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Controversial land ownership sparks heated Presidential debate in Indonesia

In Indonesia’s presidential campaign, Candidate Anies Baswedan, accuses Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto of holding 340,000 hectares of land, intensifying the debate on land ownership.

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In the ongoing Indonesia Presidential Campaign, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto (LEFT) faces allegations of overseeing a vast land expanse amounting to 340,000 hectares.

INDONESIA – Land ownership has become a contentious issue in the ongoing presidential campaign in Indonesia, with Candidate Number 1, Anies Baswedan, and Candidate Number 2, Prabowo Subianto, engaging in a heated debate during the third presidential debate held on 7 January.

During the debate, Anies Baswedan accused Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto of controlling an extensive land area totalling 340,000 hectares.

Anies highlighted the irony of this situation, emphasizing that a significant number of Indonesian National Army (TNI) soldiers still lack proper housing.

Anies stated, “President Joko Widodo conveyed that Prabowo owns more than 340 hectares, while many of our soldiers, more than half, do not have official housing. It’s a fact. It doesn’t need to be discussed behind closed doors; it’s a deficiency that we need to address.”

This issue of Prabowo’s extensive land ownership had previously surfaced during the 2019 presidential debate when President Joko Widodo raised concerns about Prabowo’s control over hundreds of thousands of hectares of land.

Prabowo, however, refuted Anies’s claims during the recent debate, asserting that the land under his control is nearly 500,000 hectares.

He emphasized the legitimacy of his land holdings, stating that the majority of the land is under the category of Business Cultivation Rights (Hak Guna Usaha or HGU), a type of land ownership regulated by the Indonesian government.

HGU, as defined by the Basic Agrarian Law (UUPA) No. 5 of 1960, grants the right to cultivate state-owned land for a specified period, typically used for agricultural, fisheries, or livestock purposes.

Prabowo argued that HGU land could be returned to the state if needed and cited an example of his company voluntarily relinquishing part of the HGU land for a national food estate project.

Land for the food estate project in Central Kalimantan Province. (Photo: ANTARA)

The regulations regarding HGU are detailed in various legal documents, including Government Regulation (PP) No. 40 of 1996 concerning Land Cultivation Rights, Building Rights, and Land Use Rights.

These regulations outline the eligibility criteria for obtaining HGU, which generally includes Indonesian citizens and legal entities established under Indonesian law.

Former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court spotlights alarming land inequality in Indonesia

Former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Prof Dr Hamdan Zoelva, weighed in on the debate, highlighting the extreme land inequality in Indonesia.

He pointed out that a majority of the land is controlled by the elite, while many small-scale farmers have only tiny plots of land for cultivation.

Hamdan Zoelva criticized the concentration of land ownership, mentioning Prabowo specifically as part of the elite who benefit from extensive land holdings.

“These are small-scale farmers. Moreover, there are still many who do not own land [only work as tenant farmers]. They only occupy borrowed land,” expressed Hamdan Zoelva during a discussion organized by BersamaIndonesia in Central Jakarta, on Friday (12 Jan) night.

Moreover, Zoelva disputed Prabowo’s claim that the 500,000 hectares were government-owned HGU, asserting that functionally, the land belongs to Prabowo and could remain under his control for up to 190 years.

Dewi Kartika, Secretary-General of the Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA), emphasized the violation of the constitution, particularly the Basic Agrarian Law, by the large-scale land ownership of the elite.

She highlighted the contradiction between the 190-year land concession mentioned in the Capital City National Law (UU IKN) and the provisions in the Basic Agrarian Law, which prescribe a maximum of 95 years for HGU with renewal cycles.

Responding to these concerns, Grady Nagara, Co-Founder of BersamaIndonesia, warned that the extensive land control by elites like Prabowo threatens the future of the younger generation.

He stated, “Today, it’s difficult for Millennials and Gen Z to own land and houses if large-scale land ownership by the elite continues to be perpetuated by the state under the guise of HGU. The future of the younger generation is the most threatened in this scenario.”

Amid this controversy, Alexander Marwata, Vice Chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), clarified that Prabowo’s land assets of 500,000 hectares are not openly disclosed in his wealth report (LHKPN).

While Prabowo’s reported LHKPN on 31 March 2023, acknowledges ownership of 10 land and building plots worth IDR 275,320,450,000 (approximately SGD 23,531,662.39), the reported area does not reach 500,000 hectares.

Marwata suggested that part of Prabowo’s land holdings might be registered under company names, raising questions about the transparency of ownership.

“It can’t be personal. If it’s a company, is his ownership of shares in that company reported?” questioned Marwata.

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