Mon, 31 Oct 1994

S'pore's complaint

Give us back our days, screamed an editorial in The Straits Times in reaction to the smoke coming from the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. This is, indeed, an aggravating scream. The writer of this editorial should ask themselves, "Where was I when the Singaporean tug boats were caught dumping poisonous waste into Indonesian seas? Where was I when the Indonesian Mangrove Foundation protested to Singapore for wrecking Bengkalis' mangrove forest by illegally trading teak wood for second hand clothes? Surely I could have reacted the same?"

In an meeting with the Singapore envoy recently, Mr. Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, our State Minister of Environment sounded too apologetic about the thick haze that had bothered the heck out of Singaporeans. But, please, that kind of forest fire happens everywhere, even in the developed countries like the USA. And we will not take the blame, let alone their sour comments. As if we robbed Singaporeans' days.

In dealing with Singapore, it looks to me like we are always in a "can't win" position. As disclosed in the "Your Letter" column on this paper of Oct. 17, 1994, Singapore has been helping to destroy mangrove forests in Riau and getting away with it. A few years ago, it was disclosed that Singapore had illegally bought sand from Bintan Island, leaving a huge hole behind and destroying the environment. And, there was no apology from their end. Now, why should we feel so guilty about the haze?

The arrogance of Singaporeans is probably due to the fact that they think we desperately need their investment and have to put up with their "we are helping you" attitude. Take, for instance, the situation on Batam. This island has been claimed to be "The Second Singapore" since businessmen from that neighboring nation have invested their money there. They've come with capital, technology and people.

As an Indonesian, I am not very proud of what is going on at Batam. The transformation has boosted the development of the island, but look at what it has done to the people there. The so- called Singaporization has made them the second class people catering to the needs of the "visiting" nation. Things are run in Singapore way. "No Smoking" signs are everywhere, even outside the Cineplex 21. Local brewed beer is not popular since the visitors refuse to drink any kind of beer except "Tiger".

Price lists in most hotels and restaurants are in Singapore dollars, as if Rupiah was a foreign currency. If you shop in a big store and ask the price in rupiah, you have to wait until the staff figure out the conversion. And wait until you enter a seafood restaurant or a bar and see how the waiters ignore you just because you are not a Singaporean.

My friend and I were caught in a very embarrassing situation one evening in an restaurant. The manager tried to kick us out for refusing to stop smoking. Not that the restaurant was a "No Smoking" one. We had dined and smoked in this open-air restaurant before. But on that particular evening, there were a bunch of Singaporeans having dinner and they complained about our smoking. For the sake of friendship, we would have stubbed out our cigarettes immediately if we had been politely asked to stop endangering their precious lungs.

It is true that they're the biggest foreign investors in Indonesia, as disclosed by our Ambassador for Singapore (Kompas, Oct. 20, 1994). But Mr. Tomiyasa Nakamura, the General Director of the Japan External Trade Organization, says investment in Batam is a "billiards business" (Indonesia Business weekly Magazine No 6, 1994). Japan puts its money in Singapore and Singapore dumps it on Batam.