Indonesian priest’s hydropower project loses its spark

Almost ten years ago, Father Marselus Hasan made it his mission to provide hydroelectric power to the villagers of the eastern Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara.

What has since been generated are accusations of mismanagement and corruption in the implementation of its projects.

The priest has led the efforts to build five micro hydropower plants in Ruteng Diocese since 2012 together with Budi Yuwono, a hydropower expert.

This prompted famed Indonesian director and actor Nicholas Saputra to showcase his efforts in a documentary titled Semester (Universe) released in 2019.

He was also entrusted with other projects initiated by the United Nations Development Program, the Ministry of the Environment and local authorities.

However, a controversy is now ongoing for the priest, sparked by Father of the Divine Word Alexander Jebadu, a professor at the Ledalero School of Catholic Philosophy in Flores, who published a report criticizing a hydroelectric project in Rego, a village in the West Manggarai district.

He claimed that the 2017 draft was flawed and tainted with financial mismanagement.

“My family was among the victims. I heard about it and saw how shocked they were at how shoddy and expensive it was, ”Father Jebadu told UCA News.

Worth 1.28 billion rupees (US $ 91,000), part of which was borrowed from a province-owned bank, the project involving 160 families turned out to be catastrophic, with power cut after just a few months in due to a lack of water and broken machinery, he said.

“In the meantime, residents have yet to repay the loan to the bank,” Father Jebadu said, adding that each family had borrowed $ 248.

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He accused Father Hasan and Yuwono of only seeking profit as they should have known from the start that the water supply from the nearby Wae Leming River was not sufficient.

“Both hid this from the community and ignored it. [Because] if the project was canceled, they wouldn’t get anything, ”he said.

He also asked why Father Hasan tried to control all financial matters by becoming treasurer of the project and the lack of transparency in the way he carried out his duties.

The priest said the community had not received any details on the expenses, then suddenly he was told that the costs had more than doubled from the $ 37,000 initially cited. This led people to suspect that the price of the equipment was being increased.

Father Jebadu shared his findings with President Joko Widodo and the Minister of Social Affairs, asking them to help repay the bank loan.

“I considered it a disaster, so I asked the government to help the villagers,” he said, adding that he hoped there would be a police investigation.

Father Jebadu’s accusations resulted in another from a former partner of Father Hasan.

Fransiskus Kanis Laja, director of Ruteng-based Ayo Mandiri Cooperative, said he worked with Father Hasan and helped finance St. Damian Parish’s first power plant in Bea Muring in 2012 by loaning $ 16,600 to villager.

However, he said, there are still 31 members who have not repaid the loan. “The priest doesn’t care about that anymore,” he told UCA News.

Rebuttal of the priest

Father Hassan has denied the charges against him and says he has conducted matters, including financial matters, in a transparent manner. “There is nothing to hide,” he told UCA News.

He said electricity was cut in Rego due to a lack of water drainage and the community had not worked on a self-help project they had signed up to from the start, in knowing how to widen your local dam and drain water from one of the nearest rivers. to that.

“Currently, this makes electricity available only during the rainy season,” he said, adding that he was trying to discuss a solution with the community.

“Regarding the bank loan, it is the villagers’ responsibility to repay it,” he said.

Regarding Laja’s accusation, Father Hasan said he severed ties with the cooperative because it broke an agreement they made.

“I had worked to promote the cooperative in my parish and encouraged parishioners to join. We agreed that part of the dividends from the members should go to the parish, but the co-op did not honor that, ”he said.

The Ruteng Diocese was forced to intervene in the row. According to his Vicar General, Father Alfons Segar, Father Hasan’s plans were carried out with full knowledge of the Bishop’s facts, the villagers were informed, “and technically the calculations can be justified”.

He admitted that the bank loan and some governance issues needed to be addressed, but “Father Hassan, with the help of the diocese, is trying to resolve them.”

Albert Dodol, a community leader in Rego, says he prays for the dispute to be resolved.

“The villagers feel the burden of having to keep repaying the bank loan when the power plant is not working,” he said.

He said the Church must also show that it is trying to solve problems honestly.

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