Mon, 22 Dec 2003

Indonesian maritime issues get greater attention

Jan R. Scheele, Maritime Consultant, Jakarta

Is empowerment of the maritime transportation services the only medicine the government is willing to inject in the ailing national maritime industry? Which quality assurances are built in to guarantee successful results and in how far will this empowerment heal the current ailments of this so long neglected industry sector?

The undersigned wishes to comment on the publication in The Jakarta Post on Dec. 9 by Ronald Nangoi, titled: RI maritime issues get greater attention: Better late than never?.

Allow me to first and foremost question the first statement made by Nangoi "Indonesia being the largest maritime country in the world". Closer to the truth would be the following statement: "Indonesia is one of the largest Archipelago's in the world, consisting of more than 17,000 islands, of which more than 6,000 are inhabited, covering an area as large as Europe from Iceland in the North West to Turkey in the South East. By nature this would have made Indonesia one of the strongest Maritime Nations in the world, unfortunately it currently is not".

An example is the fact that less than 7 percent of the transportation of all domestic inter island cargo volumes are being traded by non -- Indonesian flag vessels.

Past questionable government policies (Habibie's scrapping policy and failed new building programs) have added to the current poor state of affairs of this industry sector, that if well facilitated by the government and managed by the private sector, could contribute significant to the country's national income as rightfully mentioned by Nangoi, instead of suffering presently opportunity losses of roughly more than US$12 billion a year in foreign exchange.

Maritime trade in general is the oldest international or global business, governed by the earliest examples of international (trade) laws, amended over time as currently applicable. I agree with the mentioned current weaknesses and the governments inconsistency in law enforcement, but these are not new facts, for the past 10 years the Chairman of the Indonesian Ship owners Association (INSA) has consistently brought these shortcomings in front of the government footlights, unfortunately to no avail.

Indonesia's flag ship carrier PT. Djakarta Lloyd is an overstaffed non performing, loss making Government Shipping Company, to be kept alive by the government for the past 15 years. State owned Inter Island Passenger Shipping Line PT. Pelni is covered in debt, and does not make any profits. The only Indonesian ship owners who are surviving are the ones who registered their vessels under other flags than the Indonesian flag, hence the relative small number of ships under the national flag.

Nangoi stated that it is part of Minister Kwik Kian Gie dream "that in the years to come, the shipping business grows, in which thousands of vessels largely under Indonesian flag, are getting crowded in domestic territorial waters". I may confidently state that under the current laws, regulations, government policies, even through the "empowerment", whatever that means and however ever the implementation (and action plans?) Your Excellency, keep on dreaming.

Are their solutions to the problems on offer, to make the minister's dream come true? The answer is yes, but to tackle the problems seriously needs a broad governmental platform of awareness, intergovernmental cooperation, knowledge, vision and political will.

At present there does not exist a cohesive national (maritime) shipping policy, which should be fundamental in supporting the national economic and social development objectives.

Decentralization, privatization, restructuring, deregulation and private sector participation in policy development and formulation should be the point of departure and the central thrust of overall government policy.

In the recent past, government attention has been highly focussed on projects, not institutions or policies -- which in a decentralized Indonesia are now even more important.

In closing I would offer to Kwik the suggestion to, as a first priority to establish in cooperation with the minister of transportations and the private maritime sector, a National Maritime Committee, charged with the responsibility to formulate a "National Maritime (shipping) Policy", covering in general the ports and shipping sub sectors in Indonesia, addressing all facets, including but not limited to:

o macro and micro economical matters

o Financial matters

o Technical matters

o Sociological matters (employment, human resources, education and training)

o International, Regional and National legislation

o National Maritime Strategy for implementation

Initiating this initiative might be the start on the difficult road to a healthy National Maritime Sector, which will at the end contribute substantially to the national development and placing Indonesia on the world maritime map, where it given its strategically geographical position and total length of coast line should have been.