The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Making new laws work   

Nengah Latra (left) 
is not ashamed of his wounds so is happy in T-shirts. Yet when he met Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo after the 2014 election to seek a better deal for the handicapped, the Balinese wore a full-sleeve batik shirt.
Questioned why - because the sight of his scars might have shown the new president that he was dealing with an advocate with raw knowledge – Latra responded: “Because I felt that I am not disabled.”
But that was the label attached when a kerosene lamp exploded during a religious festival in 1986 showering the teenager with flaming fuel.
The burns to his arms fused them to his torso.  For the next two years he lived in isolation, convinced the accident was punishment for real or imagined sins. His family and friends urged him to follow nrimo, the Javanese philosophy of acceptance.  Gone was his dream of a military career.
Rescue from his misery came when he was discovered by field workers and persuaded by the late New Zealand health-care activist Colin McLennan to travel to Yogyakarta for plastic surgery.  Latra met others who’d abandoned self pity to lead productive lives.  Their attitudes helped launch a career as a carer.

Now he’s director of Puspadi Bali, probably the best equipped rehabilitation center in the nation, dispensing free prosthetics made in-house and supplying new donated wheelchairs.  
In the past five years Puspadi has helped more than 4,500 people in Bali and islands to the east; in 2016 it distributed almost 600 mobility devices.
Puspadi costs Rp 5 billion (US $ 380,000) a year to run. It’s largely funded by the Inspirasia Foundation founded by Englishman Mark Weingard. The investor and broker made giga greenbacks around the turn of the century catering for what he now calls ‘wanker bankers.’
When his fiancĂ©e Annika Linden was killed in the 2002 Bali nightclub terrorist bomb blast Weingard turned from dealer to donor seeking ‘the biggest compliment – that we have been an inspiration’
The purpose-built Bali center named after his late bride-to-be includes three other NGOs running clinics for stroke victims and kids with cerebral palsy.
Latra’s call on the President paid off because last year Indonesian legislators passed a law based on the UN Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities; this recognizes ‘the equal rights of all members of the human family, including access to employment.’
Indisputable. Now comes the tricky part:  How can the handicapped exercise these equalities? Or more bluntly – who pays for thousands of ramps to replace steps, keep sidewalks clear, install elevators and hire inspectors to stop businesses discriminating?

“I know of only three universities in Indonesia where the disabled can access classes without confronting tower block stairs and doorways too narrow to admit a wheelchair,” Latra said.
“It’s the same with government offices, banks, schools and other public buildings.  And what about getting on and off busses and trains?  There has to be total change in society if the new law is to be effective.”
Putu Warsita Putra who coordinates Puspadi’s wheelchair program knows the equipment extends individual mobility and freedom - though only if society allows.
“People use electric scooters overseas but it’s impossible here,” he said. “Even when a road is well maintained, which is rare, the traffic doesn’t respect wheelchairs.”
The reception area of the Annika Linden Centre looks more like the lobby of a five-star boutique hotel with original art and fine pictures. 

Photographer and center volunteer Luciana Ferrero (left) said the surrounds intimidated some village people who come for treatment but they soon adapt. “Children are the agents of change,” she said.  “They like the place and adults follow.”
Latra stressed the handicapped have rights to enjoy a serene ambience and professional care.  Low windows allow relatives to see the treatments being offered and watch prosthetics being made.
“We don’t provide accommodation,” he said.  “It’s best if the handicapped live in the community and come here for assistance - our staff spread the word. Last year we had 652 new clients.” (See breakout)
The costs, all covered by Puspadi, range from Rp 500,000 (US$ 40) a limb up to several million for more sophisticated models embedded with computer chips; these can adjust  balance and lock the knee. 
“Most donations come from abroad, mainly the US, Australia and NZ,” said Latra. “We would appreciate a visit by the President to raise local awareness and address the needs of ten per cent of the population.
“I got to see him in Jakarta, but getting him here would be difficult and costly.  Overseas I’ve seen the handicapped working in hotels and government offices serving the public.  People accept that as normal.
“I think it will take about 40 years to get this country to fully accept that whatever their condition every Indonesian has rights equal to all other citizens.   The change has to start at the top – and at the bottom.”
Having a leg to stand on

Gede Agus Aman, 25,  is a presentable and cheerful fellow who goes into remote areas to tell villagers that they can get free care for disabled family members at Puspadi. 
Not all are convinced.  Verbal sprays about the benefits of treatment in Denpasar have little effect in the mountains.  What would Aman know of  pain?  He’s fit and bouncy, one of the lucky uncursed.
So he invites doubters to whack his shin with any lump of wood.  Eventually someone gives it a go.  “Harder,” says Aman.  He doesn’t wince.
Then he rolls up his trouser to show a prosthetic and a livid stump, the result of a road space contest between motorbike and truck.  The bigger vehicle won and smashed his limb.
“You can argue all you like about the need for treatment, hand out brochures, supply statistics and show videos,” said Latra.  “But there’s nothing so effective as people telling their stories and explaining how they’ve got back into life.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 20 September 2017)

Friday, September 15, 2017


Change ahead for Godzone?                                                       
A new dawn for Wellington?

The Radio New Zealand website headline seemed a must-read:  Myrtle Rust Found In Waikato.
Yet another overseas tourist lost in a snowstorm?  Anticipate tales of heroic search-and-rescue. Or maybe she’s a notorious bank robber on the run in the North Island region named after the longest river (425 kilometers).
Neither.  Myrtle Rust is a plant disease discovered on two trees now legally cordoned and rapidly felled.  That this yawn was deemed national news reveals much about the small South Pacific nation now considered a safe retreat should nuclear warheads explode in North Korea.
Another factor was dollars.  Apart from tourism NZ leans heavily on agricultural exports. So an alien bug should be feared by all, even one with a benign forename.
Myrtle aside there’s an even bigger event underway and getting international coverage– an election which looks increasingly likely to be lost by the incumbent National Party headed by Bill English, 55, a competent economist but a bland politician.
His Labour Party challenger is Jacinda Ardern, 37, fun, young but untested. Straw-grabbers have compared her to French President Emmanuel Macron, 40, another fresh contender from behind.  
Ardern has been in Parliament for less than a decade and before that in backroom politics – including the UK where she was on the staff of Labour PM Tony Blair.
That a woman might become PM without the sky falling shows the cultural gap with the US. NZ was the first nation to give women the vote in 1893; two decades ago voters put National’s Jenny Shipley into the top job. 
She was succeeded by Labour’s Helen Clark.  She held on for three terms (each of three years) till unseated by banker John Key in 2008.
Clark then joined the United Nations in New York as head of its development program.  Last year she stood unsuccessfully for the secretary general’s job.
Kiwis believe a woman’s place is everywhere so few journalists dare ask gender-based questions. Voters may want to know Ardern’s marriage plans and dress tips; she accepts the reality but prefers policy talk. 
For the record her father Ross is NZ High Commissioner to the Pacific Island of Niue. She lives with her radio presenter boyfriend. No kids.  Though raised a Mormon she’s now an agnostic. In NZ these traits are no handicap, though her opponent is a married Catholic with six children.
Two months ago middle-road National looked certain to win based on its record of economic stability and few major political crises. Yet housing problems caused by rising migration, high prices and few new builds have forced families to rent, not buy, putting pressure on social services. 
There’s been some resentment towards cashed-up arrivals from China (12 per cent) followed by the UK (many said to be Brexit refugees) and Australia at ten per cent each.  The rest are Indians, Pacific Islanders and returning Kiwis according to Statistics NZ.
About 74,000 immigrants a year is an entree in Europe but a main course in a nation with only 4.7 million people - and 30 million sheep.
National’s fortunes collapsed followed Ardern’s sudden leap to Opposition leader last month when her boss, charisma-free Andrew Little, accepted he’d been ineffectual.
Overseas Aotearoa (the Maori name for NZ) is known as a milk-and-honey progressive state. However not all is clean and green. Although crime is falling the jail rate of 212 for every 100,000 citizens puts NZ alongside Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
More than 40 per cent of those behind bars are Maori, yet the original occupiers represent just a seventh of the population; this suggests many ethnic, education and employment issues still resist resolution.
NZ was a global pioneer in welfare for all; hospital care is free, medicines subsidised and pensions not means tested as they are in Australia where wages are higher and taxes lower.
Yet by comparison with its big northern neighbor NZ is doing well; economic growth is three per cent and the budget balanced. The Great South Land is being ravaged by a mining slump, factional fights over global warming, and moral storms about same sex marriage.
 NZ passed that law four years ago.  Visitors expecting Sodom and Gomorrah will be disappointed; last year just 465 local same-sex couples got hitched while almost 20,000 opposite sex pairs followed suit.
The change was easier because NZ is a unicameral state so no upper house to reject laws.  It uses the Mixed-Member Proportional representation voting system.
Electors get two votes, party and candidate. The Electoral Commission says MMP’s ‘defining characteristics are a mix of MPs from single-member electorates and those elected from a party list.’  A party's portion of the 120 seats ‘roughly mirrors its share of the overall nationwide party vote.’ This gives the five minors more clout.  The Greens dominate but this year imploded over welfare policies.
Unlike Australia there’s no compulsory voting.  The Saturday 23 September election is in spring but NZ’s fickle weather could keep voters indoors.
Traditionally the elderly exercise their democratic duty. In the last election 22 per cent of electors couldn’t bother. Labour strategists hope Ardern’s feisty independence and bright countenance will stir youngsters to vote.
The issues have been largely domestic and so far the debates generally civilised. National is free market, but not US extreme. Labour is socialist, but not UK radical.
The country has a small defence force and relies on the ANZUS Treaty with Australia and the US. Having a massive arid continent between Godzone (God’s own country) and the world’s trouble spots helps calm nerves.
NZ has been pushing into Southeast Asia to boost trade and opening new consulates in Indonesia. However NZ harbors a small but vocal group supported by seven Pacific Island states alleging human-rights abuses in West Papua.

Their campaign has been annoying Indonesia.  Should Labour win on 23 September their calls for greater transparency could find a more supportive government.  * Disclosure: The author is a registered NZ elector.

(First published in Strategic Review, 14 September 2017:

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


The legacy of a visionary

In Australian vernacular a ‘do-gooder’ is a coarse and ambiguous synonym for a philanthropist. For some it’s a jocular endearment; for others a stain of contempt for uninvited interference in another’s business.
The sincerity of John Fawcett, 85, who died last Saturday, smothered every negative connotation.  In the idiom he was true blue – a bloke who did real good.  Two million Indonesians know this to be true.
They elevated him to ‘Dr John’. He didn’t claim the honorific but was an expert on medical procedures having endured many operations for spinal problems and the skin cancer which took his life.  He well knew what happens when scalpels slip.
Which is how he came to spend his last 34 years in Bali, and why 50,000 Indonesians once condemned to the dark now have light. More than one million have been screened and treated for eye defects.  Half a million now see through spectacles - all because one man turned his agonies into achievements to give the gift of sight.
The story starts in 1981 when Fawcett, then an art lecturer and potter in Perth, had an epidural to relieve back pain. The routine procedure went badly wrong.  He spent more than two years prone, lost his job and family.  Recuperating in Bali he was treated with compassion by Wayan Mudiana and his wife Kisid – kindness he never forgot.
Cynics claim there’s no space left for Australian retirees, the refuse of First World efficiency. They’re supposed to quietly putt their way into the sunset, maybe mark time with some committee addressing envelopes rather than issues.

It’s the government’s job to handle health and social problems, not oldies with time on their hands. Australia’s loss – neighbor’s gain.

In Bali Fawcett chanced upon extensive cataract blindness seldom seen in Australia, and shocked that an easy fix was unavailable.  He became friends with banker and Rotarian Soeroso Patmodihardjo which gave him local links.

The John Fawcett Foundation was set up using money from Rotary Clubs, the Australian government, companies, associations and individuals he inspired. It established mobile eye clinics and a hospital.

Although Fawcett’s work won plaudits (the Order of Australia in 2004 and the Indonesian President’s Satyalencana award in 2008) he wasn’t a hero with some local medics who saw his activities reducing their incomes.

Fawcett said the issue faded as the foundation only treats those who can’t pay and a new generation of altruistic medicos is emerging.

“They are keen to learn from Western doctors who give their time to advise on latest procedures – but Indonesian laws prohibit them from treating patients,” he said.

Fawcett was a restless, driven urger so our lunches were irregular.  The last was in March when he sought help to get Indonesian TV stations to raise awareness of cataracts through World Sight Day on 12 October.  So far none have agreed.  Perhaps his passing will help them see the need.

Fawcett didn’t brag of the triumphs but instead told of the torment he endured after persuading a family to let their daughter have a cleft palate operation; the girl died. “Had I not interfered she might have lived,” he mused. Risk is ever-present in surgery; less than five per cent of cataract ops fail.

“I’m not religious, but my culture seems to promote compassion,” he said.  “Some believe a person’s handicap or accident has been pre-ordained by an omniscient and vengeful deity so intervention is useless.

“Errors in a previous life or recent sins rather than malnutrition, genetic defects and disease are accepted as valid reasons.”

To counter such fatalism Fawcett argued that the sufferer’s encounter with the foundation was also in the Deity’s master plan. And if the cause was diagnosed as black magic, the cure must be the white magic of medical science.

“Most Indonesians cannot understand what motivates foreigners to come here and volunteer,’ he said. ‘When we explain that our services are free, they respond with surprise and disbelief.

“If you can’t pay in this country you just have to tolerate the disabilities and die prematurely.”

Outsider critics of the Indonesian health system are as unwelcome in government offices as foreign loudmouths are in Australian agencies. ‘If you don’t like it, go home,’ is the response on both sides of the Arafura Sea.

For Fawcett that stretch of water is highly symbolic.  Growing up in northwest Australia his family fled Broome shortly ahead of Japanese bombers in 1942.

“What Australians don’t realise is that the enemy advance was stopped by the resistance of the people of the islands – our closest neighbors,” he said.

“They supported us at our time of need.  Now, where is our money being spent?  The screws are on to close down our aid to Indonesia. (In 2015 Australian aid to the Republic was slashed by 40 per cent.)

“It’s daunting to know our government is not interested in Indonesia. I don’t want to think about it.  Fortunately others have an interest.”

Sight problems are not confined to Bali. Last year Fawcett’s foundation ran programs in eight provinces. Such was the genuineness of his need that the Indonesian Air Force agreed to use its C130 Hercules to airlift the mobile clinic to outer islands.

Some reason that if Westerners are offering assistance there’s a catch. Either they are thieves filching donations, or subversives planning to carve up the Unitary State.

If such motives are proved hollow then the foreigner must be out to ‘Christianise’.  Fawcett added a new clause in the foundation’s mission statement to deflect such suspicions: ‘… to operate without alignment to any governmental, institutional, political or religious organisation.’

“In a country as religious as Indonesia many can’t understand how care can be divorced from faith,” he said. “The idea of humanists having values with no strings attached is hard to grasp.”

Thus spake the decent ‘dinky-die’ Aussie do-gooder who helped others see. John Fawcett  was a visionary.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 13 September 2017)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Unwavering determination to tell

Journalist Oei Him Hwie, 79, (left) continues to maintain his extraordinary collection of books and memorabilia of Soeharto' brutal banishment of 12,000 political prisoners (tapol) to Buru Island.  Pictures, papers and paintings are kept in  a  suburban Surabaya house known as Yayasan Medayu Agung.
 I last visited ten years ago for a story published in Inside Indonesia but which didn't get included in this blog - an omission now rectified:

Hidden Treasures
On the outskirts of the sprawling industrial port of Surabaya is a little library of national significance.
The rented suburban house is far from grand, but it is solidly stocked with books old and new, ancient magazines and musty newspapers.
Perhaps too well stocked. The walls are packed from corner to corner, floor to ceiling, their vast presence bested only by the overwhelming smell of decaying acid-based paper. The house has no air conditioning, so the plastic covers carefully applied by volunteer cataloguers glue the books into bundles in the perpetual heat of East Java’s capital. If more than a van full of students arrives to browse or borrow the place is as packed as a bemo in rush hour. Study? The challenge is to breathe.
Yayasan Medayu Agung Surabaya houses some precious documents that have been lovingly preserved. Among them is a set of five beautifully presented volumes cataloguing and illustrating President Sukarno’s huge art collection, now dispersed. The limited edition was published almost 40 years ago in Indonesian and Chinese. It features work by both Indonesian and European artists, with the emphasis on beautiful women.
There are at least 5,000 titles in the library, mainly written in Indonesian. Some go back to early last century. Many have come from personal collections donated by well-wishers.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Among the gems in the library are some original manuscripts by Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Pramoedya is Indonesia’s most internationally famous living writer. Nationally, he is the country’s most controversial.
When Suharto came to power, Pramoedya’s extensive library and writings were seized and his books banned. He spent four years in a Jakarta jail and ten years in exile on Buru, a small island in the Moluccas, along with 13,000 other prisoners. Throughout those terrible years he wrote whenever possible.
The result included the Buru Quartet, which was translated into English and published in the 1980s. The four volumes received international acclaim and calls for the author to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for literature.
Pramoedya’s books are no longer banned in Indonesia. They have been reprinted with fresh modern covers and can now be found in bookshops across the archipelago. Pramoedya now lives in a large new house bought with his overseas royalties at Bojonggede outside Jakarta. His last book, The Mute’s Soliloquy has been followed by lectures and tours overseas, where he has been heralded as a literary hero.
University students who are only now learning about their history are openly encouraged by their lecturers to visit the Surabaya library. Here they study the legend’s works and hear his story.

Oei Hiem Hwie

Pak Oei with a May 1965 copy of his old daily
  Trompet  Masjarakat  (the People's Trumpet -
or the Voice of Society) - closed a few months later

The custodian of the collection is Oei Hiem Hwie, who once worked with Adam Malik, a former vice president of Indonesia. Pak Oei is very clear about the purpose of the Medayu Agung Foundation: ‘Yayasan Medayu Agung is run by a board of academics and entrepreneurs. It was set up to help educate the nation, especially young people’.
Pak Oei explained that medayu is derived from two old Javanese words. Meda means intellect, while yu is derived from mayu, which means to do good.
Pak Oei was also a political prisoner on Buru. During his imprisonment, he helped to smuggle Pramoedya’s manuscripts to publishers.
Some of the pages of the manuscripts were handwritten on both sides of thin and almost transparent paper, which were compressed under a concrete block. Others were typewritten on paper cut from old cement bags. The ribbon ink was made from dyes distilled from plants growing on Buru, and the pages were bound with glue made from cassava. The pages were sewn into the lid of woven bamboo food baskets taken off Buru when Pak Oei was released.
Pak Oei’s collection includes the original manuscript of Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind) and Ensiklopedi Citrawi Indonesia, an unpublished two-volume encyclopedia which contains charts and sketches by Pramoedya.
For Pak Oei, Pramoedya’s manuscripts, and the extraordinary story of their creation, are a precious part of Indonesia’s heritage which should be preserved for the next generation. Max Lane, Pramoedya’s original translator, is seeking a better home for the Pramoedya manuscripts.
Even after release the activists were stigmatised with the initials ET (Ex-Tapol)
on their KTP (ID) cards  (top line) ensuring they could not get work in government agencies

 Pak Oei believes the manuscripts should remain in the country to help Indonesians fill the gaps in their past. The limited funding and resources of Yayasan Medayu Agung, however, mean that such a repository is more likely to be in the US, the Netherlands or Australia where scholars earn PhDs studying the Indonesian writer. 
Wherever the manuscripts are eventually housed, future generations of Indonesians owe a debt of gratitude to Pak Oei for his efforts to conserve a significant part of Indonesia’s literary past.
(First published in Inside Indonesia, June 2007)

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Problems brewing in coffee grounds     

When the Tugu Hotel in Malang changed hands the manager suddenly died and the new owner had to take over.
“I didn’t know anything,” said Dr Wedya Julianti.  “I’d been trained as a doctor.  I had to learn management very fast. It was a stressful time.”
Whizz ahead two decades.  The boutique hotel is now one of the most prestigious in the East Java city.  The Tugu Group led by her husband, lawyer Anhar Setjadibrata, has expanded into hotels in other cities and a restaurant / art gallery in Menteng, Jakarta’s Embassy Row.
Recently added to the company portfolio is a coffee plantation.  History then recycled; the manager died and Julianti  (right) was again tossed into a business she knew little about.

“I questioned the people who’ve been working here for years but whose opinions were never sought,” she said.  “They were politely waiting to be told what to do though they’re experienced. They became my teachers.”
The 850-hectare estate was started in 1870 as the Babah Coffee Plantation.  Now known as Kawisari it’s in wild country west of Malang, above Wlingi and close to Mount Kawi. 
This is the mysterious mountain famed as an alternative route to happiness, a weird mix of gravesites and temples, theme parks and crass commercialism. It’s the Lotto Land where good fortune comes – so they say - to the pious and patient.
The location seems to have been propitious for Julianti who claims she has the only estate in the area not making a loss.  That didn’t come from passive prayer for the boss lady is no absentee landlord but a hands-on innovator and inquirer. 
Neighbor plantations have been abandoned or bankrupted by high costs and low returns, the bushes unfertilized, the ground untilled.
Her bleak observation was endorsed by Dr Zaenudin (left) , former director of the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Center based in Jember, but now an independent consultant.

“Sadly most government-funded research goes into crops like rice and corn,” he said.  “Yet coffee is still an important part of the economy.”
Indeed.  Indonesia produces just over half a billion tonnes of beans a year.  A third is consumed in the archipelago.
Coffee in all its forms is a staple of lifestyle mags featuring photos of designer cups topped by decorated froth, the fashion for sophisticates with time and money in abundance.
The idea is to link coffee with elites and so ramp prices, but in reality most is drunk at roadside stalls by everyday workers sipping kopi tubruk in chipped glasses; the first part of the ritual isn’t debating aroma but scraping grounds off the lip. The cost is usually around Rp 5,000 (US $0.40).
Even the nation’s thirst can’t keep the industry blooming for this labor-intensive business resists mechanization – though Julianti has introduced powered string-trimmers to replace sickles for weed control. 

Inventors seeking a challenge more complex than driverless cars should consider a bean harvester able to stride up and down slopes which would defy goats while carrying 35 kilos of crop.
That’s largely done by skilled pickers who can feel which berries are ripe; the women’s strength and cheerful resilience has impressed Julianti, who like most urbanites had little idea of the back pains involved in getting their daily heart-jolters.
She’s a one cup woman with no time for the heavily advertised pre-mix sachets (only eight per cent coffee in some brands) plus sugar, milk powder, ‘thickeners’ and even salt.
Julianti no longer practices medicine.  Once she worked in public neurology wards where every patient’s needs are different and watchfulness vital. 
It’s an approach useful in handling coffee bushes which are also susceptible to stress and disease, particularly leaf rot.  The fungus attacks Arabica favored for high-end coffees so the more resistant – but less desired – Robusta has been widely planted.  Now Arabica, (originally from Ethiopia) is being reintroduced.
Kawisari is no place for picnickers.  Though the views are a visual knockout, physical concussion is a risk along the tortuous tracks shredded by artillery barrages of rain.  The old buildings are plain Dutch functional. This is a work zone selling between 800 and 1,500 tonnes of beans a year, depending on the weather.
Japfa, the giant Singapore-based food conglomerate is building a monster dairy farm above the plantation, beheading hills and re-shaping the topography with scores of diggers and bulldozers.  Clearly the investors see future profits in white drinks, not black.
The company plans to start milking 4,000 cows in March 2018 – generating 200 tonnes of waste daily, much of it liquid.  Julianti said the developers have assured her water quality downstream will not be affected but she still worries.
Apart from the environment and economics her main concern is management.
“Change has to come slowly,” she said. “I now know that handling human relations is the most complicated part of business. We have to work together. If you look after your workers they’ll look after you.
“In the past the manager here was king.  The staff (there’s 220 on the books – more during harvest which opens mid-year) were just told what to do; all the under managers were men. 
“I’m gradually changing that hierarchy.  Now we are quietly promoting competent women and paying wages twice monthly to help with home budgeting.
“Fortunately I like learning. I want to know so I ask.  And I get told because women find it easier to talk to a woman. I’m very blessed.”
Threat from Vietnam
Croppers are price takers, not makers, and the deals are done in mainland US where coffee is not grown commercially.
Beans are traded internationally like oil. Those making serious money in the business are not farmers battling the elements but brokers forecasting trends and trading futures contracts.
The world bean price jumps around like a frog which is why some growers like Kawisari are roasting and retailing their own, charging Rp 70,000 for 250 grams of powder.  That’s Rp 280,000 a kilo, or almost ten times the return from selling beans in bulk.
Most maintenance is done by hand.  Growing coffee is
  a labor-intensive industry

Indonesia is the world’s fourth largest producer behind Brazil, Vietnam and Columbia; although a ‘cup of Java’ remains in British slang, Indonesian coffee needs to be better branded according to Dr Wedya Julianti.
She wants Java coffee to be recognized at breakfast tables everywhere as pure, clean, special and different.
“To boost our exports we must clearly identify our produce,” she said. “The government in Vietnam is supporting its industry one hundred per cent. (Vietnam’s output is twice that of Indonesia.)
“We are at risk of forgetting our history and losing almost 150 years of knowledge and skills.  When that’s gone it has gone forever.”
(First published in the Jakarta Post 24 August 2017

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Rearranging the region       

Professor John Blaxland sees the world differently.  Particularly Southeast Asia which he sets as the centrepoint rather than an afterthought
To help others cope with this unsettling cartography he offers a sweetener – a grouping of nations to better suit new realities than old regimes.
The globe as drawn by seafarers from afar has Indonesia straddling the Equator. The islands of the archipelago look upwards and see the looming might of China.
Below is the Great South Land, adjacent and inviting; this view is the Australian nightmare, the dread that their empty land will have famished millions tumbling down to smother a European outpost.
Blaxland’s chart squashes this fear of population shift through gravity by flattening the projection so the focus is Darwin, population around 200,000 with satellite suburbs.
The lonely little city atop Australia (the capital Canberra is almost 500 kilometers further than Jakarta)  has been hosting 2,500 US troops on six-month rotations for the past five years. The agreement behind this arrangement remains secret.
At the closest point Indonesia and Australia are just 200 kilometres apart, near enough to suggest a neighbourhood watch might be in order.
Blaxland, head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, uses his map to glaze the idea of MANIS as a regional maritime cooperation forum. The word means ‘sweet’ in Indonesian, but here it stands for the cluster of Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Singapore.
He urges against confusion with the 1971 Five Power Defence Arrangements - the same nations plus the UK but minus Indonesia.
“Existing forums, like ASEAN (aged 50) are struggling to reach consensus,” Blaxland told a seminar on Australia and Indonesia Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific held at the University of Western Australia in July.
“A smaller grouping like MANIS would see problem solving more achievable for pressing issues that require regional cooperation.  It would be best to start slowly, gradually generate goodwill and political momentum.
“MANIS would involve collaboration with governments, universities, think tanks, NGOs and community service organisations. Matters to discuss could include police, immigration, border security, legal, judicial, environmental, intelligence, financial and other working groups.
“The groups could exchange information and share concerns.  Closer engagement and sharing of experiences could generate fresh ideas.”
Blaxland is no dreamworld academic.  He’s worked in the military and intelligence so knows how to chat to generals, spies and diplomats. He understands the political sensitivities, like not calling his idea an ‘alliance’.
“With a dose of humility on Australia’s part, and a degree of magnanimous but farsighted Indonesian inclusiveness, the scheme could be made to work,” he said.
Why include a former Dutch colony while the other proposed members have Commonwealth ties? 
 “Indonesia’s population and geo-strategic significance astride the maritime arteries connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans make it the key to multilateral regional maritime cooperation.” In brief, the Republic is now too important to ignore.
Forums thrive in the region.  Many look good, bloom early then wither in breezes of bland.  Blaxland’s word is “cumbersome”.
One of the most unwieldy in title and management is the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. Its 45 members include Jordan and Iran who have more pressing issues almost 10,000 kilometres north-west.
MANIS has been driving around awhile.  That it’s still finding parking space on agendas suggests the tank is full.   Blaxland keeps steering: “This was always something that would take time to get policy traction - and one that would require Indonesian buy-in.”

 The first model rolled out at a 2013 meeting of Aus-CSCAP.  The acronym is unpronounceable but Blaxland reckons the non-government Australian Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific is a useful informal forum for floating ideas about “political and security issues and challenges facing the region.”
The 2014 election all-change in Jakarta gave MANIS a welcome nudge.  New President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, a noted landlubber, surprised many by bringing maritime issues ashore for a policy refit.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi explained this was to “protect Indonesia’s sovereignty … by responding firmly to any intrusions into Indonesian territory”.
Implementation involved much theatre as captured foreign fishing boats were blown up once TV crews were in place.  The big bangs lifted the reputation of Jokowi and his unconventional Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti, a former can-do entrepreneur.
Less well publicised were clashes where Indonesian patrol boats were trounced by better armed Chinese craft.  Rhetoric sinks fast when one navy is underequipped. 
Blaxland’s candy got another coating a fortnight after his Perth speech when diplomats from Australia, NZ, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines gathered to worry about militants.  The East Asia Wilayah has been fighting for an Islamic state in Marawi.  More than 600 have reportedly been killed in continuing conflict.
The Filipino city is just 700 kilometres above Indonesia’s Manado where the talks were held.  The envoys said they’d cooperate more closely with intelligence and law enforcement authorities, but didn’t say how.
This concerns the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).  Its July report said that ‘despite the calls for more regional counter-terrorism cooperation in light of the Marawi siege, there are formidable political and institutional obstacles at work, including Philippine-Malaysian distrust that inhibits information-sharing.’ This refers to counter-terrorism responsibilities – police or military?
Blaxland’s group doesn’t include the Philippines.  It may have to if defeated fighters retreat to nearby nations as feared by IPAC director Sidney Jones. Then it would be MANISP which sounds less than sweet.
 “So far I've briefed it (MANIS) in Jakarta to some policy officials and university groups and received very positive feedback,” Blaxland told Strategic Review. “The Indonesian delegation is keen to take it further and we're exploring a policy forum to discuss it in the next few weeks.

“I’ve been speaking on this in Malaysia and briefed some NZ officials on the idea a couple of weeks ago. I'm quietly optimistic it will get off the ground soon.”

First published in Strategic Review 22 August 2017.  See:

Monday, August 21, 2017


Don’t quit – we’re addicted to your suffering  

Cancer wards in Indonesia should have special visitor viewing areas. Like club boxes at sporting events, the spectators would watch the count-down while the watched gasp their way to the siren.
These observatories will be solely for VIPs – Very Immoral People. This group includes tobacco company executives and their advertising agents. In the country next door they work in a barely regulated market, vigorously promoting a product which they know kills, cripples and impoverishes.
According to Australian cancer clinics, smoking more than doubles the chances of a heart attack or stroke; it’s responsible for 85 per cent of lung cancers.  This isn’t fake news – it’s science scripture.
Getting the VIPs to witness their customers’ agonies might be difficult.  Even if attendance was compulsory these guys are seriously rich; in Indonesia they’d buy their way out of any obligation.
Indonesia is one of just eight countries that’s neither a signatory nor a party to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.  That puts the Republic way offside with the 180 states which ban or limit ads promoting smoking.
East Java is the heartland of tobacco production and Malang is at the centre.  There’s a cigarette factory directly opposite a Dutch era church and the town square. Even the banks don’t enjoy such a prestigious position.
Malang is also an education city supporting 28 tertiary institutions. Two of the biggest, the Universities of Malang and Brawijaya (around 30,000 students each) plus high schools spill their young learners onto a major road leading to the CBD.
At the first traffic lights they’re confronted by a giant billboard.  It reads in English: NEVER QUIT.  So they don’t.
More than 67 per cent of males over 15 smoke according to Indonesia’s Health Ministry. (The good news is that only three per cent of adult women are users.)
The Ministry predicts that unless serious attempts are made to butt-out the nation will lead the world in smokers by 2030. At the moment it’s number four after China, Russia and the US. While these countries are nudging public health ahead of tobacco company profits, Indonesian firms plan to double output.
That means building a market as the addicts wheeze away at a rate of around 400,000 a year.  So the kids need an introduction to Lady Nicotine who’ll mask facts with fantasies.  
What do lads want?  Fun times, macho adventure, staunch mates and gorgeous girlfriends.  Available for the rich, but few are so lucky.  The rest are puffing to find ‘satisfaction’, to ‘be bold’, become part of the ‘new generation’ and ‘get ahead’. 
That’s what the ads say – and not just in words.  Pictures show the healthiest and happiest youngsters any nation would be proud to display at the Olympics.  Marketing isn’t supposed to target minors so the agencies use adult models with teen features dancing, leaping, singing – all the things coughers can’t do.
Close to 30 million Indonesians live on less than US $25 a month according to the Statistics Agency. Fags are the second biggest household expense after rice.
There’s a price war currently underway with pack contents changing to suit all pockets.  A dozen for Rp 11,000 (an ash-flick above an Aussie dollar) from one brand, with a rival offering 16 for Rp 13,000.  You can’t buy a litre of milk for that money.
The wraps have small health warnings but not the plain packaging introduced in Australia and unsuccessfully challenged by Indonesia in the World Trade Organisation.
Excise on tobacco is just under half the base price though the WHO recommends more than two-thirds. The duties make up between ten and 12 per cent of the national budget.
The government is suffering a massive shortfall in revenue.  An amnesty to persuade citizens to declare money parked overseas scored US $365 billion. The target was five times higher.
 So ramping taxes on smokes could boost the health budget – currently three per cent of GDP and three times less than the OECD average.
But the manufacturers are a powerful lobby able to make reforms disappear in a puff of smoke. .
The big three are Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna (owned by the US company Philip Morris), Gudang Garam and the Djarum Group.  To sanitise their sickening trade the companies sponsor scholarships, sporting events and pop concerts. 
The ad guys they hire have refined ways to by-pass prohibitions on showing cigarettes by picturing stacks of white coffee cups with the top one frothing.  ‘Mild’ is banned, so they call one product MLD, with the vertical stroke on the second letter highlighted.  Health warnings on TV ads flash so fast they’re illegible.
Some NEVER QUIT signs feature a sweating body builder (the sort who’d never smoke) or master craftsman, so any other interpretations of the message must be malicious misreadings.
There’s no doubt the industry is full of smarties. I once lodged for a month in the Malang home of a fine family where dad was a senior staffer with Rothmans and a good provider.  He never smoked and cautioned his kids against starting. 
But I reckon he should still take a turn in the cancer ward observation room.

First published in On Line Opinion, 21 August 2017:  See