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, December 08, 2021


Empty beaches and abandoned hotels – a glimpse of Bali without tourists


Image:  The Telegraph

             Indonesia’s cheerless Christmas carol 




Joko Widodo is Indonesia’s Ebenezer Scrooge.  The President has done more than cancelling Christmas and New Year hols; he’s also reinstated ten days in quarantine for international visitors who chance to squirm their way into the archipelago.

There have been more rah-rah stories of Bali on the cusp of welcoming foreigners in time for the year-end break than mutations of Covid.  Tourism and Creative Economy Minister, Sandiaga Uno started cheering in September.  His enthusiasm was much applauded by overseas media which forgot to download the scepticism app vital for reporting on Indonesia.

Ngurah Rai opened on 14 October but the control tower has yet to see an international flight on an approach path.

Sorry to disappoint those seeking cheap villas served by low-paid staff, but there’ll be no passing through the Candi Bentar (split gateways) into the Island of the Gods anytime soon: Scrub Kuta and its plastic-strewn beaches off the must-see lists. 



Warning: That was the situation as the keyboard was being tapped. However, no guarantee things will be better or worse by the time the story’s on your screen.  For Jakarta’s responses to the virus have been as confusing and contradictory as any regulations proclaimed in Canberra and State capitals.   

Almost every day there are new Pemberlakuan Pembatasan Kegiatan Masyarakat (PPKM Enforcement of Restrictions on Community Activities) edicts supposedly being enforced by the police, military and community groups.
Involving soldiers in civic issues was the dwi-fungsi (two functions) policy used by the authoritarian President General Soeharto (1965-98).  Human rights activists reckon its revival to cope with a pandemic response is a sign of ‘democratic regression.

Johns Hopkins University records show around 4.3 million confirmed cases of Covid 19 and 144,000 deaths so far – figures considered too low by independent epidemiologists. To date about 140 million Indonesians have received their first vacs and 97 million a second needle.  That’s about 36 per cent of the total population. Children over six are eligible. Despite these stats, internationally Indonesia ranks ’low’ for the disease.

Getting vaccinated is supposed to be compulsory.  The jabs are free and reluctance to bare arms is reported to be based on ignorance and isolation rather than an exercise of so-called sovereign rights. The government can hit refuseniks by cutting social assistance programs or even fining, though that’s rare.

Our neighbours haven’t been waving placards and carrying gallows outside Parliament to uphold their freedom to be fools. Instead, they’ve applied the time-honoured Indonesian approach to handling authorities:  Don’t challenge, just agree, then ignore.

Here’s how it works:  Although the uniforms were a giveaway, the footage could have been dropped into Australian TV news with hardly an edit. Smart, polite young cops respectfully asking motorists about their vaccination status and distributing brochures on precautions.

For those living outside Jakarta, the police PR looked foreign. Research published in Australia in 2013 found ‘public opinion overwhelmingly depicts Indonesia’s police force as corrupt, brutal, and inept.’  The situation has improved with better training and recruitment, but distrust lingers.

 Although the Indonesian government has passed decrees on movements, masks, distances and gatherings similar to those made Down Under, enforcement is fitful. As camera gear was clicked off tripods the fuzz went off duty.

In a bid to stop a blow-out of Omicron and its mutations-in-waiting, Jakarta has banned bureaucrats and workers in state-owned and private companies from taking leave between Christmas Eve and 2 January.

Quoth the President: ‘We hope that we can manage this well because almost all epidemiologists are afraid that what triggers a third wave could be during Christmas and New Year.’

In the years BC (Before Covid) Christmas day and 1 January were officially holidays.  Many used the week between to stay out of the office and head to backblock villages to catch up with rellies.  They’ve already had one chance in May during Idul Fitri, the religious festival marking the end of the fasting month.

Orders were made to halt the Mudik city exodus, but the bans didn’t stop innovative Indonesians from getting through or past roadblocks, sometimes helped by bribing cops.  That’s likely to happen again later this month.

Celebrating the birth of Jesus is a big deal for Christians whose numbers nudge the population of Australia, but of less interest to the 87 per cent who follow the Prophet.

That statistic is shaky and based on the compulsion to confess a government-approved religion stamped on every adult’s ID card.  Civil libertarians regularly try to get the law erased arguing faith is  personal, but the powerful Islamic lobby fights hard fearing the nation would wander towards  Western agnosticism, shrinking preachers’ power and status.

Although Christians’ rights (religious freedom is guaranteed in the Constitution) to celebrate will be contained and muted as a public health measure, devout Muslims will be flying to Mecca this month for their rites. They’ll travel for the lesser pilgrimage umrah after Saudi Arabia lifted travel restrictions and opened its holy sites.

Unlike the mandatory haji which can only be performed at a specific time (next year in mid July) umrah can be done at any time.

For nine days the Indonesians will mix with thousands from countries like India and Pakistan and then return home. Which seems like a formula for spreading the virus; it’s certainly distressing doctors.  Omicron has been detected in the Arab kingdom, though not yet in Indonesia. 

At the start of the pandemic last year the then Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto’s prescription was prayer.  ‘It’s our nation’s right to rely on the Almighty,’ the Catholic army medical doctor  told journalists.  Which sounds a bit like Australian luddites’ reliance on …

Whoops – better stop there.  Australian politicians lodge defamation writs to squash unpalatable comments, but Indonesian clerics access blasphemy laws.

First published in Pearls & Irritations, 8 December 2021:

UPDATE - from Bali Beat 8 December:

The Big News

“The Government Cancels Implementing PPKM Level 3 Equally but Enforces Tightening” from Antara Bali (Indonesian): The government has decided not to cancel PPKM level 3 in the Christmas and New Year periods equally in all regions, but to impose a number of restrictions. Thus, the implementation of the PPKM level during Christmas and New Year will follow the assessment of the pandemic situation as applicable, but with some tightening. "Travel conditions will continue to be tightened, especially at the border for passengers from abroad. However, the PPKM policy during the Christmas and New Year period will be made more balanced, accompanied by testing and tracing activities that continue to be intensified," said the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment. Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan on Monday.

Context: The situation is unclear with many contrasting news stories on the topic. Details of what this cancellation will mean are yet to be revealed, though it appears the underlying health protocols will remain in place and fireworks remain banned (Indonesian). While the spokesperson for Badung regency said they were awaiting clarification (Indonesian) and the Deputy Governor came out in support of the revocation (Indonesian).

Friday, December 03, 2021



The Omnibus has changed routes      


 Omnibus Law Sudah Diterapkan di Luar Negeri, Bagaimana Efektivitasnya?  Halaman all -   

Image:  Kompas       

In an unexpected win, Indonesian labour unions’ protests against new laws corroding workers’ rights have been trounced by the Mahkamah Konstitusi (MK) Constitutional Court.   But the ruling also threatens the government’s hopes to make the Republic a safe place for venture capital.


A year ago academics were labelling the passing of President Joko Widodo’s signature legislation on employment and administrative reform as his ‘political dream come true’.  Now he’s scrambling to reassure that the court’s unappealable decision doesn’t mean international lenders should scrub the archipelago off lists of places to park their money.

The Omnibus Law, named because it puts many laws in the same carriage, raced through the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR-People's Representative Council) in eight months last year making no stops to pick up workers and greenies waving placards and fists on kerbsides across the nation. 

The name above the windscreen read Undang-Undang Cipta Kerja (Job Creation Law).  It was furiously driven by Widodo determined to reach his goal of business and workplace reform by scrapping 43,000 regulations on hiring and firing which were said to be roadblocks frightening overseas bankers.

The government predicted the changes would deliver three million jobs for school-leavers and graduates, plus six million for those who have lost work through the pandemic. No sources for these calculations were revealed.

Widodo has long complained that his country’s ranking in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index has stuck in the 70s – far from his aim for position 40. (Singapore =2, Malaysia and Australia = 14.)

Unions argued the law slashed job severance pay-outs and crushed wage increases.  As in Australia, the shift to the gig economy is generally welcomed by the top end of town because it gives more space to hire and fire.


Buruh Mau Gugat Omnibus Law, Istana Siapkan Lawyer Terbaik

Image: Beritakini

Environmentalists complained that impact studies on mines and land clearing for oil-palm plantations would be restricted to major projects allowing smaller development proposals to avoid scrutiny.

Before the new law was signed sacked workers got 32 months’ salary – that was cut to 19 months. The minimum wage also vanished.

Omnibus allowed wages to be linked to business productivity, not the employees’ education, skills and years of service. Holidays were cut from two days a week to one; long-service paid leave was also farewelled.

Big business labelled the changes a ‘breakthrough’ for shredding Indonesia’s notorious red-tape blockages, clearing the way for an online single submission licensing system.  However, they were worried the rush meant many route details hadn’t been well considered.  Four different drafts, varying from 812 pages through to 1,035, were circulated.

The government promised to make repairs along the way but didn’t imagine being pulled over by nine robed judges. They said the drafting process was handled badly because the Constitution doesn’t recognise an Omnibus Law, particularly one driven over the limit.  It ignored well-established rules on making new laws and regulations, nor did it give time for outside interests to get on board.

Then a weird insertion: The DPR must start the lawmaking process again within two years otherwise all laws run over by the Omnibus will be reinstated.  So although the new law is unconstitutional it stays in place.

Widodo told the media: ‘In a democratic nation that is based on the rule of law, the government respects and will immediately implement what has been ruled by the Constitutional Court

‘I have instructed the coordinating ministers and other related ministers to immediately follow up on the ruling as soon as possible… I assure you that the Government guarantees investment certainty and security in Indonesia.’

Coordinating Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto reinforced the President’s position by explaining the court’s decision didn’t nullify regulations made before the MK ruling.

So four special economic zones, which have apparently attracted commitments to invest Rp 90 trillion (AUD 8.6 billion) will still go ahead. Almost 400,000 licenses issued under a law deemed a crock by the highest legal authority in the land will still be honoured.

Singapore-based Australian lawyer Bill Sullivan has written that the Omnibus Law had been presented to the world as Widodo’s plan to boost recovery from the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic through encouraging more foreign investment.

He fears it’s now a public relations disaster revealing a government ‘so careless and, frankly, inept’ that it didn’t bother to follow proper law-making procedures:

 ‘The next two years is likely to be a difficult time for Indonesia as the government desperately tries to convince investors that they don’t have any reason to doubt the continuity of the Job Creation Law’s reforms much less the competency of the government in providing a reliable legal, policy and regulatory environment.’

There is a plus - the MK has shown a streak of independence. The unions were pessimistic of their chances, expecting the court to back the government.  Their success has been applauded by the International Trade Union Confederation.

The mess could be the result of Widodo getting too impatient and cocky, losing touch with his worker base – as Indonesians say, kacang lupa kulit (the peanut has forgotten its shell).  After his second win in the 2019 presidential elections, he built a coalition of parties to neutralise opposition.  Some academics reckon this ‘appears to his critics to have made him beholden to business interests, especially those businesses owned by members of his own inner circle’.

From now till late 2023 the Republic has a conditionally unconstitutional law.   Investors seeking certainty won’t find it in Indonesia.



First published in Australian Outlook, 3 December 2021:

Saturday, November 20, 2021



No sex please – we’re Indonesians



For rationalists it’s screamingly obvious:  Sex without consent is rape and a criminal offence which all should know. Though to Indonesian fundamentalists that’s a shortcut to immorality.

Indonesians like visually polluting public places with spanduk (banners).  Those degrading the streetscape are usually adverts for smokes, but on university campuses they carry practical info about enrolments and guest lectures.

Brawijaya in East Java has more students than the unis of SA and WA combined.  Its green grounds have hundreds of pennants and streamers celebrating the institution’s upcoming 59th birthday, but only one warning staff and students they’re entering an area free of sexual violence and bullying.

The sign was erected after Education, Culture, Research and Technology Minister Nadiem Makarim signed regulations to tackle campus sexual violence.  One section prohibits ‘intentionally displaying one's genitalia without the victim's consent.’

Another forbids ‘taking, recording, and/or circulating photographs and/or audio and/or visual recordings which have a sexual nuance without the victim's consent.’

At first glance that all sounds reasonable, though not to the Republic's peak Islamic body, the Indonesian Ulama  (Scholars’) Council, and the mass organisation Muhammadiyah.

They want the phrase ‘without the victim’s consent’ deleted arguing the regulation contradicts Indonesia’s religious culture by implying sex is OK if the parties consent.  In their interpretation this legalises adultery.

(Similarly twisted logic is surfacing with the teaching of English. Puritans say learning should be limited to terms used in industry and employment lest students absorb Western cultural values and practices along with verb conjugations.  The most feared infection from the Anglosphere’s vaults of vice is ‘free sex’.  The puzzling phrase is always in English.)

Under Islamic law sex outside marriage is haram (forbidden) but that doesn’t mean Indonesians’ libido is any less than the rest of humanity.  The birth rate is 2.3 children per woman.  It used to be much higher till the government ran a major Dua anak cukup contraceptive campaign (two kids are enough) last century.

In Indonesia, there’s usually a way around rules including those imposed by religions. Adulterers keen to satisfy their passion and retain their faith find corrupt clerics who ‘marry’ them before the tryst and then offer a ‘divorce’ next morning - a system known as nikah siri (unregistered marriage).  MBA is a higher degree and a pregnancy outside wedlock – ‘married by accident’.

While the government says it’s trying to tackle sexual violence it condones public floggings of unmarrieds and gays caught having naughties, along with gamblers and boozers.

As part of a peace deal negotiated in 2005 between Jakarta and the separatist Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh Movement), the province at the top end of Sumatra is allowed to use some aspects of shariah (Islamic law). 

Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid called the punishments ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading … disgraceful and ruthless – no one deserves to be brutalized and humiliated in this way.’  In the past decade more than 500 have been caned, some sentences of 100 strokes with reports of victims collapsing.

Till recently supermarkets in Java stocked lubricants and condoms, but these items have largely disappeared (not in Hindu Bali) to appease conservatives who seem to believe the sight of contraceptives on health shelves encourages horizontal refreshment.

So far Makarim has refused to shift his position, though that may change as the Islamic heavyweights start cracking knuckles.  In February, the Harvard graduate initiated a joint ministerial decree banning public schools from making jilbab (headscarves) mandatory for non-Muslim students. After howls and threats by conservatives, the Supreme Court revoked the ruling.

During a webinar last week the minister, a dollar multi-millionaire businessman co-opted by President Joko Widodo to modernise the state’s creaking and crumbling education system, said he was trying to tackle ‘a sexual violence pandemic’ on campuses, not legalise consensual lovemaking:

“The ministry does not support any acts that are not aligned with religious and moral norms. The regulation was designed to tackle a specific type of violence, which is sexual violence, with clear definitions.”

His claim that tertiary education institutions are halls of deviance came from a 2020 department survey showing 77 per cent of lecturers said allegations of sexual violence had occurred at their universities, though most acts went unreported.

What’s also propelling Makarim’s initiatives are statements by courageous women following the Me Too movement in the West. Before the pandemic claims of staff groping students were surfacing and campus authorities were slow to realise the old norms no longer fitted needs.

The latest claims getting widespread publicity come from a student at Riau University (on the east coast of Sumatra) alleging her thesis supervisor tried to kiss her in a closed office. When she complained to the department secretary she said she was told not to tell anyone.

 “They laughed in my face about it,” she said. “There was no protection, no empathy for what I had gone through. They tried to protect [the lecturer] instead, without caring about what had happened.” So she made a video, posted it on Instagram and told the cops.

The lecturer retaliated with defamation proceedings claiming Rp 10 billion (AUD 955,000) in damages.

Makarim’s regulation is supposed to force tertiary institutions to develop ways to handle allegations of sexual harassment or violence. The student’s lawyer has reportedly said the case could be a turning point for the implementation of the new regulation.

Andy Yentriyani Chair of Komnas Perempuan (the National Commission on Violence against Women), backed Makarim’s moves.  Like the Minister, she was also educated abroad – in London. Although KP had received only 67 reports of sexual violence on campus, she said most cases were unreported or unresolved:

“Victim blaming has been the biggest bottleneck as universities refuse to admit that sexual violation does happen.”

First published in Pearls & Irritations,  20 November 2021:


Monday, November 08, 2021



                                  Indonesia’s Augean task


 Rate of deforestation in Indonesia overtakes Brazil — Kaltimber

Photo - Kaltimber


Indonesia went to the COP26 climate summit with an impressive set of tasks for the next three decades. The list is broad, ambitious and admirable.  Unfortunately, the jobs won’t get done without the vision and force of a leader like the late Singapore PM Lee Kwan Yew.



Joko Widodo isn’t that man.  The Indonesian President has the numbers and just enough time (election in 2024) to start cleaning the Augean Stables, deep in the excrement of corruption and maladministration. Sadly Widodo is no Hercules – and his reforms are already being challenged from within.

Indonesia is particularly vulnerable to sea levels rising with beach and estuary settlements 14 times more exposed than previously realised according to some research.  Apart from pollution the nation’s most infamous contribution to world warming is forest clearing for palm oil plantations in provinces like Kalimantan on Borneo Island.

Widodo told COP26 that Indonesia was already preventing worsening climate change by replanting three million hectares of cleared land.

‘The rate of deforestation has declined significantly, the lowest in the last 20 years,’ he said. ‘Forest fires also declined by 82 per cent in 2020. We’ve also started rehabilitating 600,000 hectares of mangrove forests by 2024, the largest area in the world’.

At first, it seemed reform was real when Indonesia joined 127 other nations in a pledge to end deforestation by 2030.  But before Widodo had returned to Jakarta the plan – and the President’s credibility - had been put through the wood chipper by Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

(Ironically, her name translates as ‘burn’.  The former career bureaucrat is not in Widodo’s ruling party, but coalition member National Democrats.)

‘Forcing Indonesia to zero deforestation in 2030 is clearly inappropriate and unfair’, Bakar said on Twitter. ‘The massive development of (Widodo’s) era must not stop in the name of carbon emissions or the name of deforestation.’

Kiki Taufik, head of Greenpeace’s Indonesian forests campaign, said Bakar’s statement was ‘completely at odds with the declaration’.

It’s the sugar season in East Java.  Day and night eight-tonne trucks carrying top-heavy loads of cane grind their way along pot-holed and congested roads from field to factory. On every incline, they belch fumes so thick headlights can’t penetrate.


Indonesia has rules covering exhaust emissions, and occasionally the police run checks.  Truckies know the testing locations and take Jalan tikus - literally ‘rat roads’ but meaning rural tracks to avoid the cops.


There’s nothing exceptional about this behaviour. Indonesians are skilled in avoidance – not by confrontation but by agreeing and then ignoring. Politicians flick aside rules, protocols and conventions in a way that make their Canberra counterparts look amateur.


On paper, the world’s number ten top polluter with 615 million tonnes annually of CO2 (China outclasses all with more than ten billion) claims it’s trying to recreate a clean and cooler planet with policies locked into law.

There’s even that most foul phrase banned Down Under – carbon tax. The levy is Rp 30,000 (AUD 2.80) per tonne of emitted CO2, which critics claim is too tiny to deter polluters. The figure proposed before the big end of town hit the phones was Rp 75,000.  The EU rate is Euros 62.45(AUD 97 a tonne.)

Within 18 years the sale of petrol-powered motorbikes is supposed to stop.  Indonesia has around 112 million of the beasties so the dream of going renewable is electric.  Cars will follow a decade later, but so far no mention of heavy transport.


Curiously the pedelecs dashing across Europe and now the US have barely reached Indonesia.  The bikes, mainly imported from China, are often half the cost of those sold in Australia, though few buyers, probably for cultural reasons. Bicycles are for the poor or sport-crazies.  Pedalers are peripheral.


The volts needed to power the two and four-wheelers currently comes from burning

fossil fuels – 40 per cent oil, 24 per cent natural gas and around 30 per cent coal.


In the early years of second president Soeharto’s rule (1965-98), building dams was all the go.  There are now 30 hydroelectric plants and eleven geothermals, but together these meet only six per cent of the nation’s needs.


Within this decade there’ll have to be a massive rejig of the economy for Widodo to be remembered as a reformer.   Farewell smokestacks and LPG imports, so no ‘gas-fired recovery’. 


Instead a welcome to solar arrays delivering 42 per cent of power.  There’s not enough suitable space for square kilometres of collectors, and smog often smothers the sun.  Undersea cables from Australia may have to deliver, though that’s not stated.


Oil wells are going dry, so a nation once self-sufficient now imports.  To cut costs the state-owned power provider Perusahaan Listrik Negara is turning to coal despite a pledge to start weaning consumers off carbon.



Greenpeace - Coal Barge in Indonesia

Image - Greenpeace

The archipelago has huge reserves and has become the world’s top exporter of thermal coal - making a fortune supplying to China in place of the black stuff banned from Australia. The mines belong to a few oligarchs unlikely to easily abandon their businesses by 2055 as proposed.


How to change the formula?  The Indonesian Way is nuclear with the first fission in 2045.  The archipelago embraces the Ring of Fire and is one of the world’s most unstable regions.  Last year the country was shaken by 22 quakes magnitude six or above, 214 between five and six and 11,000 at lower levels.


Where the reactors will be built, how locals will be induced to accept radioactivity in their region, and how the technicians will be trained are like The Australian Way, matters for appendices which are yet to be written.


To date, Indonesia has largely ignored solar technology.  The glistening panels which smother Australian rooves are seldom seen even as hot-water providers.  Although units are available there’s been no real push to market except in Bali which is more open to Australian influences.


PLN is still trying to decide how to regulate domestic feeds into the grid, and what to pay for surplus electricity.


Unless there’s a massive community attitude shift and Widodo gets tough on enforcing policies, truck fumes will still be fogging highways in 2060 and the mosquito hordes of piston-engine motorbikes will continue to make motoring hell.

First published in Pearls & Irritations, 8 November2021: