Misleading on Lands
Land use for business purposes is legal and ordinary. The two presidential candidates became locked in a misleading issue.
Accusation-hurling between Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto concerning land use in the 2019 presidential candidate debate did not touch the real core of the issue. Use of large tracts of land by a business owner for commercial purposes is nothing out of the ordinary. A more pressing major problem was in fact ignored: whether the concessions obtained are in accordance to procedure and are then being used appropriately?
In the debate, the incumbent made the point of Prabowo having concession over 220,000 hectares of land in East Kalimantan and 120,000 hectares in Central Aceh. Jokowi made the insinuation after Prabowo questioned the government program of doling out 2.6 million hectares of land to customary groups, farmers, and fisherfolk. The contender relayed his anxiety that state land would eventually run out and deemed Jokowi inconsiderate about the nation’s future.
Prabowo did not refute Jokowi’s accusation. He explained his hundreds of thousands of hectares of land fell into the category of concessions for commercial purposes. Prabowo promised to return the tracts to the state whenever needed. Investigation by Tempo and Auriga Nusantara showed Prabowo, among other things, using the land for farming, nurseries, animal husbandry, and fishery purposes. At least nine companies are affiliated with Prabowo in making use of the hundreds of thousands of hectares in East Kalimantan and Aceh.
Both presidential candidates became trapped in an erroneous sentiment: that in Indonesia, a mere handful of people have power over huge tracts of state land. Both Jokowi and Prabowo gave the impression of using the issue without any effort to clarify the real core of the matter. The award of large-scale land concessions should not necessarily be seen in a negative light. It would be impossible for business captains to wish to invest in the agricultural sector if available landholdings were too small. The Agrarian Law allows for awards of land concessions to individuals, groups and entities.
The issue needing heavy scrutiny is whether the agricultural or mining concession was awarded haphazardly, including whether encroachment into protected forest lands occurs. The conservation aspect is oft-times disregarded from the outset, up to when the concession ends.
Often land use makes little contribution to the economy. This can be avoided by tightening granting of concessions and limiting land use by a company appropriate to its type of business. This method will circumvent monopoly and at the time sidestep large tracts of land falling into non-use.
The government would do well to rescind concessional use by companies who allow their land to run fallow. According to regulation, commercial concessions can be retracted if the land is left fallow or is used in non-compliance with the requested concession. The landholdings will then be returned to the state and can become objects for agrarian reform. Those landholdings can be granted to people with no land but have the capability of making productive use of it.
Jokowi and Prabowo both should know that corporate land use does not violate the principle of “land, water, and the wealth of natural resources contained therein are in the ownership of the state” as governed in the constitution. In the granting of land concessions, the state still maintains ownership of the land. Only the stewardship is given over to the private entity for a specific amount of time.
The government’s task is to ensure each corporation makes optimal use of the land, creates employment, and submits the appropriate taxes to the state. Concession holders are also compelled to safeguard natural resources. All these are of far more substance for debate, and can be scrutinized layer by layer, rather than debating who the owner is and how large the landholding.