Indonesia: 71 years later, govt begins counting small islands

Nurul Fitri Ramadhani and Suherdjoko The Jakarta Post 6 Dec 16;

The government, overseeing more than 13,000 islands within Indonesian territory, has only recently decided to make an inventory of the small islands and discern their ownership.

The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry said it would allow no one to own 100 percent of an island because according to Indonesian law, approximately 30 percent should go to the state.

The island inventory has become a struggle for local administrations as the ban on sales, usually done privately, is not only applicable for local people but also foreigners.

“We will immediately launch a program to ascertain the status of the islands,” Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said on Saturday while accepting an honorary doctorate from Diponegoro University in Semarang, West Java.

“The government should know the value of the state’s assets [in the islands], the dimensions of the islands and their potential. That will be included in our program,” Susi added.

So far, the country, which celebrated its 71st anniversary last Aug. 17, has no specific calculation or inventory regarding the dimensions and natural resource potential of the small islands in Indonesia, all of which are supposed to be state assets.

However, it is widely known that many islands have been occupied by locals and foreigners, who have turned them into private and commercial resorts.

Not all of the privately owned islands are located far from the government’s reach.

In the Thousands Islands, the archipelagic regency in the northern part of Jakarta, at least 66 out of 110 islets are owned privately, according to Jakarta Police data.

Earlier this year, the government reprimanded a Singapore-based developer, Funtasy Island Development (FID) Pte Ltd., for denoting Manis Island near Batam, Riau Islands, as Singaporean territory on a promotional map.

The ministry’s marine space management director general, Brahmantya Satyamurti Poeadi, said on Sunday that private ownership of the islands was prohibited under the Constitution.

Article 33 Point 3 of the Constitution mandates that the nation’s earth, natural resources and water are controlled by the state and should be utilized for the sake of people’s welfare, meaning that, according to Brahmantya, all islands in the country are owned by the state, thus selling or buying islands privately should not be allowed.

In addition, the 2007 Law on the management of coastal areas and small islands prohibits exclusive ownership of an island, particularly ownership by foreigners.

“That’s why we should record the islands, including their dimensions, ownership and potential. We will set sanctions for those [who are found violating the law],” Brahmantya said.

He added that the ministry was still preparing the details of the program, which was set to be completed by the end of the month.

The Indonesian Center for Environment Law (ICEL) praised the plan, calling it one step ahead of the ministry but warned that it should coordinate with other government institutions and the public.

ICEL deputy director Reynaldi Sembiring said it was hard to get specific data on island ownership because the owners could avoid scrutiny from non-government entities.

“Individuals and corporations have interests in the islands. Implementing the inventory program won’t be easy for the government,” Reynaldi said.

He added that private islands had a high probability of environmental damage because most of the owners built up tourism areas and resorts.

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