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Indonesian diocese under fire over tourism MoU with govt

Activists fear 'dignified' tourism deal will stop Church speaking out against environmental threats to Komodo National Park

Indonesian diocese under fire over tourism MoU with govt

A Komodo dragon checks out a truck carrying project materials for the construction of a tourist park dubbed 'Jurassic Park' on Rinca island, one of the animal's main habitats, in this October 2020 photo. The photo has sparked concerns that the tourist project could threaten the endangered dragons. (Photo supplied)

An Indonesian diocese has angered activists by signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the government for the development of holistic and dignified tourism in Labuan Bajo, the gateway to Komodo National Park, the habitat of the rare Komodo dragons.

The MoU was signed during a virtual ceremony on Sept. 6 by Father Alfonsius Segar, vicar general of Ruteng Diocese, Ni Wayan Giri Adnyani, secretary to the minister of tourism and creative economy, and Edistasius Endi, the West Manggarai district chief.

Ruteng Diocese said in a statement that the main foundation of the MoU was a common vision uniting the government and the Church to "take care of the same people and realizing the general welfare, happiness and social justice for the whole community."

The MoU covers, among other things, the exchange of data and information between the diocese and the government on tourism development for a holistic tourism paradigm based on local uniqueness, welfare, justice, sustainability and dignity.

"Tourism is focused not only on economic development but on the full and complete development of the human self," the statement said.

Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who participated in the signing ceremony, hoped the diocese can play a role in helping improve human resources, considering that Labuan Bajo has been designated a priority tourism destination and will host the G-20 Summit in 2022 and the 2023 ASEAN Summit.

Activists and UNESCO have criticized the project, saying it could threaten the endangered giant lizards

"We have to make a lot of improvements, especially in the field of human resources, and the role of the Church is very important in instilling discipline in the community,” he said.

Activists, however, accused the Church of selling out to the government by signing the MoU, saying the Church would lose its critical voice regarding controversial government tourism policies which could affect the environment and the endangered dragons.

"So far we haven't heard how the diocese as an institution will respond to government policies that threaten the future of dignified tourism, as was stated in the MoU," said Gregorius Afioma, director of Labuan Bajo-based Sunspirit for Justice and Peace group, which has conducted research on the development of Komodo island.

He noted the Church's silence on a tourism project dubbed “Jurassic Park” on Rinca island, one of the Komodo dragons’ habitats.

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Activists and UNESCO have criticized the project, saying it could threaten the endangered giant lizards.

Afioma also pointed to the conversion of more than 400 hectares of Bowosie forest near Labuan Bajo for the construction of tourism facilities.

"While local residents continue to protest against these two issues, the diocese has never taken a firm stand," he said.

Doni Parera, a leading activist in the campaign to protect Bowosie forest, said he hoped "the Church will not be held hostage by this MoU."

“The Vatican's encyclical Laudato Si', in our view, seems to be viewed differently here. It’s not a call to protect forests and the environment but to be of one view with the government to clear forests for tourism," he said.

Responding to the criticism, Father Segar said the main emphasis in the MoU is environmental integrity. "If a tourism project damages the environment, it will definitely be questioned," he said.

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