Pertamina accused of ignoring complaints over pungent smell before fire

Source – April 14, 2021
Fire at Pertamina's Balongan refinery in Indramayu, West Java – March 29, 2021 (Antara)

Tatang Guritno, Jakarta – PT Pertamina did not immediately respond to protests by local people about a pungent petrol like smell in the vicinity of the Balongan oil refinery in Indramayu, West Java.

According to Ombudsman member Hery Susanto, who conducted an investigation at the location of the incident, several hours before the oil refinery exploded and burst into flames several local people went to the Pertamina office to complain about the smell.

"We believe that in the process of handling this, there was indeed not one step taken as a direct response, yet before the incident local people had protested in front of the Balongan oil refinery", said Susanto during a virtual press conference on Wednesday April 14.

Susanto said that because their complaints were not heeded by Pertamina, local people became furious and threw things at the office. Yet Pertamina, he said, still did not respond to their complaints.

"The pungent smell should have been a sign to initiate the early warning system for such an incident, however it appears the response can be regarded as not responding, even ignoring it", he said.

Susanto believes that that the lack of action by Pertamina in response to the community's complains was an act of maladministration. The Ombudsman believes that it constitutes negligence on Pertamina's part of its social responsibilities.

"If the fire was [caused by a] technical problem [as Pertamina claims], in the context of maladministration, we see that the status of the local peoples' complains who had already held a demonstration, protested in front of the office, there was no immediate action taken. This I believe constitutes negligence of PT Pertamina's social responsibility", he explained.

Furthermore, Susanto is asking Pertamina to immediately look into the verification of losses suffered by victims of the fire in order to quickly provide material compensation for the damages to homes and community facilities.

Then it must take responsibility for restoring the psychological wellbeing of victims in the vicinity who were impacted upon by the fire.

This process, according to Susanto, should be done as quickly as possible without waiting for the investigation process by the police and an independent team to be completed first.

"We want the verification process to be done responsively and quickly. Don't buy time and wait for the results of the investigation by the independent team and the police criminal investigations unit, because the investigation could take up to three months", he said.

Susanto is concerned that if Pertamina takes too long to provide compensation it will affect the psychological wellbeing of local people and could become an attempt to ignore its obligation to provide compensation.

"If the time drags on it will affect the psychometric state of local people, and could make (Pertamina) forget that it must provide compensation, blur the provision of the compensation which must be provided", said Susanto in conclusion.

It has also been reported that the police have finished investigating the site of the incident resulting in the explosion and fire at Pertamina's Balongan oil refinery.

Police public relations division head Brigadier General Rusdi Hartono said that a number of items of evidence were taken from the site of the incident which are currently being examined by the police national forensic laboratory.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Kebakaran Kilang Minyak Balongan, Ombudsman: Pertamina Abaikan Keluhan Warga soal Bau Bensin Menyengat".]