Broken promises: Zenegi residents in Merauke demand SIS accountability

One of the timber transport vehicles allegedly belonging to PT SIS when passing through the road to Zenegi Village - IST

Merauke, Jubi – The residents of Zenegi Village, a village located in Merauke’s Animha District in South Papua, consider the presence of Selaras Inti Semesta Ltd. (SIS), a subsidiary of the Medco Group engaged in plantation, for approximately 15 years has not yielded any positive outcomes for the local community.

SIS reportedly began conducting operations in Zenegi in 2008, and it holds a land concession from the government spanning 164,400 hectares that covers most of Zenegi Village, as well as Buepe Village in Kaptel District.

Zenegi village head Natalis Basik-Basik told Jubi on Sunday, May 14, 2023, when SIS initially arrived in 2008, they attempted to communicate, negotiate, and socialize with the community.

The company also entered into various agreements with the local community and landowners’ clans. However, up to the present time, the community has not been shown or given any Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) document from SIS.

“SIS claimed that the agreement would be documented in an MoU, but to this day, neither I nor the people here have witnessed, received, or had the opportunity to read the document’s contents. They verbally informed us that the agreement pertained to the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR),” Basik-Basik said.

Basik-Basik mentioned that SIS pledged to fulfill their social responsibility by contributing to the community’s welfare. This included constructing houses for the community, supporting children’s education costs from elementary school to college, and hiring local workers. The company also agreed to respect the community’s cultural practices, such as preserving sacred forests, sago hamlets, and hunting grounds.

However, said Basik Basik,  the company only recruited local workers in 2010, and they were only employed for a year. Since then, none of the community members have been employed by the company. Additionally, the company has not delivered on its promises of supporting children’s education and constructing houses as initially stated.

Rather, the company’s presence in the forest area has had detrimental effects on the local community. The hamlets within forests that used to be hunting grounds for the community are now gone. As a result, residents have to travel longer distances of 1-2 kilometers by motorcycle to find game and obtain other natural resources.

“In addition to the hunting grounds becoming increasingly distant, our sago forests, sacred sites, and revered woodlands have also suffered damage,” Basik-Basik added.

He further said that the company caused conflicts within the community, particularly concerning land boundaries. Several landowners in Zenegi disputed and claimed ownership of lands that the plantation company was utilizing.

“There have been disputes among community members regarding land boundaries but the company never facilitated any collaborative efforts to resolve these issues,” he said.

Zenegi Village is home to 670 individuals, with 128 families residing there. The village consists of five clans: Gebze, Mahuze, Kaize, Samkakai, and Basik-Basik.

Residents feel cheated

Bonifasus Gebze, a community leader in Zenegi Village, claimed that SIS had deceived the community for the past 15 years of its operation as there had been no change taking place. One of the SIS’ promises was to provide education to the children in the village from elementary school to college, but no student have been funded by the company until now. Gebze believed that the promises were nothing but lies.

“If children were given education, many of our children would have become engineers or working somewhere at this point. But those promises are lies,” said Gebze

Apart from education, SIS made commitments to construct houses for a number of residents and offer agricultural assistance to the residents of Zenegi. Unfortunately, none of these promises have ever been realized by the company either.

“We are required to send formal letters to the company seeking assistance, but even then, the aid we receive is limited to condolences and holiday-related matters. Meanwhile, the initial promises made by the company remain unfulfilled,” Gebze further explained.

Another resident of Zenegi, Yohanes Paulus, expressed that the villagers had lodged complaints against SIS with the Merauke Council. Jubi reporters attempted to contact SIS representatives in Merauke City but were unsuccessful as the location was no longer occupied by the company. (*)

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