The bilateral “tensions” between Indonesia and Singapore looks set to worsen over sand and granite.
Following last month’s detention of 13 Singapore-bound barges, some of which were transporting granite, Indonesian Navy Commander of the Western Fleet Rear-Adm Muryono is pushing for a granite export ban as well. Rear-Adm Muryono was quoted as saying, 'The Trade Ministry has banned sand exports because of environmental damage. It should also ban granite exports as its mining also causes environmental damage.”
He further told Antara that he would agree to sand exports if they brought a higher selling price. 'Sand exports could earn the country a big profit if it is handled seriously,' he said.
Muryono’s sentiments were also echoed by the Commander of Tanjung Pinang Naval Base First Marshal, Among Margono, who had proposed granite export ban to the central government. The issue is apparently being discussed now by several ministries including the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry (ESDM), the Environment Ministry, and Trade Ministry.
Additionally, Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar also allegedly told reporters that Jakarta would issue a regulation banning the export of 'granite and materials' to Singapore, even as he denied making the statement later. In contradiction to the Navy commanders’ remarks, both Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda and Trade Minister Mari Pangestu had clarified earlier that there would not be an export ban on granite.
Quoted by Antara, Muryono said, "if the impact (to the environment) is similar (to sand exploitation), we should also impose similar regulation to granite." Antara also reported that granite exploitation has caused environmental damage in a number of areas in Riau Islands Province such as Bintan and Karimun islands, with many water ponds with depth up to 90 meters in the granite mining areas.
The current granite ban talks by Indonesia, if passed, will create further negative impact to the construction sector in Singapore. In response, Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo and Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang contacted their Indonesian counterparts to raise the matter of the disruption in granite shipments, followed by a third-party note to request for the Indonesian government to release the detained vessels, and to confirm Minister Wirajuda’s statement that there would not be a granite ban.
In explaining why barges carrying granite were also detained, the Indonesian navy claimed that the contraband sand was found beneath granite shipments on the Singapore-bound vessels. Leading daily Kompas reported that the vessels first appeared to be carrying granite, but sand was found underneath the layers of granite upon closer checks.
The current escalation of sand ban talks to possibly include a granite ban as well may not bode well for other existing bilateral negotiations between the two states, especially in areas of cooperation, such as the ASEAN transboundary haze prevention plan.
ASEAN member states had recently emerged from the environmental ministerial meeting in Brunei Darussalam with a new plan and resolve to combat the haze pollution problem. In particular, Singapore’s efforts in the adoption of Jambi had been hailed as a model for other ASEAN states to follow, to prevent further forest fires in Indonesia.
Just last week, officials from Jambi's provincial government and Indonesia's Environment Ministry were in Singapore to discuss the master-plan for Muarao regency, one of nine divisions within Jambi province. The plan is expected to be completed next month, in time for the dry season which starts in June. (12 March 2007)
Detained granite vessels ‘carrying sand’ (Straits Times, 12 March 2007)
Navy Force proposes ban on granite export (Antara, 9 March 2007)
MFA's response to comments by Indon Environment Minister (The Straits Times, 9 March 2007)
Singapore 'baffled' by report on Jakarta's granite export ban (The Straits Times, 10 March 2007)
Dousing Indonesia's hotspots (TODAY, 10 March 2007)