The development of the industrial area on Rempang Island, Batam City, has triggered land disputes between the local community, the government, and PT. Makmur Elok Graha.
The development program, aimed at enhancing Indonesia’s competitiveness with Singapore, has resulted in clashes due to legal uncertainty surrounding the land.
The local community views the land as an ancestral heritage that has existed since before independence, and granting a Business Use Right to a company implies that the community no longer owns the land.
The Center for Indigenous Law Studies (Djojodigoeno) at the UGM Faculty of Law delved deep into the Rempang conflict in a discussion titled “Rempang Conflict: Understanding it from Multiple Perspectives” on Saturday (September 23).
According to Property and Human Resources Law Practitioner Evander Nathanael Ginting, the Rempang conflict has raised issues related to land rights, human rights, and government investment interests.
“So, their ancestral land will be turned into something like Rempang Eco City. Various businesses, such as factories and properties, will be built there. But with the condition that indigenous people must leave the area,” said Ginting.
“Of course, the indigenous people in Rempang strongly disagree because they feel it’s unfair; their human rights are being violated.”
There are at least two main issues in this conflict. Firstly, the indigenous community, consisting of the Malay tribe, the Sea tribe, and several other tribes, has occupied Rempang Island for more than 200 years.
During this time, the land on Rempang Island has been considered the collective property of the indigenous community.
However, in 2001-2002, the government granted a company the Business Use Right over Batam’s land. Until the conflict erupted, investors had never visited or managed the land.
Secondly, the Batam Free Trade Zone and Free Port Authority (BP Batam) regulate the authority over land management in Batam. Unfortunately, the land management boundaries by BP Batam and the indigenous community’s land are not clearly defined, leading to overlapping land claims.
“Batam neighbors with Singapore and Malaysia. It also has a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) that provides fiscal incentives and facilities for investors. So, there are advantages to doing business in Batam. Batam has also never experienced earthquakes, so people feel safe investing in Batam,” Ginting added.
Batam offers significant investment opportunities, and the local community has been promised to be employed as labor if the Rempang Eco City project is realized.
Consequently, the community is divided into two groups: the indigenous community staunchly opposes the development, and most newcomers support the project.
On land management’s legality in Batam and Rempang, Presidential Decree Number 41 of 1973 outlines the authorization.
It states that land management rights in Batam are fully granted to the Batam Authority (BP Batam) to be further distributed to third parties responsible for managing the land. These parties are required to pay land use rights to the government.
Then, in 1992, the government handed over the Rempang and Galang areas to the Batam Authority to be managed and developed industrially.
“Afterward, PT. Makmur Elok Graha entered in 2004 when the Batam Regional People’s Representative Council provided recommendations that this company could develop in Batam’s areas,” said legal advisor Reggy Dio Geo Fanny.
“From this recommendation, there was a memorandum of understanding that the Batam Government agreed that PT. Makmur Elok Graha would manage areas in Batam, including Rempang. But, it should be emphasized that this agreement stated that PT. MEG would build entertainment centers, offices, and games, which differ from the current discourse.”
Reggy Dio Geo Fanny added that there was an attempt to separate the authority of Batam City from the old islands, such as Rempang, from BP Batam’s authority by the Mayor of Batam. However, this effort did not follow through.
In 2023, the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs issued a regulation stating the existence of an Eco-City development project in the Riau Islands. This legality suggests that the Indonesian Government fully supports the industrial project on Batam Island by PT. Makmur Elok Graha.
“Certainly, it needs to be noted in paragraph two that the indigenous customary law community determines land management rights from indigenous land,” the advisor said.
“The question is whether the state recognizes the Batam community as an indigenous customary law community and whether the state recognizes the land as indigenous.”
The government plays a crucial role in determining what kind of authority can be a middle ground between the parties involved.
Besides constitutional law, Indonesia, as a multicultural country, has customary and religious law as part of society. Recognizing the existence of customary law, indigenous communities, and indigenous land is crucial to finding a solution to the Rempang conflict.