Priests are up in arms over plans to build a container port in Labuan Bajo on Catholic-majority Flores Island. (Photo: AFP)
A group of priests on Catholic-majority Flores Island have called on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to abandon a plan to build a container port in Labuan Bajo, an international tourist destination on the western tip of the island.
The government wants to build a 200 million rupiah (US$14.7 million) port with an annual capacity of up to 100,000 TEUs (Twenty Equivalent Units) in the West Manggarai district capital.
However, the priests, who call themselves the Forum of Manggarai Maumere Scholars (Fordicamm), said that although developing the city is not a bad thing, it would be better for the environment and tourism if the port was constructed in another area.
In a statement, they said the government should stick to its initial plan to construct the container port in Bari, a village about 40 kilometers north of Labuan Bajo, to encourage the even spread of development and improve the local economy of that area.
The forum's chairman, Divine Word Father Alexander Jebadu, said the priests had petitioned President Widodo and parliament to relocate the port project to Bari.
The government has failed to adequately consult local people and the move goes against tourism development plans drawn up by local authorities, the group said.
“This scheme is not democratic, not transparent and not in accordance with the aspirations of the people,” they said.
They also said it ignored a Transportation Ministry study in 2012 which showed that the earmarked Tanjung Rangko beach in Labuan Bajo does not meet the technical requirements needed to build a container port “because it falls under an area that has been designated as a premium-class tourist destination.
The government has ignored Bari villagers who freely donated two hectares of land to the government in 2012 and sold another three hectares to support the port plan and was pandering to local influential people, the priests said.
“The local Church has not received a full explanation as to why the government [suddenly] changed the plan,” Father Marthen Jenarut, chairman of Ruteng Diocese’s Commission for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, told UCA News on Feb. 17.
“Building it in Labuan Bajo means the government has deliberately ignored the principle of justice and equality in development management. We urge the government to re-evaluate the project.”