Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Local People to Remain Expecting for the Bless of Oil

On April 29, 2014, I was very excited to be part of interesting field trip to Bojonegoro. The field trip was a part of Asia-Pasific Hub Training “Improving the Governance of Extractive Industries” which is organized by Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM)-Revenue Watch Institute (RWI). It was very interesting not only because of the training itself but also the filed trip took place on my hometown. Fortunately, I got opportunity to visit my hometown as part of training agenda. It meant, only at that time, I have to act and think more as so-called observer instead as local. Hopefully, I would able to get an alternative perspective to perceive the existing oil and gas industry impacts in my hometown.
In the beginning, we visited government office to have discussion with govenment official and private sector which is represented by Mobil Cepu Ltd (International Oil Company) and PT.Bangkit Bangun Sarana (Local Government Enterprise). We discussed on how government and private sector take role in dealing with extractive industries management as well as problems. I found it quite inspiring when I heard they have done many efforts to ensure the revenue of oil and gas will give benefit more to the people. Social economy impacts of extractive industry have also been taken into their consideration. People have expectation, company have to do business as usual, and government need to make sure that company business shall not displaced people rights and interest. For that reason, Bojonegoro government issued regulation namely local content policy No.23/2011 for enabling local potential and people to involve in extractive industries. They also work hand in hand with Civil Society Organization (CSO) to conduct transparency initiative in order to make sure that extractive industries management running well. To meet the needs of people of getting open access of information related extractive industries, the government open public dialogue every Friday. Even, the head of regency (Bupati) inform and open publicly his phone number and email as well to public in order they can communicate directly to him. Through that way, people can speak up all of problems related to development. I am very glad that my government have been well-informed and having good initiative to manage oil and gas reserves.

Participants and local people are discussing topics on how Gayam Village dealing with extractive industry impact. (Photo: Defirentia One)

Late at the afternoon, we visited Gayam Village. It is one of so-called oil-rich site in Bojonegoro. Looking around that site, I wondered why Gayam Village could be really different compare to the one I ever visited several years ago. I could hardly saw a wide green rice fields which I always saw before. Instead, I saw some refineries on the site which are protected with multi layer gates and overseen by many securities. I figure out many things in the village have changed. As the government explained in the previous session, about 600 hectares land in the villages were released for oil sites. I can hardly imagine, how could the farmers afford their livelihood while no land to use? Or perhaps, the question is, how the farmers spend the money they got from land acquisition? Neither government nor CSO have detail data related to this problems.
The Situation
In the meantime, we had a discussion with the chief of Gayam Village, Pak Winto, and his society. I hoped my curiosity on how farmer spend the money could be answered. From the discussion, I noticed that people facing problem regarding the presence of oil industry. After massive conversion of land use, local livelihood are getting worse. Farmers could not afford for sustainable earning. Even, those whose land was sold to company, spent the money for unnecessary things. They built new houses, bought cars, motor bikes, and went shopping. The massive inflows of money in society causes the massive consumerism. Some of them did not know how to spent the money despite some other have invest the money for more sustainable things. For instance, as good practice, they invest to create small scale business to displace the traditional economy of farming.
For another reason, I assumed that people in the village remained rely their livelihood on the use of land. Land is the main means of production for farmer. Farmer’s income are getting lower and worse. Many farmers lost their land and job. Meanwhile, they wish the industry to bring better impact on their life. Local people struggle over their rights and wealth. They speak up to the government as well as company to employ them in oil company. No wonder. Because local people are watching day to day activities of oil company and they realised the daily impacts on their life. They figure out many new comers entering their village. Local people assumed that new comers could have better income and wealth. Because in their mindset, being part of oil and gas industry will bring a blessing in their livelihood. It is a very common view of local people in Gayam Village.
In the middle of discussion, I tried to deliver question to community. “If you noticed that the farmer life are getting worse due to the massive conversion of that land, do you still want to be farmer?” A woman wearing green hijab answered, “No, we do not. We want to be employed by the company.” The similar answer delivered by two young ladies who studied in local university. “We do not want to be a farmer. We wish to work at oil company,” they said. From their eyes, I could see a big expectation. No doubt, these young ladies were very confident to speak up their future dream.
Why the local people put really high attention as well as big expectation to the oil and gas industry in their area? As previously came to my mind, the presence of oil and gas industry in my hometown, Bojonegoro, indeed should come along with a huge expectation for the wealth of people. For long decades, many people there have been living under endemic poverty. Even, it was documented by CLM Penders (University of Queensland Australia) in his book, “Bojonegoro 1900-1942 : A story of Endemic Poverty in North East Java Indonesia.” There is no surprise if people relies their expectation on the blessing of oil and gas. According to people mindset, the revenue from oil and gas shall raise economic growth, increase job and revenue, as well as improve life quality due to the development. Thus, government must take role to manage revenue from oil and gas effectively and ensure that development will contribute reducing the poverty.
For me, upcoming question is how effective the revenue from oil and gas sector to support the development of other economic sector? In this case, the government of Bojonegoro would face challenges to increased economic growth from oil exploration meanwhile they have to ensure non-oil sector remain competitive for the development as well. I find it also important to ensure the development of agricultural sector for villagers since some of them still rely on agriculture.

The Need for Information
Why people remain over expecting? Currently, the most strategic issues in Bojonegoro is oil and gas. Because it involves the role of government on one side, and people who become direct beneficiaries as well as bad impact of the oil and gas industry on the other side. People here are stakeholders so that they must have room for delivering aspiration and doing advocacy for their interests. In the context of bojonegoro, channel for communication apparently appears in various forms of public space and media.
In order to make people well-informed about what happening and how development running on oil and gas. Many forms of media are also initiated by civil society, such as tabloid (BlokBojonegoro, Halo Bojonegoro, Suara Banyuurip, etc), public dialogue, book, even daily discussion in Koffie warung (small family-owned coffee shop). Why do coffee shops even turn into a public space for talking about oil and gas? Why were the people elevating day to day discussion about it?
There was a massive discourse regarding oil and gas in local media. They even created more positive news about prosperity which is promised by oil and gas. It made people imagining that their village could be oil-rich sites seems likes Qatar, Brunei, Texas, and Arab. Construction of the initial thoughts were formed, that is the one which reported by media and come into people discussion by people every day.
Then, the influence of local media coverage is the construction of oil-wealth discourse. However, there is still a gap between the discourse (information) which is created by media and the reality. What society perceived on day to day reality is quite far from their expectations. It could be happend, if there is gap between reality and sources of information.
For that reason, disclosure of information in public space become dillemma. On the one hand, people are able to get a better understanding on the existing issues, but in other hand the massive information could rise to the demands of people. Society needs to criticize and catch existing opportunities to prepare them selves for facing the extractive industry as well as increase their ability to encounter the bad impact of extractive industry on their environment and social life. Here, participation is required in the context of governance and information disclosure to the public. It is needed to accommodate people participation by creating a better public sphere for communication. (*)

Author information:
Defirentia One Muharomah was born in Bojonegoro. She lives in small village in the western part of Bojonegoro. Her life experience inhabiting the oil-rich area has raised her concern on oil and gas industry.