As it tries to ward off the fallout from the global recession, Indonesia’s economy should focus more on developing the agriculture sector.
That was the message conveyed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party and the National Awakening Party (PKB), when the two parties met Saturday with representatives from the business community to discuss the parties’ respective economic policies.
The two, in separate discussions, said they would prioritize their economic policies in sectors that employed large numbers of people, including agriculture.
“Our main focus is on agriculture, fisheries and other industries absorbing a huge workforce. We will formulate policies to provide incentives, capital access and human resources to these sectors,” said Democratic Party executive Mohammad Jafar Hafsah.
He was presenting his party’s economic approach to business leaders from the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo).
Jafar said the Democratic Party, if it took the most votes at the April 9 elections, would significantly raise spending in these sectors from the state budget.
“The proportion of spending in these sectors must be increased in the state budget,” he said, but did not give details on the percentage of the increase.
The party also proposed expanding farmlands for rice paddies in a bid to secure the country’s food security. It also said an intervention was needed to protect rice farmers from falling crop prices.
“The government needs to set the prices based on dried unhusked rice,” said party chairman Hadi Utomo.
His statement provoked questions about the impact of high rice prices on consumers.
However, Darwin Zahedy Saleh, head of the Democratic Party’s economic division, said protecting rice prices would benefit everyone, because “some 50 percent of households in Indonesia were farming households”.
“By protecting the price of dried unhusked rice, we’re protecting public welfare in general. This means we can increase people’s purchasing power,” Darwin said.
A focus on agricultural development was also announced by the PKB. Eko Sandjojo, head of the PKB’s economic team, said the party would provide easier access for farmers to capital resources.
“The PKB will formulate regulations that provide incentives for banks to provide low-interest loans for our farmers,” he said.
Saturday’s discussions marked the second day of a three-day seminar organized by Apindo, featuring the six biggest parties based on the 2004 election results.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) presented their economic policies on Friday.
Three other parties - the Golkar Party, the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) - are to present their respective policies on Monday.
Apindo chairman Sofjan Wanandi said businesspeople needed more discussions with political parties in the future, as businesses sought certainty that any party winning the next elections would not abruptly change the economic policies of the current government, which is dominated by a coalition of the Democratic Party and Golkar.
“We cannot expect the parties to explain their concrete programs in a two-hour discussion,” Sofjan said.
“We understand they might be a bit cautious because they are afraid of losing votes. Thus we need further discussions for them to elaborate their policies by sector.”