“I lived next to a mining operation for years. But I don’t know exactly the (authorized) location of that mining concession. Mining revenue? The local government never informed us about that. They did visit us several times, but just for small talk,” revealed an indigenous Dayak leader, who has witnessed the expansion of bauxite industries in his hometown. Responding to his statement, I asked him, “Why don’t you request such information? It’s public information.” He smiled and said, “It’s not that easy. I guess you should try to do so.” Following his suggestion, in a formal discussion with mining industry-related stakeholders in the bauxite-rich district, I raised the issue of public access to information on mining revenue. The response of the local government official was surprising. “Why is the public so keen to get such information? I can give it to you, but you need to secure the mayor’s permit first. If not, I can present the numbers presented at a previous public forum. Well, it’s pretty much the same.”

It’s publicly known that extractive industries have generated large public revenue for Indonesia. Despite their critical role in the national economy, extractive industries have been managed in secrecy for decades. Indonesia has now reached a new era of openness. It’s marked by the adoption of Public Information Disclosure Law in 2008. The public is now, in theory, guaranteed access to public information. Furthermore, Indonesia also adopted entered into a global initiative to improve transparency and accountability within extractive industries (oil, gas, and mining), the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Given the participation of Indonesia in the Open Government Partnership (OGP), there are some progressive moves from various sectors and levels of government to promote greater openness. However, room for improvement remains wide open.

The Bottlenecks to Greater Openness

It has been eight years since the issuance of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Law. Some quarters of government have shown great progress. Indragiri Hulu District made a breakthrough by having a special list of public information in the extractive industries sector, which was important, given the huge role of the sector in the local economy. The indigenous people of Talang Mamak, living near an extractive site in the tropical rainforest in Indragiri Hulu District, succeeded in accessing documents regarding the environmental impact assessment. But in some areas, things remain the same as before. The government locks public information in the name of state confidentiality. Such mixed performance of the government has been detrimental to the public. The public’s right to information is often completely ignored, thus limiting the degree to which public participation is realized.

However, once the information is disclosed, problems are not necessarily resolved. Despite receiving information, the public might not benefit, because the information provided may involve technical terms and concepts, especially in the extractive industries. EITI reports have succeeded in disclosing revenues and payments made by mining companies, information which used to be locked away. But the complexity and amount of data in the report make it difficult to be understood and analyzed. Thus, preventing meaningful use and participation by public to engage on the discussion on the findings of reports or even bigger issues. Disclosing dozens of spreadsheets might be useful for some, such as researchers, CSOs and business entities. But for the public in general, context is needed to be able to fully understand. Thus, one needs to simplify complex data without reducing its meaning.

The Government of Indonesia has facilitated public participation in monitoring the development agenda by developing LAPOR, a citizen reporting mechanism. The public can easily convey aspirations and complaints, from public services to environmental issues. However, to be able to monitor and complain, people need basic knowledge and information. We see this from the  experience of Pius Tomi, the head of Sejotang Village, Sanggau District, West Kalimantan Province. Tomi has huge concerns over Semenduk Lake, which has been destroyed by a bauxite mining company. The lake has been vital to the local economy. It’s also part of the local folklore. But now, the lake is gone. The villagers want to complain about it. But their complaint has gone nowhere, since they don’t have solid information to support their claim. They need information on the location of the mining concession, in order to claim that the bauxite company conducted illegal operations on Semenduk Lake – since the lake is located outside their authorized concession area.

Bringing Extractive Data to the People

To disentangle the problem, in 2015, Publish What You Pay Indonesia developed Open Mining, an Android-based application which enables the public to check the location of oil, gas, and mining concessions and apprehend state and local revenue, as well as the social and economic contributions of extractive industries. The application’s development is rooted in two core principles, information openness and public participation, which is translated into its four main features.

First, the map. It shows locations of all extractive industries projects operating in Indonesia. Once a user selects a certain project, more information will show up, including the name of company responsible, detailed location, commodity, and concession area as well as permit status.

Second, revenue. This feature specifically focuses on data and information on contributions to the revenue sharing fund from the extractive industries based on the district. Data extracted from the EITI report highlights the comparison between government revenue and company payment data.

Third, citizen reporting. The application also integrates the government’s existing citizen complaint  mechanism, LAPOR, in order to facilitate advocacy by communities near concessions. It also provides a ‘share’ option to increase public awareness on the issue reported.

Fourth, socio-economic data. The app provides district-based poverty and economic growth data. It aims to contextualize extractive industries into the bigger socio-economic framework. Indirectly, it can help the public to understand the role or contribution of extractive industries in the local economy.

The idea behind the development of Open Mining is to bring extractives data and information to the people in a user-friendly manner. Local governments have yet to disclose critical public data. Open Mining can fill the gap of asymmetric information. It can serve as an effective instrument to raise public awareness on the activities of the extractive industries, given the huge number of Android users. Today, there are around 55 million Android users in Indonesia. However, this is not simply about disclosing information. It’s about empowering the citizens like Tomi with the right to know what’s going on around them, so they can advocate for their cause. Open Mining is therefore an excellent example on how open government can advance progress towards the sustainable development goals. In particular, Open Mining, being heavily focused on data transparency and civic participation, directly addresses Goal 16 on peaceful, just and inclusive societies, based on strong and responsive institutions.

Placing data and information together with a reporting mechanism in one application is a complete package to pursue greater transparency and accountability. The public can use provided data as a reference to check whether the companies are committing any wrongdoing. Then, citizens can utilize LAPOR to report and trace the actions taken by the government. By doing so, the public can hold government accountable. Currently, around a hundred people have downloaded the application. We expect the number will keep growing, given the demand for transparency in the extractive industries. Open Mining can be freely downloaded via the Google Apps Store or here.