Saturday, 23 August 2014

Jokowi vows to get tough with haze offenders

It is a question of political will, he says in exclusive interview with ST
By Zuraidah Ibrahim Deputy Editor And Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2014

INDONESIA'S President-elect Joko Widodo has vowed tough law enforcement to fix the recurring haze problem, making it clear that the local authorities know who the culprits are.

In plainly worded statements suggesting he means business, Mr Joko told The Straits Times that it was a question of political will and that he would use his power to give necessary instructions to the relevant authorities.

"For me, it's not a complicated problem, it's only a matter of managing the people and how we communicate with them. The haze is caused both by the people and also the companies. If we have good, tough law enforcement, then it can be resolved," he said, gesturing to indicate that the problem would be swept away.

Smoke from Indonesian forest fires, sometimes causing pollution in Singapore to reach unhealthy levels, has been one of the more frustrating aspects of relations between the city state and its giant neighbour. Mr Joko gave his views on this and other bilateral issues in an interview at his Jakarta Governor's office on Tuesday, eight weeks before he is due to take over as Indonesia's seventh president.

He comes with a reputation of solving issues on the ground, after successful tenures as mayor of the city of Solo and governor of the capital city. He promised to bring this to bear on the haze problem. Those guilty of illegal burning will be stopped, he said. "Our local governments, also our provincial governments, they know where they are," he said repeatedly.

Acknowledging the importance of the issue, he noted that the haze had been recurring every year, not infrequently. It was a question of the "political will to act or not", he added.

Asked how different his approach would be from his predecessors', Mr Joko declined to comment on the progress made so far, but said: "When we have the power, we must use the power to solve the problem, not only haze but also other problems. I'm sure that the governor or the Bupati, they know where the problem comes from, for example, whether it's this district or that district. They know. I'm sure they know."

Bupati, or regents, are district- level leaders, the equivalent of elected mayors in cities. Democratic Indonesia has a highly decentralised system of authority, but it is not a federal system - Jakarta still wields great power, and Mr Joko appears ready to demand greater accountability. "When we go to the ground, we need to give instructions to both the governors and the Bupati," he said.

This month, Singapore's Parliament passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill to go after companies fingered for causing haze pollution.

Mr Joko, 53, won the July election with 53.15 per cent of votes, over his sole rival. The Constitutional Court yesterday rejected a challenge by his defeated opponent Prabowo Subianto. Observers have lauded Mr Joko's refreshing approach, though many are doubtful that he can root out Indonesia's deeply entrenched corruption.

During the wide-ranging interview, he said he was looking forward to meeting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, whom he revealed was the first foreign leader to congratulate him upon his victory. Mr Joko was a regular visitor to Singapore in his days running a furniture business. He sent two of his children to study here, one of whom is now at Anglo-Chinese School (International).

On how bilateral ties might be further strengthened, he said that Indonesia would welcome more investment from Singapore to boost the vast archipelago's connectivity through urban rail networks, seaports and airports.

Expressing confidence of deepening ties, he said: "We have, more or less, the same culture... we have a long story of cooperation and relations with Singapore, it's easier to talk with Singapore compared to the other countries outside ASEAN."

New face of Indonesian politics
First Indonesian president to emerge from outside elite circles sees himself as an everyman working to uplift fellow citizens
By Zuraidah Ibrahim Deputy Editor, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2014

ON THE blisteringly hot afternoon of Indonesia's 69th independence day, Mr Joko Widodo's quick changes of attire included a white long-sleeved shirt, black- and-yellow football kit and a gunny sack.

He had joined a sack race and then a football match as part of the traditional Aug 17 festivities in the gritty working-class district of Pluit in northern Jakarta.

Midway through the game, and after scoring a goal, he left the field and plopped himself flat on a concrete bench, feigning lack of fitness but not so tired as to resist hamming it up for television cameras. The crowd roared with laughter, extending camera phones and bare hands.

The attraction is mutual, Mr Joko would confess later, ensconced in his governor's office in Jakarta, where he will work until late October when he moves across town to the Presidential Palace.

"Energy," he says. "I get energy from the people."

Ask him how he got to be where he is, catapulted in less than a decade from being a mayor of a city of barely half a million to President-elect of the world's third-largest democracy, and he replies: "It is the people."

Mr Joko is the product not only of Indonesia's post-Suharto democratisation, but also of its aggressive decentralisation. To quell potential separatist sentiments in this vast archipelago, Jakarta astutely devolved authority to local governments from 2000 in a process popularly called pemekaran or "blossoming".

Those unhappy with the way their districts or cities were being run could now take up the challenge themselves instead of taking it out on the national government. That was how a small businessman from central Java first appeared on the political scene. "I felt that my city, Solo, was not developing as it should be, not like this, but like this," he says, his slender fingers slashing the air downwards.

"People such as myself had the chance to serve the community and I wanted to try and turn the city around. So I tried and I did."

Winning the mayoral election with 37 per cent of the votes, he cleaned up the streets of Solo of illegal hawkers, shepherded them into proper markets and streamlined the bureaucracy. In 2010, when he ran for re-election, he won 91 per cent of the votes. He was still an unknown outside of his region, until his successful bid for Jakarta's governorship in 2012.

In the teeming capital, he was ambitious. Instead of small projects, he wrestled with the key causes of floods and traffic congestion: Squatters living on the fringes of a major dam that needed to be dredged to contain rain and floodwater were rehoused in new flats, and street hawkers were moved into covered markets.

He kickstarted a stalled MRT project, put more public buses on the roads, and introduced cards entitling the poorest families to education help and free health care.

Now, less than a decade after becoming a mayor, he will be sworn in as Indonesia's seventh president. "You think it's too fast or very fast?" he quips.

Indeed, his work pace is becoming legendary. On the campaign trail, some collapsed in exhaustion trying to keep up with him. One senses he is seized by the mission of getting Indonesia going after decades of being held back by stultifying bureaucracy and endemic corruption. He knows progress is possible from personal experience.

He grew up in a riverbank slum. "We had one well for 10, 15 families," he says. "I was brought up on small town values, hard work, thrift and then also honouring your word. This has remained with me today."

Graduating with a forestry degree from one of the country's top universities, Gadjah Mada, he set up a business supplying wood flooring, before settling into manufacturing furniture. "My first exports were to Singapore," he says.

He was a regular visitor to Singapore not just because of his dealings with furniture companies here, but also because two of his three children studied here. The eldest, Gibran, studied at Orchid Park Secondary and went on to MDIS. Now 25, he runs his own catering business. His daughter Kahiyang Ayu, 23, stayed in Solo. His youngest, Kaesang, 19, is studying for his International Baccalaureate at ACS (International).

He mentions that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was the first foreign leader to call him once the election results were announced. "We had a good discussion and I'm looking forward to meeting him in person."

He adds: "I think your leaders have good vision, work very hard with your people."

That theme, of government and people working hard together, is at the core of his basic political philosophy. Hence his trademark walkabouts - or blusukan. "Every day, I stay in the office maybe only one or maximum two hours. After that, I go to the people; I ask the people what they need," he says. "And sometimes also, they give new ideas. When they have problems, sometimes also they give the solution."

Mr Joko, 53, is the first Indonesian president to emerge from outside elite circles. Unfailingly polite, the only interview question that seems to make him bristle is whether that elite accepts him. He looks at you with narrowed eyes and there is an edge in his voice when he replies: "I don't know. No, I think better you ask the people, ask the people. You ask the people."

The fact that his main contender was Mr Prabowo Subianto, a throwback to Mr Suharto's autocratic era, made his own novelty all the more obvious. Most Indonesians were not complaining. A volunteer movement sprung up around his campaign, astounding even the most hardnosed watchers of Indonesian society. It climaxed in a mega concert during the seventh day in the month of Ramadan, at which hundreds of famous musicians and singers came together in a show of unadulterated support for Mr Joko.

Veteran journalist and poet Goenawan Mohamad, writing in Tempo earlier this month, reflected: "That afternoon in the Gelora Bung Karno stadium, in the enthusiasm of those thousands of people, the universal dropped by momentarily. Not from the sky, but from the dust on the streets that stuck to the sweat of the people with hope. An 'us' was born."

That was the moment when politics became not about "them", the people in power, but about "us, all of us", he wrote.

Throughout the interview, Mr Joko is affable, polite and insists on speaking English even when questions are posed to him in Bahasa Indonesia because, as his aide says, it is for an English newspaper. He does not flinch from it, even though one senses he is more comfortable in Bahasa.

Yesterday, the last constitutional spanner Mr Prabowo tried to throw into the works was parried by the Constitutional Court, leaving Mr Joko focused on the future.

Among his priorities are to educate every child in every household and introduce a basic health- care card for Indonesians. "These are the basic human needs," he says. He also wants to limit the opportunities for corruption by building a system that makes it easier to trace the flow of money.

He must also choose his Cabinet, which will reveal much about his priorities, and how much sway vested interests have. He brushes aside with grace suggestions that his party leader and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri might exercise undue influence on his choices. He says he has a lot of respect for Ibu Megawati and other senior party leaders, but adds: "All the decisions will be made by me. Because you know we have in Indonesia, the presidential system. I am the chief executive. The sole chief executive."

In Joko Widodo, Indonesia seems to have found a president energised by the challenge of uplifting 250 million fellow citizens and convinced he is the everyman who can do it.

Indonesia welcomes more transport investments from S'pore
By Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2014

INDONESIA welcomes more investments from Singapore in the transport sector to help the vast archipelago's push to improve its infrastructure, President-elect Joko Widodo said.

Infrastructure and industrial manufacturing will be key priorities of his administration, he said, and flagged collaboration on urban rail networks, seaports and airports to improve connectivity within and between cities and islands as an area where bilateral cooperation can be enhanced.

"You have experience with the subway, the MRT. And we must start with our railways in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, also Papua, to make our logistics distribution faster and to connect city to city," he told The Straits Times in an interview this week.

Both sides could also explore working together on industrial parks along the lines of those in Batam and Bintan in areas in eastern Indonesia, where good jobs need to be created, he added.

Economic cooperation has been a key pillar of bilateral ties between both neighbours during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's 10 years in office, with bilateral trade at $74.8 billion last year. Singapore was the second largest source of foreign investments in Indonesia, totalling US$4.67 billion (S$5.8 billion).

Both are also the top source of visitors for each other: Last year, Singapore saw 3.1 million arrivals from Indonesia while there were 1.4 million arrivals to Indonesia from Singapore. Mr Joko wants to raise these numbers, saying he is open to more flights between Singapore and Indonesian cities.

"Indonesia-Singapore relations are strong, and important for ASEAN," he said. "We need to continue to strengthen our bilateral cooperation, bilateral relations."

Singapore's ties with Indonesia have been warm and personal relationships between leaders and officials on both sides have seen constant communication and common interests tide over rough patches from time to time.

Earlier this year, the Indonesian navy's decision to name a new frigate the KRI Usman Harun, after two marines hanged in Singapore in 1968 for the MacDonald House bombing, strained ties. The pair had been declared heroes after their execution.

Mr Joko did not want to dwell on this episode when asked. He would only say: "Usman and Harun are our heroes. Our heroes are our heroes."

"Let's look to the future," he said, with a dismissive wave.

Mr Joko added that he is a firm believer in keeping lines of discussion open, and stressed that personal ties matter most.

"When we have a good relationship with people, I think when we have a small problem, we can pick up the phone and go 'Hello'," he said. "I'm a simple man. I don't want to make a small problem into a big problem."

He also hopes Indonesia can continue to play a role in resolving problems in the region. Dr Yudhoyono has sought to carve out a greater role for Indonesia in fostering regional stability.

Last week, Mr Joko said Indonesia was ready to act as an intermediary between claimants in territorial rows in the South China Sea if needed. Asked this week if he felt Beijing would be receptive, Mr Joko said he would first want to listen to the leaders involved, and if Indonesia had a solution, it could play the role of mediator.

"For me, the most important is to listen and discuss with the leaders from China and also from the ASEAN countries," he said.

Amid worries about Indonesians losing out to their neighbours once barriers are lowered as part of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), Mr Joko said "there is no doubt the AEC will bring enormous economic benefit to Indonesia", which has to improve its human capital.

"We need to ensure that our workforce is not only able to compete with our counterparts, but also to contribute to economic integration," he added.

"But we must also make sure that our infrastructure, our industrial capacity will be ready for the demands of the AEC. So we must push our infrastructure, we must push our industrial estates."

Economic team aims to cut controversial fuel subsidies
By Zakir Hussain, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2014

THE amount of money Indonesia spends on the fuel subsidy is too big and must be cut back gradually, President-elect Joko Widodo said.

But he believes it is also important that the impact of any hike in fuel prices be cushioned by extending help to the poorest segment of society, who are often the hardest hit by any cut to fuel subsidies.

However, Mr Joko said he is less inclined to have direct cash transfers to the poor, and instead wants the help diverted to productive activity and workers such as farmers, fishermen and micro-entrepreneurs.

"Our economic team must make not only the economic calculations but also the social and political calculations. It's not easy," he told The Straits Times.

Fuel subsidies are a political lightning rod in Indonesia, where the price of the cheapest fuel is 6,500 rupiah (70 Singapore cents) per litre, almost half the price of the unsubsidised albeit higher-grade alternative.

Although the better-off have disproportionately benefited from these subsidies, reducing them has been difficult as the impact, especially on inflation, is hard on the poor. Political parties have also seen opposing price hikes as a way to gain support, forcing the outgoing government to scrap a planned subsidy cut in 2012.

Observers had hoped that an imminent subsidy cut would have been factored into the government budget for next year, which President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced last Friday, but this did not materialise.

Mr Joko's economic advisers have said that they will raise the matter when the outgoing President's team starts talks on the handover in the coming weeks, with the possibility of a joint announcement by both sides on a fuel price hike before the change of government on Oct 20.

Otherwise, spending on fuel subsidies will rise from nearly 250 trillion rupiah this year to more than 290 trillion rupiah next year.

The savings will be channelled to Mr Joko's campaign pledges of an "Indonesia smart card" and an "Indonesia health-care card" that will guarantee poor families free basic education and health care.

"That's the basic human need," he said of why education and health will be key priorities.

Also at the top of his list is making the bureaucracy more efficient through online systems that will help tackle corruption among civil servants, and increase revenue.

He rejects the notion that corruption in Indonesia, like in other countries, is cultural or endemic, saying that managing the bureaucracy and constant checks are key to rooting it out.

All Cabinet decisions will be made by me, says Jokowi
By Zakir Hussain, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2014

PRESIDENT-ELECT Joko Widodo will start putting together his Cabinet from mid-next month, and wants to have as professional a team as possible.

Being professional means they can be technocrats or members of political parties, so long as they are qualified for the job, he told The Straits Times.

But the final call on Cabinet appointments, as on key policy decisions, will be his, he stresses.

"We have a presidential system. I am the sole chief executive," he said.

Concerns have been raised that Mr Joko will face pressure from leaders of political parties backing him, not least the chairman of his Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, over seats in Cabinet.

Asked about this, Mr Joko says: "I have a lot of respect for Ibu Megawati and other senior party leaders, but all the decisions will be made by me."

The announcement of a new Cabinet is expected soon after he is sworn in on Oct 20.

Mr Joko's comments suggest he will also not be overshadowed by Vice-President-elect Jusuf Kalla, whose assertive style in the job from 2004 to 2009 saw him at odds with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Mr Joko is also confident he can overcome concerns about not being able to please his political allies by having a good, transparent system to surface candidates, that includes a fit-and-proper test and a check on their track records.

Post-Suharto Cabinets have seen big compromises made to accommodate key political party leaders in the administration in exchange for continued support in Parliament, but Mr Joko and observers fear this has been to the detriment of good policymaking.

Questions remain over how independent the new administration will be from party interests.

A transition team Mr Joko formed to identify priorities for the new administration and how to restructure his Cabinet is headed by Ms Megawati's confidante, former trade and industry minister Rini Soemarno, and two of its four deputies, Mr Hasto Kristiyanto and Mr Akbar Faizal, are party figures. But he has also roped in two academics who were key to his campaign, Dr Andi Widjajanto and Dr Anies Baswedan.

But at a meeting with volunteers on Wednesday, Mr Joko also invited attendees to join his transition team and make sure their concerns are aired. Groups of volunteers have also surfaced a list of names for Cabinet positions and asked netizens to have their say.

"That's good," Mr Joko said. "I have options."


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