Widi, reversed: Gov’t freezes development rights to 100+ Indonesian islands up for auction

Page from the Sotheby’s Concierge Auction book on the Widi Islands. Image: Sotheby’s
Page from the Sotheby’s Concierge Auction book on the Widi Islands. Image: Sotheby’s

The government says it has frozen development rights to more than 100 pristine Indonesian islands amid outrage over the news that they were listed in an international auction.

Last week, the development rights to the Widi Reserve, a coral atoll archipelago located around 1,700 kilometers northeast of Bali, was listed by Sotheby’s for an auction taking place in New York from Dec. 8-14. 

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Even though the Widi Reserve is not for sale as Indonesia does not permit private ownership of islands, the prospect of foreigners owning development rights to one of the few remaining intact coral atoll ecosystems in the world triggered some unease among the Indonesian public.

Today, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it has concluded a meeting with the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, as well as regional officials overseeing the Widi Reserve territory, and decided on freezing development rights to the Widi Reserve, which is held by PT Leadership Islands Indonesia (PT LII).

“Since signing a memorandum of understanding in 2015 and until now in 2022, PT LII has not conducted any of the construction or tourism development activities they promised,” Ministry of Home Affairs Territory Administration Director General Safrizal said in an official statement today.

The seven-year absence of tourism development on the Widi Reserve was justification enough for the freeze on PT LII’s development rights, Safrizal said. 

The company may retain the rights to the Widi Reserve should they begin construction on the islands within six months’ time, or face total permit revocation.

PT LII, a foreign investment company based in Bali, stressed that they did not intend to sell the islands to foreigners; they claim the auction was meant to attract foreign investors for the development of the Widi Reserve as a tourist destination.

Had the auction gone ahead as planned in New York, one would have had to place a US$100,000 deposit just to make a bid for development rights to the Widi Reserve.



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