Fri, 09 Aug 2002

Jacob blames Hassan over illegal workers

The Jakarta Post, Tampak Siring, Bali

Malaysia's refusal to sign a deal on Indonesian illegal workers has left unfinished business between two ministers from the Cabinet of President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Disgruntled Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea was quick to blame the failure to settle the ongoing exodus of over 300,000 migrant workers from Malaysia on Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda and his subordinates.

"I came to Bali because I thought we would sign a new memorandum of understanding regarding the deportation of these workers," Jacob, a former labor activist, told The Jakarta Post.

Jacob claimed to have done his work by helping the workers win a guarantee that they could return to the neighboring country, by sending two of his aides for talks with their Malaysian counterparts.

"I really regret the decision not to pursue a deal with Malaysia, especially on the deportation issue," Jacob said on the sidelines of a meeting between Megawati and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Jacob said the issue of the illegals should have been solved by the Indonesian ambassador to Malaysia, whom he said "had done nothing to help the workers."

As a mark of his disgust, Jacob skipped bilateral talks between the two heads of governments. He flew back to Jakarta instead.

It was the second time in less than two months that the outspoken Jacob has been involved in a polemic with a fellow minister. He was accused by Minister of Trade and Industry Rini Soewandi of discouraging investment by siding excessively with labor.

Malaysia has enacted a tough new immigration act, which took effect on Aug. 1, forcing illegal workers, mostly Indonesians, to leave the country.

A foreign ministry official had previously expressed doubts that Indonesia and Malaysia could sign any agreements on labor issues due to Jacob's failure to come up with proposals.

Hassan looked more composed in responding to Malaysia's stance.

"Both countries understand perfectly that the issue of migrant workers is very sensitive, and we want to reach a comprehensive agreement on these workers, not just the deportation issue, which is actually underway," he told the Post.

The decision to wait for a new, comprehensive deal was taken during the first meeting of a task force to deal with Indonesian migrant workers led by Coordinating Minister for Social Welfare Jusuf Kalla on Monday.

Officials said that the manpower ministry's secretary-general attended the meeting on behalf of Jacob, who was at home in East Nusa Tenggara.