Indonesia's anti-graft body has billed environmental destruction as an official state loss for the first time, citing the case of a nickel mining company in Sulawesi province amid fears of mismanagement in the sector.
The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) said recently the damage wrought by PT Anugrah Harisma Barakah in Kabena Island, in the southeast of the province, has cost the government an estimated US$4 billion.
The company was granted the right to exploit 3,000 hectares of land but it has destroyed the ecosystem of the island and jeopardized oil deposits, officials claim.
Nur Alam, the governor of Southeast Sulawesi, has been detained since 2017 by the commission for alleged corruption in awarding the permit to the mining company.
The anti-graft commission is now processing his case. If he is found guilty, he could face up to 18 years in jail and a fine of US$77,000.
"We've been studying Nur Alam's case [to measure] the impact in terms of the loss to the state," said Brig. Gen Arief Sulistyanto, a senior KPK member.
He said the commission will work closely with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to monitor various activities that harm the environment in a bid to root out corruption involving state agencies.
Indonesia was set to suspend 2,500 mining licenses by the end of last year due to their failure to meet environmental obligations.
Divine Word Father Frans Sani Lake, a coordinator of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Kalimantan, welcomed the commission's inclusion of environmental destruction as a state loss.
He said many permits in the mining sector are suspected to have been purchased unlawfully as officials have shown themselves to be susceptible to bribes.
"We hope the commission will create reporting guidelines for society or NGOs so they can help monitor the process," he told ucanews.com.
He suggested officials refer to the second encyclical issued by Pope Francis in May 2015, which he said would serve the public as well as the church.
Entitled "On Care For Our Common Home," the encyclical, also referred to by the Medieval Italian name Laudato Si', focuses on ways of protecting the environment.
Sacred Heart Father Ansel Amo, who heads Merauke Archdiocese's Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission in Papua, said the commission has heard complaints from marginalized people about powerful groups wreaking havoc on the environment and getting away with it.
"I agree with the commission because environmental destruction has been regarded in the past as a trivial thing. We have a law on protecting the environment but it's usually ignored," he told ucanews.com.
With regional and local elections coming in June, Father Amo called on Indonesians to vote for leaders whose reputations have not been tarnished by allegations of bribery, particularly in relation to the disbursal of mining permits.
"We hope they will vote for candidates who will protect the environment," he said.
Merah Johansyah, coordinator of the Anti-Mining Advocacy Network, also supports the commission's move to speak up against environmental destruction and arrest government officials involved in graft, especially those who hand out mining permits without going through the proper channels.
He said some of the most egregious examples of corruption in Indonesia are linked to the excavation of natural resources.
He also urged voters to be careful when throwing their support behind candidates who have close ties with mining companies.
"We support the commission in its efforts to investigate any candidates who are contesting the regional elections and who have been implicated in graft," he told ucanews.com.
Agus Rahardjo, chairman of the anti-graft commission, said suspicions have been raised over at least 34 candidates, many of whom are believed to be working in cahoots with companies that have caused damage to the environment.
"Many candidates participating in the 2018 regional elections have been implicated in graft," he said.
Reverend Jeirry Sumampow, a spokesman for the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, said money politics has long stained elections nationwide.
"People should be very selective when they vote," he said. "Don't vote for candidates who are involved in corrupt practices and who destroy our natural resources for their own gain," he said.