02/20/2008, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Doubts on the “natural” causes for Porong’s hot mud flow

by Mathias Hariyadhi
Findings by a special parliamentary committee absolve Lapindo Brantas of any responsibility for the 2006 disaster that impacted 10,000 people. Victims’ anger boils over compensation as lawmakers talk about “political interests”. One of the stakeholders in the company involved is in fact the country’s Social Affairs minister.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The public debate over the Lapindo Brantas affair is heating up as people protest over a report by a special parliamentary committee which blames nature for the Sidoarjo (Lapindo) mud flow disaster. In 2006 hot mud erupted covering entire villages in Porong (East Java province), but for the report PT Lapindo Brantas, an oil and gas exploration company, is not to blame even though its borehole is the source of the mud eruption.

In reacting to the findings Indonesian lawmakers today accused the experts called by the investigating committee of being Lapindo’s public relations agents, failing in their duty to conduct proper scientific work.

Many people suspect that the committee’s findings are meant to exonerate Indonesian’s Social Affairs Minister Aburizal Bakrie, a close fried of Vice President Jusuf Kalla, one of the country’s richest men with a stake in the accused company.

Since the end of May 2006 hot mud has been flowing from one of Lapindo Brantas’s boreholes in the Porong area. So far it has flooded eight villages, covering 1,810 houses, 20 factories, countless rice fields, 18 schools and 12 mosques and forcing the evacuation of more than 10,000 people who are now also unemployed. The damages are estimated in billions of dollars.

Many MPs protested in parliament itself after the report was presented. It is not clear whether the report defining the mud flow as a natural disaster will be accepted as it is.

Zainal Abidin, of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, said that if the House of Representatives agreed with the findings it would be in contradiction with a sentence pronounced by the District Court of Central Jakarta which on 27 November 2007 established that Lapindo carried out the wrong drilling procedures.

In Porong victims still waiting for compensation have reacted angrily to the news. More than 3,000 people have taken to the streets, setting up barricades, organising marches.

Company officials announced that even if the disaster is declared a “natural disaster” Lapindo would not skirt its moral responsibilities, which include paying more than Rp 2.83 trillion in compensation.

However, Dradjad Wibowo of the National Mandate Party (PAN) said that if “the disaster is perceived as a natural phenomenon, PT Lapindo may use that to sue the government to return all Rp 1.3 trillion they have disbursed for the victims.”

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