Mon, 17 Mar 2008
From: The Jakarta Post
By Rendi Akhmad Witular , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta
In what is really about looking out for their own interests in next year's general elections, Manpower and Transmigration Minister Erman Suparno and chairman of the migrant workers' agency Jumhur Hidayat have fallen into a heated feud with no end in sight.

The spat has intensified since last December, with a public war of words exploding between the two officials over claims of authority in the management of the lucrative migrant worker recruitment and placement industry.

Erman, former treasurer of the National Awakening Party (PKB), started to get antsy when the National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Overseas Labor, headed by Jumhur, was officially set up in March last year.

The existing regulations task the agency with executing the ministry's policies on migrant workers and stripping the ministry of the exclusive authority in managing migrant workers it has enjoyed for decades.

Both Erman and Jumhur are responsible directly to the president.

Things seemed to be going quite well until December last year when the two were at odds over the authority for appointing an insurance consortium for protecting migrant workers.

This spat has since extended to other areas of dispute and embroiled the bureaucrats.

The ministry's bureaucrats have been reluctant to entirely relinquish their authority for managing migrant workers to the agency for fear of losing "income" from rent-seeking with firms engaged in supplying migrant workers.

From a political perspective, Erman is concerned his party may lose votes from the families of the migrant workers should all authority be passed to the agency.

Under the ministry's management, regulations for migrant workers are often compromised in order to boost immediate shipments of workers overseas.

The ministry hopes the families of the migrant workers will be grateful to the minister for helping their relatives get jobs, and thus vote for the party.

However, the upshot of this is clear: more and more unprepared workers are being sent overseas.

Jumhur -- a former executive for a number of small political parties that failed to pass the electoral threshold -- also has a political interest in gaining support from migrant workers and their families, for whatever reason.

Jumhur, a labor union activist, will inherit the lucrative migrant worker placement businesses, which have made some bureaucrats at the ministry very well off.

The clash between Erman and Jumhur, each supported by his loyal bureaucrats, can be neatly described by an Indonesian proverb: when two elephants fight, the mouse deer between them gets crushed.

Whatever fight the two officials are getting into, whether for individual or group interests, they are actually putting at risk the rights and safety of the country's 4.3 million migrant workers, 70 percent of who are low-skilled.

The squabble will also reduce the opportunities for hundreds of thousands of migrant worker applicants -- mostly low-skilled -- to fill overseas job vacancies immediately.

Indeed, the damage from the spat is already done.

Migrant worker recruitment firms have to spend more time wading through red tape and pay more money in "administrative costs" to be able to send the workers overseas.

As reported by this paper, chairman of the Union of Indonesian Migrant Worker Suppliers, Yunus Yamani, has complained about the increasing bureaucracy since the rift between the two officials developed.

Because placement firms now have to get approval from both the ministry and the new agency, they are required to pass through 44 levels of red tape, when before there were less than 20.

The firms also have to dig deeper into their pockets, with the bureaucratic costs soaring from about Rp 700,000 (US$76) to between Rp 1 million and Rp 1.5 million per worker.

With the red-tape hurdles becoming more complicated, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should shelve his target of sending at least 3.5 million workers overseas during his five-year term.

Since taking office in 2004, Yudhoyono has managed to send only about 2.1 million workers overseas, 80 percent of who are low-skilled.

With at least 40 million workers here out of work, Indonesia has been relying heavily on overseas job vacancies to help reduce unemployment.

The country is also very dependent on foreign exchange remittances from its migrant workers for fueling the domestic economy, especially in the rural areas where most of the workers come from.

More people here are finding it harder to get jobs because of dwindling growth in the manufacturing sector despite claims of higher economic gains -- gains mostly driven by sectors that have a low job absorbency, such as services.

If nothing else, the spat between Erman and Jumhur has uncovered how procedures in placing migrant workers -- especially the low-skilled -- are highly bureaucratic and cumbersome, with numerous stakeholders vying to profit from the process.



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