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Remarkable Indonesia? It needs to be more than a slogan
Publication Date : 16-08-2013
The Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) has launched a worldwide campaign to attract foreign investment to Indonesia.
Prominent international TV networks such as CNN and the BBC are carrying a paid commercial with alluring facts about Indonesia: a one trillion US dollar economy, national stability, friendly and smiling people, a large young work force and so on. The ad plays a catchy tune and flashes a sexy slogan: Remarkable Indonesia.
On the eve of the 68th anniversary of Indonesia’s independence let us be honest with ourselves and ask the introspective question: Given the opportunities available during the past 10 years of buoyant export figures—primarily caused by strong demand from the Chinese market; a stable domestic situation with no serious centrifugal political forces; and an overall conducive regional environment—is it not justifiable to expect a more robust economy?
Based on a respectable annual growth of, say, 8 to 8.5 per cent—which according to prominent Indonesia corporate executives I have talked to is not an impossibility—with bold planning and vigorous project management, Indonesia could by now have a comprehensive infrastructure system that would benefit the rural population.
Instead, what we witness every day right here in the capital city are disturbing cases of incompetence and a half-hearted attitude toward tackling big projects.
I am specifically referring to the unfinished cross-city elevated non-toll road along Jl. Casablanca. You will have a clear overview if you look down from the upper floors of Siloam Hospital near the Semanggi crossing. The road has almost been completed, except at three points where there are still one-meter-wide gaps. It looks as if the construction company is holding the Ministry of Public Works and the Jakarta administration hostage. Apparently, their message is: “Give us the rest of the agreed money, or the road will remain unfinished.”
I talked with Governor Jokowi about a month ago and asked him about this unfinished project. He said that construction would resume soon after the State Audit Agency (BPK) had completed its investigation. Apparently, there had been accusations of irregularities in the tender process.
Whether the cross-city elevated non-toll road will simply be a white elephant project remains to be seen.
The elevated non-toll road is just one example of ambitious infrastructure projects that are sluggishly implemented. The Semarang–Solo toll road that will have a strategic economic function for the densely populated province of Central Java is way behind schedule. The repeated excuse is difficulty in the land acquisition process.
But the media is not inquisitive enough to ferret out what is actually behind the problem. Is it perhaps due to the nephew of the regional head or the son of a public works official who are acting as middlemen and forcing the farmers to sell their pieces of land at a much lower price than that officially set by the government?
Then, there is the list of corruption cases–particularly those involving a senior police officer, a former Cabinet member and, quite recently, the head of the upstream oil and gas regulatory special task force–that are affecting the country. It is indeed a remarkable Indonesia, since people keep on smiling rather than organising noisy anti-corruption rallies.
We better not continue this litany of woes or else we will become totally depressed. Apparently, with the growth of democracy in this country, corruption is also democratised and flourishing.
It would be helpful to place Indonesia’s string of woes in a wider historical framework. On the morning of Aug 17, 1945, prominent nationalist leader Sukarno gave a short speech, saying, “Brothers and sisters, I have asked you to be present here to witness an event of supreme importance in our history.”
Sukarno talked slowly in his baritone voice, stressing each word he uttered. “For decades the Indonesian people have struggled to achieve the independence of our country […] Our waves of nationalism have experienced the rise and fall of the tides. However, our spirit remains determined to achieve our goals.”
Before reading his famous proclamation, he closed his speech, saying, “Now comes the moment when we alone are responsible for the destiny of our people and our country. Only nations that have the audacity to determine their own destiny can become strong nations.”
That wider historical framework outlined by Sukarno strengthens and inspires us to continue our Sisyphean effort to create a just, prosperous and strong Indonesia as espoused by the founding fathers of our republic. We must have the conviction that someday the Indonesian people will manage to place that boulder on top of the hill.
Seven years ago on the eve of Indonesia’s 60th Independence Day, this newspaper ran a commemorative editorial. We would like to quote the closing lines, since, surprisingly, they are still relevant today.
“Today, as we mark our 60th [or our 68th] Independence Day, it is worth asking ourselves: What have we really achieved as a nation?”
The honest answer is a mixture of gratitude, disillusionment and hope–gratified because we have come this far in laying down the foundations of democracy, but also disillusioned and at times even despondent because we have squandered historical opportunities to push Indonesia forward.
But we are also hopeful that there are many Indonesians who are truly and sincerely committed to the goals of a just and prosperous nation and who are working hard to achieve them. It is to them that we turn as we mark Independence Day.
The writer is senior editor at The Jakarta Post and its founding chief editor (1983-1991). He has served as ambassador to Australia.