Tue, 03 Oct 2006
It's time for Indonesia to focus on the economy

A'an Suryana, College Park, Maryland

Vice President Jusuf Kalla shared good news about the country with the American public during his recent visit to the United States: Indonesia, which was once beleaguered by economic and political crises, is now recovering and back on the right track.

Earlier, before members of the United States-Indonesia Society (USINDO), presidential spokesman Andi Mallarangeng highlighted the government's success in restoring peace in Aceh, which paved the way for stability in Indonesia.

The convincing speeches, conveyed in two different functions, signaled a shift in Indonesia's domestic and international diplomacy. While in the past the government tended to take on a defensive stance on the back of the country's poor economic and political performance, the present government is brimming with confidence when talking about its achievements in public.

On politics, Kalla asserted Saturday that Indonesia was enjoying unprecedented stability. Almost all soldiers have been sent back to the barracks, he told the Indonesian community in Washington. In the early period, the number of troops deployed for security operations made up almost 75 percent of the total number of soldiers in the country.

On the anticorruption drive, both Kalla and Mallarangeng asserted that Indonesia was far more serious than any other country in the world in stamping out graft. Law enforcement authorities have been investigating numerous corruption cases and jailed lawmakers, governors and other active and retired government officials. The move, they say, provides assurance to the people that no one is above the law.

On the international front, the government has been more active in helping preserve world peace. The plan to send a peace keeping force under the UN flag to Lebanon is the latest diplomatic effort to raise Indonesia's stature in the international community.

Overall, the government has been doing quite well in ensuring stability and combating corruption, which are prerequisites for faster economic growth. But the achievements should not give room for complacency.

The government still has a lot of homework to do, including tackling sectarian conflicts, highlighted by a recent riot in East Nusa Tenggara. The riot, which was sparked by the execution of three Christians convicted of leading a massacre of Muslims in the Central Sulawesi town of Poso, signaled the people's low confidence in the government's attempts to ensure justice is adequately served.

The execution came as the law enforcers declined to arrest people whom Fabianus Tibo, one of the three who were executed, claimed were the masterminds of the mass killings.

The failure to investigate the case thoroughly and punish all the people involved in the sectarian conflict in Poso between Christian and Muslim groups will not bring about lasting peace in the town. A transparent investigation into the prolonged violence would instead demonstrate to the public that justice is served.

The government's ongoing fight against corruption deserves recognition, but it also raises the question: Is the move being used by some to discriminate against certain groups of people, let's say political rivals? How about corruption cases involving people who are close to the center of power?

The government is said to have worked hard to root out corruption but bribery, collusion and corruption are still widespread as found by the Transparency International, which ranked Indonesia 140 of 159 countries in its 2005 Corruption Perception Survey.

Basic services, meanwhile, are still disappointing and the quality of education lags behind other countries in the region.

On top of that, infrastructure projects have been going nowhere. The government says development of infrastructure to support the economy will cost it about Rp 700 trillion, but it can only provide Rp 100 trillion or a mere 15 percent of the fund needed (Kompas, Sept. 16, 2006). The private sector is expected to fill the gap.

The first infrastructure summit last year offered 91 projects, but only 13 have materialized so far (Kompas, Sept. 16, 2006).

Although the government has succeeded in establishing political modality, it has yet to excel in the economic field. Attracting foreign investment is the key to efforts to spur economic growth in the years to come. Kalla's visit to the U.S. can be seen from that perspective.

The writer is a staff writer with The Jakarta Post and currently a Fulbright scholar studying journalism and management at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, the University of Maryland, U.S.



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