Mon, 21 Aug 2000

Freedom vital for achieving justice

Economist Muhammad Sadli, who was a minister for eight years during the New Order era, evaluates what has, and what has not, been achieved in 55 years since Indonesia's independence.

Question: Do you think that Indonesians have achieved their ideal desires of obtaining justice and prosperity?

Answer: No, we are still far from justice, and with regard to prosperity, we have reached only about a quarter of what we ought to.

How do you measure the achievements in justice and prosperity?

If we had enjoyed justice, Soeharto would not have fallen from his presidency (in May 1998). The current political turmoil and squabbles stemmed from unjust practices during the Soeharto administration. Many social groups are now demanding justice in economy, politics and human rights.

With regard to prosperity, we can say that we have enjoyed steady economic growth. However, our per capita income still lags far behind our neighbors. Our per capita income reached about US$1,200 per annum before the economic crisis (which began in mid-1997) but declined to $700 during the crisis. It is now estimated at $900, less than one-third of Malaysia's per capita income of more than $3,000.

What has impeded us from gaining justice?

Poor democratization and the government's authoritarian system under both Sukarno and Soeharto. An authoritarian government, usually accompanied by oppression, often produces injustice. We enjoyed democracy only from 1949 to 1957, after which we returned to an authoritarian government.

Why were we so weak in democratization for so long?

Perhaps we have made mistakes in setting the principles of nation building.

During the first years after independence, for example, we adopted revolutionary programs on the belief that revolution was offering "paradise". But it has now proven to be delusive.

During the Soeharto era, policies on economic development were so Javanese-oriented that residents in some provinces, like Aceh, Papua (Irian Jaya) and Riau, felt ignored and wanted to separate from the Republic of Indonesia.

Can we blame the leaders?

I don't think so. We cannot blame certain people because all of us are collectively guilty.

Or can we blame our legal system?

I wonder (about reports) that all of the judges and prosecutors in the country are involved in corrupt practices. Perhaps they have imitated their leaders. If the president was corrupt, his subordinates, including governors, judges and prosecutors, would also be corrupt. If the president gave big government projects to his children, governors would also follow suit.

Why have we achieved less economically than our neighbors?

Because we suffered economic stagnancy for 20 years when we had political instability under Sukarno, which our neighbors did not experience. The fast growth after that period could not help Indonesia's economy catch up with the prosperity of neighboring nations.

Under Soeharto, Indonesia's economy grew by an annual average of almost 7 percent, an outstanding growth level among poor countries with a per capita income of less than $500 per annum and low human development index.

So economic growth was not affected by poor democratization?

Poor democratization did not affect the economic growth, but it disturbed the sustainability of its economic system because it provided loopholes for corrupt practices.

Has development in science and technology helped accelerate economic growth?

No. Even though Indonesia can assemble aircraft, it lags behind some other developing countries, such as India and China, in science and technology development. Indonesia, for example, is still backward in information technology and the industries of automotive vehicles, electronics and shipbuilding.

Ironically, Indonesia introduced regulations to support science and technology development. How could we lag behind?

Because the then state minister of research and technology B.J. Habibie made wrong policies. It was wrong to appoint a minister when we had problems in the development of technology because the minister would then produce wrong policies.

Why doesn't our education system make substantial contributions to the improvement of our prosperity?

Because Soeharto established a school system aimed at supporting the sustainability of his own regime. Our schools, therefore, have taught wrong things, such as Pancasila (state ideology) doctrines, which hinder students' creativity.

Can you project when our aims of justice and prosperity can be achieved, given that rough picture?

It's difficult to make a projection. But we must be optimistic of our future. President Abdurrahman Wahid introduced freedom, the right ingredient, for the future. We must give society freedom, so that its members can develop their creativity.

Even though freedom sometimes allows friction among people, freedom will drive the emergence of ingenuity that will help them overcome their problems. The deliberations at the recent People's Consultative Assembly Annual Session, where compromises could be reached, was a good example. (Rikza Abdullah)