25 November 2013

East Timor's Refinery Project and Petrochemicals: Major Development or Major Threat?

ETLJB 25/11/2013 - Mahein Nia Lian report No. 58 analyzes the government’s plan to implement a refinery project and petrochemical clinic in the village of Betano, as outlined in the government’s National Development Strategy Plan- NDSP.  Various government ministries have collaborated to begin soil testing and the Nova Betano community has been consulted for advice on producing state policy in coordination with the implementation of this large-scale project.  They have successfully identified the various social, environmental, and cultural impacts stemming from this project that could negatively affect the community.

The refinery project and Nova Betano development will produce devastating environmental consequences.  Agricultural activity in the area will be severely hurt, and plantations, crops, and animals will all be affected.  The government’s socialization efforts regarding the refinery have included only a slide show presentation that failed to give substantive details about the foreseeable impacts of the project.  The community is also concerned about government compensation payments for land taken from community members.  Community members are particularly skeptical of government promises following the installation of a Central Electricity complex in Betano; the government failed to compensate the community after claiming it would. (emphasis added)

There are also concerns regarding the government’s plan to re-locate community members to a hill area 2-5 kilometers from the area of the refinery project.  The government claims that the air pollution caused by chemicals from the refinery poses a threat to their health.  However, community members have resisted this proposal, stating that moving to the hill is unsustainable for them as they would not be able to plant crops and conduct their agricultural activities in that location.

Another concern is how the employment opportunities at the refinery and Nova Betano will be handled.  The Betano community has requested that the government utilize local labor for this project, and not hire the majority of laborers from Indonesia as was done during the previous construction of the Central Electricity complex in Betano.  If not addressed, this situation has the potential to escalate into conflict between locals and foreign laborers.  Fundasaun Mahein’s final concern regards the creation of the Nova Betano community, which will be comprised of foreign workers and laborers.  Fundasaun Mahein urges the government to provide an explanation to the community of who will be living in Nova Betano and for how long.  In this way, community members can be prepared for future developments and conflict will be avoided.

 Recommendations from Fundasaun Mahein:

1. Recommend to the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources and Timor Gas to conduct visible socialization projects within the community before implementing the project.  These efforts should include informing the community with details about the expected impact from the refinery project and petrochemicals as well as Nova Betano on the area.

2. Recommend cooperation between government ministries to reach out to the community and explain how and when they will be compensated.  An agreement should be reached and recorded to avoid potential conflict during the project’s implementation.

3. Recommended to government, particularly the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, to sign a contract with the community to legalize the government action in their community to avoid tension or conflict in the future. Source: Fundasaun Mahein 18/09/2013 Press release

Related posts
Government and Community celebrate agreement on land use for Suai Supply Base
Communities "surrender" land for government supply base

Baukau Communities "surrender" 10h of land to the State for Portuguese school
Community Land in East Timor: Compensation for Acquisition for Public Purposes

See also Electrification of the Nation continues with the Inauguration of Central Electric Betano 

Edited by Warren L. Wright

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