2018

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Environmental concerns centre stage in elections

JAKARTA (UCAN): “People should vote for candidates who care for the environment and are serious about tackling ecological problems,” said Kisworo Dwi Cahyono, executive director of the provincial branch of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), as environmental concerns took centre stage in regional elections in South Kalimantan, Indonesia, when it emerged that the vast majority of mining and palm oil businesses in the province flout environmental laws.
 
According to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, as many as 600 out of 700 businesses break the rules. They include contributing to air pollution, mismanagement in dealing with waste and wildlife endangerment.
 
Environmental advocates claim these businesses form a powerful bloc in the province and are allowed to get away with malpractices by making deals with local politicians, such as funding their election campaigns.
 
Mining and palm oil plantations have eaten up to 50 per cent of the province’s total area of 3.75 million hectares, they say.
 
Cahyono said it is imperative for voters to place the environment high on their list of priorities when they go to the polls later this June.
 
About 700,000 registered voters in four out of 11 districts in South Kalimantan will elect new leaders on June 27, as will 17 provinces, 39 municipalities, and 115 districts elsewhere in the country.
 
The four districts—Tanah Laut, Tapin,  Hulu Sungai Selatan, and Tabalong — form part of the Diocese of Banjarmasin.
 
Cahyono said whoever is elected must be able to deal with big ecological issues.
 
He said WALHI has urged the local government to revoke the mining permits of several companies and stop issuing new business licenses. It has also urged the setting up of a task force to investigate illegal mining practices.
 
Ferdinandus Iban, a 41-year-old farmer from St. Theresia parish in Tanah Laut district, said he and many other locals worry about the environmental impact of coal mining.
 
“We have all agreed not to vote for candidates who support mining,” he said, adding, “Mining does not bring tangible benefits for local people, only suffering. People become victims of air and water pollution.” 
 
There are two candidates standing in his district.
 
Franciscan Father Peter C. Aman, director of the Franciscan Commission for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, said that palm oil and mining corporations, control the whole Kalimantan region. “They are environmental predators,” he said.
 
“In the upcoming election society must vote wisely. People shouldn’t vote for candidates who are in the pockets of corporations or trade their vote for money,” Father Aman cautioned.

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