Thu, 13 Apr 2000

Challenges ahead in becoming a maritime nation

Making the most of resources and ensuring their equal distribution and sustainability are among the challenges faced by the Ministry of Maritime Exploration, led by Sarwono Kusumaatmadja.

Among the experts at the ministry is Rokhmin Dahuri, a professor at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture and now the Director General of Coastal Areas, Shores and Island Affairs.

The official recently shared his views with The Jakarta Post's contributor Joko Sarwono on the implications of a country striving to redress decades of neglect of its waters. An excerpt of the recent interview conducted in Bogor follows:

Question: Could you describe the challenges we face if we really want to become a maritime state?

Answer: The first would be globalization, of which the foremost feature is free trade. The implication is that we must be able to produce maritime-related products and services, such as fisheries, sea and coastal tourism, mining and sea transportation.

These commodities and services must be highly competitive both within the local and international markets.

The second is that in relation to plans for decentralization or regional autonomy, and the redressing of fiscal balance, as reflected in the new laws (on these matters), the management of ocean resources would do much better through better cooperation between the central and regional government, the public and the private sector.

Such cooperation would have to be evident from the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all related programs.

The third challenge is the highly unequal development of ocean resources among the regions.

There are coastal areas with critical environmental conditions such as the north coast of Java, part of the Malacca Straits, the south coast of Sulawesi and part of the East Kalimantan coast between the Mahakam Delta and Bontang.

These areas have experienced pollution, damage to the coastal habitat affecting mangroves, coral reefs and estuaries, apart from overfishing.

Meanwhile, there are many coastal and sea areas which have been either underdeveloped or are barely untouched.

These include the coastal areas of the west of Sumatra, the waters south of Java to East Nusa Tenggara, the Natuna islands and the South China Sea, and our exclusive economic zone (recognized in the 1982 International Convention on the Law of the Sea).

The fourth challenge is the massive, decades-long theft of our fish by foreign ships. The estimated loss to the state in this regard is US$ 4 billion a year.

Q: What are the constraints to reviving a maritime orientation?

A: First is the low awareness of Indonesians, particularly among decision makers in the government and in the private sector, of the importance and strategic value of ocean resources to national development and the nation's progress.

Serious attention to this matter has only been evident under this new government of (President Abdurrahman Wahid) Gus Dur.

Even so, many decision makers are still doubtful of our maritime potential.

Secondly, there is the matter of our human resources and knowledge in applying the relevant science and technology. Even compared to Southeast Asian countries, not to mention Japan, South Korea, Norway and Britain, which can be said to be maritime countries.

For instance, 80 percent of our fisherfolk comprise of those with only an elementary level of education, and those who did not even graduate from primary school or who are even illiterate.

More than 80 percent of our fishing vessels are traditional.

Therefore, a large part of fishing by our fisherfolk is full of uncertainty, unlike the more calculated harvests among the fishing communities of Japan, South Korea, Canada and Spain.

Our country's mastery of fishery processing technology in brackish water or at sea is relatively better than that of fishing itself. However, because of the declining state of the waters, this ability has not been able to save our shrimp farms along the northern coast of Java.

Human resources and the mastery of relevant sciences and technology for sea transportation, ocean and coastal tourism, mining at sea and maritime-related industries are also in dire need of continuous improvement.

Thirdly, there is the low investment in the maritime sector -- in fisheries, tourism, mining and transportation -- compared to their large potential and investments in that sector in other countries with far less ocean resources, such as in China, Thailand and Norway.

Fourthly, there is the very limited infrastructure and facilities needed to develop the maritime sector, such as ports and research and development centers.

Q: So how ready are we in fact?

A: I think we're sufficiently ready at the level of the central government, regarding the first steps to be taken, although this also needs much improvement.

However, more preparedness is needed at the provincial and regional levels.

Apart from lacking seriousness in the necessary investment, infrastructure and science and technology, there has also been poor coordination and planning. Egoism in different government sectors was quite strong in the past.

We have also lacked a solid maritime development policy.

Q: What did past governments contribute?

A: The political will from past leaders laid the foundation for such maritime development. But there were inadequate follow ups.

In 1967, the government under (first president) Sukarno set up the coordinating ministry of maritime affairs under (navy officer) Ali Sadikin. But it was dissolved after about a year.

Then at the end of Soeharto's presidency the National Maritime Council was set up but it was like a paper tiger.

Third president B.J. Habibie stated that Indonesia was a maritime country -- which was mere rhetoric.

Q: Where did we fail?

A: All shortcomings aside, the past regimes actually did build significant infrastructures, particularly since the first five- year development plan. Skills have also been developed since then (late 1960s).

But we all share the blame for lacking seriousness. The sea has been exploited far too much and has been the dumping site of all our waste.

We have not thought of a maritime development strategy as a source of sustainable economic growth for the good of the people.

Q: How do you see the problems of shifting the mindset toward a maritime-oriented country?

A: This will take time. But I'm sure constant campaigns can overcome this as long as the government, especially Gus Dur, is consistent in supporting this effort.

Our land resources are becoming increasingly thin ... rebuilding the maritime sector would not mean neglecting the land. The best should be developed from both the land and sea in a proportional way.

Q: What is the priority of this ministry?

A: The first is public awareness of the strategic value of ocean resources ... the second is the empowerment of coastal communities through mutually beneficial partnerships with large businesses. This (includes) the processing and marketing of products.

The third priority is the control of fish catching, developing processing businesses and maritime biotechnology.

The fourth is reducing or ending the theft in fish catching and activities which damage the environment.

The fifth is maintenance and rehabilitation of the coast and sea environment ... the sixth is strengthening existing institutions, law enforcement and increasing necessary skills.

The seventh is matching research and exploration so that results can be used as a basis for planning and development; and the eighth is a compilation of a database and information system.