Fri, 09 May 2003

Crank up the engine Indonesia, we may win the race

M Amien Rais, Speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly, Jakarta

After my recent visit to Japan three weeks ago, I started thinking that Indonesia is like a classic car. It has a glorious past, great aesthetic value, is greatly admired for past victories and possesses great collector's value. Everyone wants to keep a part of Indonesia. Some have chosen to keep a part of its wealth. Others collect Indonesian ornaments and our national historical treasures. Photographers have kept millions of photographs of our nation since the invention of the camera.

Everyone wants a page, a cut or a slice of our beautiful nation. And they have. The foreign mining companies have found a comfortable niche in our far-flung islands and they have brought about a fair amount of benefit to the nation. Like every classic car, we are highly desired and seen by many as a status symbol. Yet this valuable and grand car simply cannot compete in present day races. Japan, China and India now lead that race in Asia. We are out of their league. And we shall be out of the league until we crank up our engine, change our rotten parts, put in modern, viable technology and get back on the track as soon as possible. We can. We can if we look toward eastern Asia and learn fast and well from our neighbors.

Prior to starting up the engine, though, we have to take stock. We have to look inward and outward and find the basic common factors that we value and which can be traded in for more resilient values. That means throwing out corruption, collusion and nepotism before we move on. It takes time but more importantly, it takes commitment. And the world is watching us. Our trading partners are watching us. Potential investors are watching us.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with the Japanese business community representing the largest companies that have invested in Indonesia while I was in Tokyo. They have invested in our country for decades in the electronics manufacturing sector, the oil and gas sector and energy generation, and they are keen to remain in Indonesia. We have the obligation to make the necessary reforms to make sure that their keen interest in expanding investments Indonesia is met by relevant structural reforms that make our nation more competitive in the liberal global economy.

We have started cranking up our classic car. The amendments to the 1945 Constitution have put in place a mechanism for a directly elected President. This sets the stage for a national leader who will receive a national mandate to carry out tough but necessary measures. We cannot let political differences hinder structural reforms that are critical to make our economy more dynamic and resilient. The establishment of the direct elections is not only a political victory in the post-Soeharto era, it is the key to national economic and social reforms.

Next, we have to restructure the civil service to rid ourselves of nepotism and to put in place a capable team who can be leaders in implementing national policy. The military has graciously agreed to step out of politics and civil governance as of 2004. We should also use that momentum to put in place a meritocratic system which ensures that the finest Indonesian minds are given a place in our administration based on their ability, not merely their political legacy. Horse-trading is always necessary in politics but we cannot let it hinder our choice of national leaders. Once the rotten old parts in our antique car have been replaced, then the engine can start.

Perhaps we need new fuel. Corruption in the past and present has remained the fuel that runs the engine. No money, nothing works. We need a new type of fuel. We need to develop a sustainable and yet dynamic education system that motivates our youth and adults to learn and re-learn so they can become an active part of the global economy. We can.

With these fundamental principles in place, I have faith that we can start rolling. We will likely not win the first race but at least we are on the track to recovery. We should look to our eastern neighbors and learn from them. I have faith that with the grace of the Almighty and the wisdom of our national leaders, Indonesia shall win a race sometime in this decade.