FAITH IN INDONESIA

FAITH IN INDONESIA
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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Vale Gus Dur 7 September 1940 - 30 December 2009


FAREWELL GUS DUR: President RI 20 October 1999 - 23 July 2001

I interviewed Gus Dur for a book on Indonesia and spent most of the time laughing at his jokes. There's one below. He was an extraordinary man, a true democrat, liberal, learned and impossible to dislike. History should treat him kindly - just as he treated others. His impact on Indonesia endures leaving it a far better country after the ravages of Soeharto.
Duncan Graham

THE BIG DEBATE
By Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur)

Back 10 centuries ago, just before the Crusade was launched, the Pope decided all Muslims had to leave Jerusalem peacefully or there’d be bloodshed. Naturally there is a big uproar from the Muslim community. So the Pope strikes a deal. He proposes a debate with a member of the Muslim community. If the Muslim wins the debate, all the Muslims can stay. If the Pope wins, all the Muslims will have to leave.
The Muslims realise they have no choice. They look around for a champion who can defend their faith. No one wants to volunteer, it's too risky. But they finally pick their representative, an old Mullah who unknowingly agrees without understanding what he’s getting himself into. He agrees on the condition that neither side is allowed to talk but communicate by miming, as he’s almost deaf. The Pope agrees.
The day of the great debate comes. The Mullah and the Pope sit opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raises his hand and shows three fingers. The Mullah raises his middle finger. The Pope waves his fingers in a circle around his head. The Mullah points to the ground and stamps his right foot. The Pope pulls out a wafer and a glass of wine. The Mullah pulls out an apple. The Pope stands up and says: ‘I give up. This man is too good. The Muslims can stay.’
An hour later the cardinals are all around the Pope asking what happened. The Pope says: ‘First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there is still one God common to both our religions. Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all about us. He responded by pointing to the ground and stamping his feet, telling me that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us from our sins. He pulled out an apple reminding me of the first sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?’
Meanwhile, the Muslim community has crowded around the old Mullah in total astonishment. ‘What happened?’ they ask. ‘Well’ says the Mullah, ‘first, he said we Muslims had three days to leave Jerusalem. I told him - up yours! Then he said this whole city would be cleared of Muslims. I told him none would leave this land!’
‘And then?' asks a woman. ‘He took out his lunch and I took out mine,’ says the Mullah.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

OUR GREEN MAN IN ROME


Albertus Herwanta


All roads, it’s said, lead to Rome.

The one that took Albertus Herwanta to the capital of Italy and the heart of his faith started far, far away – in a field in Central Java.

It was as a lad on his grandmother’s farm that he became close to the environment, experiencing the seasonal changes, conscious of the cycles and inter-dependency of plants, soil and animals, aware of the rituals of planting and harvest. He learned that the Javanese are never separate from nature.

All this, plus widespread reading (particularly British economist E F Schumacher’s seminal Small is Beautiful), and research helped clear the way to his present job – Indonesia’s Father Green.

When the young seminarian from Yogyakarta was ordained after theological studies in Malang, he pondered his future. What order to join?

“The Benedictines attracted, though I didn’t really want to shut myself away from the world,” he said. “I thought the Jesuits would be too difficult. My elder brother hadn’t succeeded - and he’s cleverer than me.

“So I chose the Carmelites. That seemed the right compromise. I wanted to teach (his parents had been schoolteachers) and do parish work.”

Which spirits up an image of a cosy living in a peaceful suburb or terraced village, every home easily reached by foot or bike. Here the priest knows the pious and the lapsed, their hearts bright and black, the trembling doubts of the devout and the holiness of the humble.

That picture doesn’t quite fit his present position. As Councillor General for the Carmelites he spends a lot of time squashed in Boeings. His parish covers Asia, including the sub continent of India, and Oceania, including Australia. That’s well over two billion souls, so ministering to all is a task beyond even the considerable energies of this articulate 51-year-old.

So is the brief he’s been given: To implement the charges laid on Catholics by Pope Paul 11 in 1990. The late pontiff’s message for the World Day of Peace was to ensure that “respect for life and the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation.”

In layperson’s terms it means Catholics have to care for the environment. The Carmelites (properly named the Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and established in the 12th century), hearkened.

Father Albertus has drawn the short straw – or won the big prize - depending on your outlook: Get the message to the masses. Green is good and Godly.

Before being transferred to Rome two years ago Father Albertus was settling for a year off from running a senior high school in Malang with 800 students, boys and girls.

Apart from studying for a master’s degree in education in the US he’d been teaching since he was ordained in 1987, and principal for ten years.

“I wanted time out, to recharge the batteries,” he said. “I was feeling tired. I hoped to do research, more reading.” He admired the writings of the late Javanese intellectual and diplomat Soedjatmoko, and Columban Father Paul McCartin’s A Theology of Environment.

Man proposes, God disposes. When you dedicate your life to a multinational corporation and suddenly get shunted to head office for six years then it’s time to shred personal plans, adjust to jet lag and learn how to pronounce spaghetti bolognaise correctly.

“Fortunately I’d studied Spanish while in the US so that helped, along with my knowledge of Latin,” he said. “The first two months were difficult. My colleagues come from eleven different countries so we all use Italian.”

Although he heads the Carmelite’s curiously named Commission for International Justice, Peace and Integrated Creation (is there any other sort?) his basic job is raising awareness of the threats to the environment and the need for action now.

Despite his position he will not be attending the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this month (December). Instead he’ll be in the Philippines propagating his message.

“What’s the point in going to Denmark and spending a lot of money on hotels for a few days of talking when I could be in Asia helping address this very serious challenge and maybe influencing thousands?” he said in Malang. He stopped off in the central East Java hilltown to address a seminar for 70 Catholic teachers.

“If we can inspire teachers to be involved in environmental issues then we can have an impact on the wider community. Teachers are still respected. They may not have much status now but they do have authority. The children can help raise awareness in their families that we are talking about an important issue that affects us all.”

Before handing the teachers over to former zoo vet and now green activist Dr Suryo Prawiroatmodjo to give practical tips on making environmental studies fun, Father Albertus spent an hour inspiring his listeners.

Using the sort of energy normally seen in TV commercials for caffeine drinks he sang and joked his way script-free through the barriers brought to the seminar by the overworked educators: Oh Lord - not another topic to add to an already crowded curriculum – and on our day off, too!

“I know they’re under pressure,” Father Albertus said, “I’ve given them the theological foundation for preserving the environment.

“The Genesis verse which says humans must fill the earth and subdue it has been misinterpreted – the earth is not to be exploited and destroyed but nurtured and worked in partnership. We are called to contemplate the peace of God through the beauty of nature

“Altering habits, lifestyles and mindsets is a huge challenge. We can’t change others unless we first change ourselves. We have to start little by little, turning off taps, picking up litter, making compost, recycling. It has to be repeated again and again.

“It means raising awareness, motivating, helping people understand what’s going on, building their knowledge. The situation in Indonesia is getting worse. Governments are slow to respond – these things can be done better through private organisations.

“The next step we’ll take is to run seminars for public school teachers and through them join with the Muslim community. This is not an issue of theology, we don’t proselytise. The critical question to ask is this: Do we want our grandchildren to inherit the mess we are making?”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 15 December 09)





Tuesday, December 08, 2009

ECENG GONDOK - LAKE KILLER




Minahasa’s green assassin Duncan Graham
Eceng gondok is the Houdini of the weed world.

If it could talk, like the revolutionaries of 1945 it would be forever shouting Merdeka! (Freedom). In North Sulawesi it’s happy beyond measure – particularly in Lake Tondano.

From the Lambean Mountains, studded with tall clove trees in fire-red finery, the 14 kilometer long lake looks tourist-brochure perfect.

Smoke from smouldering rice straw drifts slowly across still waters, shimmering in the sunlight, blue-gray as the heavens. A lone fisher in a flat-bottom canoe carved from hinterland timber rhythmically hauls in his net, hand over hand. His grandfather showed him how and his grandfather learned the same way.

Closer and the scene changes. No water laps the foreshore boulders. They’ve disappeared under a carpet of lush wide-leaf plants so thick maybe a child could run across to the lake, hundreds of meters away.

The village kids know better, so use bamboo walkways. Eceng gondok (water hyacinth), one of the world’s worst waterway pests, is dense but gives no support. And if it’s not controlled soon the lake will no longer support the 300,000 people who depend on it being fresh, full and hearty for their living.

“Lake Tondano has many functions and it’s the responsibility of everyone to provide care,” said engineer Jefry Karlos, boss of water quality in Minahasa Regency.

“Unfortunately many communities won’t cooperate because they think the health of the lake isn’t their responsibility. The Regent is very disappointed,

“The lake water creates electricity from two hydro stations. (The lake is 600 meters above sea level.) We reticulate the water to the towns and villages.

“The flatland paddy that surround the lake provides rice. Millions of fish are farmed in netted ponds in the lake. There’s huge tourism potential but this hasn’t been realised.

“In 1935 the lake was 40 meters deep. Now it’s only 15.”

Lake Tondano, just above the equator, is the center of a resource-rich rural region with landscapes that define rugged beauty. Unlike Java there are few people and a lot of wilderness, some of it little touched. Agriculture is the biggest income earner. This is an area where political candidates promote themselves wearing cowboy hats and on horseback.

Despite its critical economic and lifestyle importance the 4,600 hectare lake, formed by a huge volcanic explosion millions of years ago, has for too long been used as a sewer and garbage pit. Unexploded munitions from the Japanese occupation in the 1940s are believed to lie under a concrete jetty once used by flying boats.

Lavatories and drains empty straight into the lake. Women scrub clothes on the shoreline then toss dirty, phosphate-rich suds into the water. Fertilisers run-off from the surrounding 20,000 hectares of rice fields and market gardens, lifting nitrogen levels.

These effects are invisible. The water hyacinth is not. The weed creates a mosquito paradise. Apart from being an eyesore it starves the water of oxygen and kills fish.

Karlos said his office hadn’t heard of marine life dying, but Irwan Hartonio who has 34 ponds each with 2,000 fish near the village of Kakas has different tales. He also remembers when the water lapped halfway up the stone foundations of his home.

Now it’s far away, under the thick green smothering sward with its deceptive pretty pink flowers. The lower water levels are blamed for regular daily power cuts. Low rainfall has also been a factor. Many businesses and homes have standby generators.

“In 2008 we had a budget of Rp 1 billion (US $ 100,000) to get rid of the weed,” said Karlos. “We can’t spray because it will kill the fish. So every Friday for six or seven months government workers pulled heavy clumps of water hyacinth to shore where it rotted in piles.

“Then the money was finished.” But the free-floating vengeful weed was not, and like a Biblical plague it’s returning in force, seven times seven.

To try and convince the villagers that the lake had to be saved the government put up a huge sign explaining the need for action and distributed pamphlets.

Could The Jakarta Post see these? Sorry, said Karlos, the sign has gone and there have been no reprints. So what are the plans? Hopes that an investor will arrive and build a biogas plant to generate methane. Or maybe a factory to turn the weed into cattle feed or fertiliser.

Have such white knights galloped in to save damsel Tondano in distress, their saddlebags stuffed with greenbacks? Well, not yet, and it seems none are on the horizon.

A proven use for water hyacinth is furniture manufacture. The weed is pulled and sun-dried. The strong brown stalks are plaited to form ropes. These are then woven around wicker and wood frames to make tables, chairs and sofas.

These are particularly attractive to overseas buyers concerned about conservation. Here’s a sustainable product, which improves the environment when it’s harvested.

A small cooperative called Kerajinan Eceng Gondok (water hyacinth handicrafts) at the lakeside village of Watumea employs up to 30 to make the furniture – but only after orders have been received. The government has given some training, but the community says it has no money for marketing, so its products are little known and work intermittent.

“We can’t borrow money from the banks because the government won’t help with a guarantee,” said Sintje Supit, the co-op coordinator. “Without capital we can’t pay the workers.” Her complaint is familiar among small businesses across the Republic.

And still the water hyacinth multiplies, like a horror movie featuring alien slime. When one area is cleared the wind whips across the water bringing mother clumps from afar, moving like bilious squid, eager to colonise empty shores with their fecund daughters.

“We’ve controlled waste from restaurants and hotels getting into the lake,” said Karlos, counting one victory in one minor skirmish in a major war. His agency doesn’t employ anyone to monitor water quality.

“I don’t know how it got here and when it started. Ten years ago. Maybe more. (One report suggested the mid 90s.)

“We’re motivated to save the lake, even though we don’t have any money. The important thing is to get rid of the weed and bring the benefits to the people.

“How can we look after our lake? This is a very serious problem but many communities just want the government to do the job. Yet we lack the funds.”

Eceng gondok lacks neither the resources nor the will. Here’s a tip: If you’ve ever planned to visit this lovely lake, don’t hesitate. It may not be here in the future. .

(Sidebar)

Going feral

Water hyacinth can look lovely in a garden pond surrounded by concrete frogs. But once it escapes into the wild it goes wild. The seeds are tough as cockroaches and can survive for 30 years.

Originally from tropical South America, sales of Eichhornia crassipes from garden shops are now banned in many Western countries.

The weed got into Florida in the 19th century but is now reported to be under control. In Africa is has done huge damage to Lake Victoria. Tondano isn’t the only Sulawesi victim. There are reports of rivers getting blocked near Makassar.

Despite its reputation for blanketing waterways and clogging power station turbine blades, the weed gets a good press with its ability to absorb heavy metals. So it can be used to clean up rivers polluted by factory discharges.

Though only if guarded 24 / 7.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 7 December 2009)

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Friday, December 04, 2009

LALU SYAFI'I- LOMBOK'S MR CLEAN




No place for lazy teachers Duncan Graham

Haji Lalu Syafi’i wasn’t aware of the old English maxim that cleanliness is next to Godliness. However he agreed it matched his rubbish-free campaign, particularly as Mataram is littered with signs saying it’s a progressive and religious city.

To report that the director of education in the capital of Lombok is on a mission would be pushing journalistic licence. But only a little. He’s hot on professional discipline but he’s not a disciplinarian, preferring a persuasive approach. A benign controller.

Syafi’i would like to be Mr Clean, but still has a way to go, though by Surabaya standards under-crowded and orderly Mataram is the Singapore of Eastern Indonesia.

“According to my religion the rivers must be kept clean,” he said. “But because of the culture people don’t follow this rule. They just throw their rubbish in the water, as in the old days.

“We claim to be moral people yet we are abusing the environment. Conservation is a moral message.

“The culture also says the young must obey their teachers, so we are putting this message through the schools.”

It’s one of many. Syafi’i is initiating significant reforms throughout the 300 schools and 82,500 students under his control, starting with the teachers.

There are 5,000 of them and not all are wildly embracing their leader’s ideas. “Some do not want to change their habits,” he said. “They come to school late and they’re lazy. They think that having a quiet class means they’re doing their job properly. That’s a challenge.”

While not excusing slovenly practices in a profession with a high burnout rate, it’s easy to see how some have learned to hunker down in a hostile environment that has long been inimical to best practice.

Classes so crowded that the shy and sly can cruise through semesters without saying a word or being noticed. Oven rooms that bake the brain. Regimental rote learning with the mind in neutral. Protocols that take preference over performance.

Indonesian teachers may have high status but the pay doesn’t match. To keep their family’s rice-cookers full many have to sell cellphone subscriptions and run roadside stalls after work.

A promotion system that rewards long service over merit, and a culture which respects age even when the elderly are inept and idle is another concern. The notion that a smart young chalkie just a few years out of university should leapfrog gray-headed time-servers is bound to cause resentment in the staff room.

Syafi’i understands these factors well. Before becoming the boss of Mataram’s education department five years ago he served 20 years before the chalkboard in a variety of schools. Along the way he picked up a handy Western aphorism – “an ounce of practice is worth a tonne of theory.”

He also used his time to ponder the faults of the education system he served, and to wonder why Indonesian schooling was stumbling behind other Southeast Asian nations.

Not just think – but do. Whenever an opportunity presented Syafi’i took the chance to go overseas and sniff the wind. In 2003 he was in Malaysia. Two years later he was looking at curricula in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan.

In 2006 he went to Australia to study vocational education, then to China for a mathematics competition. That was followed by a trip to Japan.

Last year he was in New Zealand and this year he’s been to Holland. All the while he’s been promoting sister-school relationships so Indonesian kids, like their leader, can open their minds to other cultures and ways of doing things.

Class sizes abroad are often a fraction of those in Indonesia where public school teachers can face a room of 40 plus. There are obvious difficulties in cutting workloads – insufficient space and too few teachers, but a pilot project of 18 students per class is now underway.

Earlier this year 19 Mataram students went to NZ for a fortnight. Their experiences pushed them to raise serious questions and stir the winds of change.

On their return the teenagers asked why they have to study 13 or more topics in senior high school when their counterparts abroad are able to focus on just the five or six major subjects they’ll need for post-school education.

And why can’t they question and challenge sloppy teachers who aren’t up to date with their subjects? Should taboos on doubting authority apply in a learning environment?

From his overseas trips Syafi’i has gleaned wisdoms, ideas and techniques that he’s now applying in Mataram. Back in the days of Soeharto’s New Order authoritarianism the word would have been ‘enforcing’, but in a democracy reformers have to shuffle, not march.

“I’ve learned that if you want to change others you must first learn to change yourself,” he said in his spotless office. “You must set an example, become a role model. It’s not do as I say but do as I do.

“That’s why I moved into administration though I love teaching. If I’d stayed in the classroom I could bring benefits to only a few but in this job I can benefit many.

“Teachers and principals must serve. This is the key to education. You can’t force – only the army can do that. But we do supervise and monitor our teachers closely.

“I want staff and students to interact. I’ve found that the best teachers and principals tend to be women – they don’t create so many problems. They are more honest than men and don’t misuse money.”

The rule now is that Mataram’s teachers must be at school ahead of the students, ready to greet as they enter the gates at 7 am. Staff are not supposed to give bleary-eyed grunts or make sarcastic comments on the kids’ dress and behavior, as teachers worldwide are wont to do, but be friendly.

And more than that. The teachers are also expected to have such a good rapport with their charges that they can ask about their families and toss in the odd casual question and comment to show they’re in touch and the pastoral care is genuine.

Syafi’i, 48, came from a family of farmers and was the first to seek higher education – initially at a teachers’ training college in Malang, East Java. He married a teacher, Hajjah Bq Mimi Mariani, who is currently a primary school principal.

He’s not content to remain in Lombok and hopes to get promotion to Jakarta where a new breed of progressive broad-shouldered teachers is slowly heaving the education system into the 21st century.

“We should not think of what we can do to lift education in Indonesia,” said Syafi’i, who is clearly no fan of the NATO (no action, talk only) administrative style often found in the provinces.

“Our job is to put our ideas and plans into practice. The doing is the important thing.”


(First published in The Jakarta Post 17 November 2009)

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EAST JAVA HOUSE FOR SALE




Monday, November 30, 2009

EAST JAVA HOUSE FOR SALE

HOUSE FOR SALE

Unique Opportunity in East Java

Magnificent two-storey, four-bedroom timber home, lovingly designed and built by owner in 1990 with additions in 1999. Imaginatively constructed on traditional East Javanese principles with hand-carved exposed teak beams, posts and screens. Always occupied and carefully maintained.

OTHER FEATURES: Solar HWS. Bathroom spa. Western toilet. Front section 7.8 X 7.4 metres. Linked back section 5.8 X 10.8 metres. Ceilings 4 metres high. External and major internal gebyok doorways and surrounds intricately carved – some sections more than 50 years old. Swiss staircase and major staircase to second floor. Walls of cedar planks, some lined. Two attached pendopo – can be separated. Marble floors. Terracotta tiled roof. Some windows stained glass. Gable windows upstairs.

NOTE: House is being sold for relocation elsewhere – in Indonesia or overseas; land is not included.

REASON FOR SELLING: Western owner moving abroad.

ASKING PRICE: $US 100,000, as is, where is. Owner can organise for dismantling, packing and transportation to buyer’s orders.

LOCATION: This large family home was formerly associated with a well-known cultural arts centre. It’s located outside the village of Tumpang, 20 kilometres east of Malang on the slopes of Mount Semeru, Java’s highest mountain. The house was built in stages and can be easily dismantled, then trucked to another location in Java or Bali – or put in containers and sent overseas.

VIEWING: By arrangement with owner: k.e.sekararum@gmail.com

FOR SALE SEPARATELY: Complete set of Javanese gamelan instruments in excellent condition, always stored undercover: $US 25,000

Large quantity of unused local timber including five-metre carved square house poles, planks and other building lumber in excellent condition. Price on application.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Visit Babel - a tower of communication


BANGKA'S ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER

Harvesting rice on a lunar landscape Duncan Graham

Seen from above it looks as though Bangka has suffered a severe case of smallpox. High quality aerial photos are more like X rays, revealing ugly blotches, similar to cancers. Pallid grays instead of once lush greens.

For about 300 years Bangka, the island at the southern end of the Straits of Malacca has been pillaged and raped. The first offenders were the Dutch. Now its local and overseas companies and individuals hosing, hacking and dredging the land for tin.

There are hundreds of small ragged-edged ponds dotted across the island where miners have hunted for the silver-colored ore, then left the gouged land to be flooded. The landscape is lunar

“There are 30 tin smelters on the island,” said Santoso Prasetija, factory manager for the company Donna Kembara Jaya, “and that’s far too many. Maybe we’ll have to start producing palm oil.”

Maybe not. Two years ago a land dispute on the island resulted in palm oil crops being torched. Bangka is not wet and fertile like Java.

Prasetija and his workforce were standing round a furnace with no ore to process. The smelter’s capacity is 800 tonnes a month. It’s now producing only 200 tonnes.

There are many reasons. Easily accessible ore is getting harder to find. Deposits below ten meters are too costly to excavate. Prices are dropping, costs are rising.

Restrictions on mining and environmental concerns are other factors. Earlier this year the Indonesian government said it would cap production – then said that might not be necessary as demand was weak.

Like most primary producers, tin miners are price takers, not makers. The value of the metal – currently around Rp 150,000 (US $15) a kilogram - is set in London.

Last year the price reached US $25.

There are 1.3 million people in Bangka-Belitung, Indonesia’s youngest province created in 2000 from the two large islands off the east coast of Sumatra. The government estimates that at least 10,000 make their living in the industry, though this seems to be a low estimate.

Not all workers are employed by the big companies. Small-scale illegal mining has long been a problem and difficult to eradicate despite penalties for tin smuggling equal to those for drug trafficking. What happens when the tin runs out or becomes unviable is a serious question.

Indonesia is the second largest producer of tin in the world, second to China. There are believed to be reserves of 800,000 tonnes left on Bangka, but the issue is accessibility

“I’m optimistic about the future,” said the vice-governor Syamsuddin Basari. “We are serious about rehabilitation and planting millions of trees. Our goal is that three trees should be planted by everyone on the island. I even do it myself. It’s called Bangka Goes Green.

“We are trying to lift the quality of education in the province so students don’t have to go elsewhere, and we’re looking to tourism to create employment.” In an adjacent office a two-finger typist pecked out a memo on an ancient typewriter. Power outages are frequent.

The potential is certainly there. Fine beaches, uncrowded streets, reasonable roads and a pleasant capital in Pangkalpinang, a city of only 200,000.

Bangka is famous as the setting for Joseph Conrad’s classic novel Lord Jim, and infamous as the massacre site of 22 Australian nurses in 1942 by the Japanese.

Much work still needs to be done to understand the needs of the modern tourism industry. At the little airport, which cannot take international flights despite being within sniffing distance of Singapore and Malaysia, there’s a giant billboard promoting 2010 as the year to visit Bangka-Belitung.

Unfortunately the bureaucrats have folded the province’s name into Babel, which has some unfortunate connotations as all Old Testament readers know.

To charm visitors the sign features neither happy families frolicking on the beach, nor young couples stunned by the scenery, but five stern middle aged public servants. All are men and two in uniform.

They look more like a deportation squad than a welcome team. Malaysia, with its long-running and successful Truly Asia promotion has nothing to fear from the Visit Babel campaign.

Yet despite the enormous environmental damage Bangka could be a good destination for serious eco-tourism.

A consortium of smelter companies has set up a corporate social responsibilities program. This is doing some spectacular rehabilitation work, though on a small scale, in a project called Bangka Botanical Garden.

Heavy machinery has straightened the sides and flattened the floors of old mining pits and used these to plant crops. First attempts to grow rice were failures, said farm manager Jerry Japri, but the companies have persevered and the plants seem to be flourishing.

There are large stands of cattle feed growing in the pits and these are being harvested for 330 beef and dairy cows. The animal waste is used to build the poor soil fertility. The milk is pasteurised and given free to local schoolchildren to boost their health.

The ambition is to supply 20,000 kids, though many aren’t keen. Drinking fresh milk is not part of Indonesian culture.

“We are still experimenting to find what works and doesn’t,” said manager Japri. “This project has been running for three years and we’re not making money.

“We’re trying the meet the challenges of rebuilding the land and making it productive. Seeds from crops that thrive will be given to local farmers.

“We want to build cattle numbers to 1,000 head, but some of the Friesian dairy cows are suffering from the heat.” The first rains for five months fell when The Jakarta Post was visiting.

Plump white ducks paddled around the flower-bordered ponds where laborers once sweated in the roasting heat so the world could buy tins of food. Manicured avenues of trees offered welcome shade.

As a showcase of what can be done in mine site reclamation the Bangka Botanical Garden is a standout. But it’s only scratching the surface of a huge task and no one seems to know how long the companies will maintain support.

The government’s plan to have every person plant three trees may have to be revised to 300.

(Sidebar)

Can it be tin?

Despite the name, tin cans are basically made of steel.

The discovery in 1810 by British engineer Peter Durand that a thin coating of tin on the inside of an airtight steel can could preserve the contents created a revolution in food packaging.

Tin isn’t toxic and doesn’t corrode.

Lighter, recyclable aluminium cans are slowly taking over, but tin is still in demand for electronics where it is used in the solder that ensures good electrical connections.

Tin mixed with copper produces malleable bronze used in Indonesia to make handicrafts and gamelan gongs.

The Dutch moved thousands of Chinese laborers to Bangka to exploit the tin. Their descendants now form 12 per cent of the population – four times higher than in Java.

Race relations on Bangka are said to be so good that some Chinese businesspeople in Jakarta keep homes on Bangka as a safe refuge in case riots erupt again in the capital as they did in 1998.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 27 October 2009)
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Dr Maria Widagdo


KIWI'S CONCERN CREATED YOGYA'S YAKKUM


Maria Widagdo
Helping the handicapped help themselves Duncan Graham

When overseas donors meet the health care needs of Indonesians, does this free the government from its duty to provide for its citizens?

That’s one of the questions concerning Dr Maria Widagdo, director of the Yakkum Rehabilitation Center just outside Yogyakarta.

Another is whether the tiny input from the government – less than one per cent of the center’s running costs - indicates an indifference to the needs of the disabled and therefore a reflection on the national character.

“Of course I want the government to take more responsibility, but I’m not critical,” she said. “They do their best and there are many good people. They don’t have enough money in the social welfare budget.”

When reminded that there always seems to be enough money for politicians’ needs and comforts she sighed but refused to be drawn. No country is immune from hypocrisy and her job means she has to be diplomatic, flexible – and tough. A tricky trifecta.

Fortunately she’s well equipped to negotiate the labyrinth of Indonesian bureaucracy and the complex demands of aid agencies.

Although Yakkum is a faith-based organisation (the name is an acronym for a Christian foundation) it doesn’t proselytise and the overall impression is that it’s a secular show. If there are crucifixes and bleeding hearts around they’re well hidden. Most clients are Muslim and Dr Maria (a Catholic) brushed aside suggestions that there might be discrimination in the provision of services.

“We care for people in need,” she said. “Their religion is immaterial.”

Big donors attach conditions to their grants. Most want the outcome to be a return to the community (see sidebar). They don’t want Yakkum to become a sheltered workshop, so much rehabilitation work is done in the villages.

The overseas donors include NGOs and government agencies in Germany, the US, Holland, Australia and New Zealand

Yakkum’s prosthetics factory turns out limbs and adapts bicycles and motorbikes to give the disabled mobility. It also has a small factory employing 15 producing wooden toys and artwork. Some handicrafts are exported.

Donors that insist on including Bible readings or services as part of the deal are given the flick. “I want to show love, but not that way,” said Dr Maria.

If part of the deal is fiscal accountability, no worries. Dr Maria said administration costs take 15 per cent of the budget and potential donors can scrutinise an audit of the agency conducted by an independent Australian accountant.

“I’ve lived in Australia so I know how people overseas are aware of Indonesia’s reputation as a corrupt country, and that affects their attitudes to donations,” she said.

Yakkum was started in 1982 by an inspirational and driven New Zealander, Colin McLennan. On a visit to Yogya to take part in a Boy Scout jamboree he was distressed by the number of disabled and aimless kids he saw roaming the streets.

“The sight shocked him because he’d never seen anything like this in NZ,” said Dr Maria. “It really touched him and he became obsessed. He met another man of good heart, Pak Parjono, who was an amputee who’d been bitten by a snake.

“He became Yakkum’s first client and staff member. They made a formidable team and together they started collecting kids and helping in their rehabilitation, first as an outpost of Bethesda Hospital.

“Colin (who died in 2007 aged 73) went back to NZ and returned with money he’d raised and established a separate legal organization.” A wall plaque at Yakkum recognises his life. It reads: ‘A New Zealander who cared and made a difference’

From this small start Yakkum now has a major complex where they’ve helped about 9,000 people to build skills and live independently. Following the 2006 Yogya earthquake Yakkum was turned into an emergency center treating hundreds of wounded.

People suffering fractured limbs and spinal injuries filled every available space for about two months. At the time Dr Maria was running the clinic with other doctors and nurses.

The skills they developed are now being put to use in Padang following the September earthquake. A team from Yakkum has set up an emergency unit in the stricken city. It’s also running a center on the island of Nias where thousands were killed and injured in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and an earthquake in March 2005.

Dr Maria, 43, was born in Semarang in Central Java and graduated locally in medicine. She was the first person in her family to attend a university, pushed by her working-class parents who were determined their children should be well educated.

Later she followed her engineer husband Sugianto Pudjohartono to Australia when he won a scholarship for higher study. Bored at home she volunteered to assist at a hospital. Her dedication impressed and she was given a research grant.

Eventually she gained a doctorate in geriatric medicine – an accomplishment she plays down with a practised one-liner: “It’s not the degree that counts – it’s the quality of the person.”

“Fear of Christianisation is still a factor that makes some people reluctant to seek help,” she said. “The idea that the birth of a handicapped child is the result of a curse from God is still around, particularly in the villages.

“I’ve learned a lot in this job and particularly that culture is stronger than religion.

“People feel ashamed and try to hide their children. We want them to be able to take their place in the community working to provide for their families because work brings independence and dignity.

“I just don’t know how many handicapped people are out there and unable to use our facilities. You don’t see the polio victims that caught Colin’s eye years ago, but it’s clear that the majority miss out. Apart from accidents and injuries many suffer from cerebral palsy. ”

By the standards of other Indonesian medical facilities Yakkum is reasonably well equipped. It has spacious grounds and a purpose-built factory, workshops and substantial living quarters, all developed on a block of vacant ground.

“Overseas volunteers are welcome, but ideally these should be established professionals in areas like Information technology, physiotherapy and administration,” she said.

“They need to be self-starters because it takes energy to maintain learners. We want people with good hearts – but not missionaries. Finding the right work for disabled people and matching their skills with employers’ needs is a difficult but necessary task.

“There’s a 12-year old Indonesian law that states companies must employ handicapped people - at least one per cent of their workforce. That’s not happening everywhere, so changing community attitudes is a great challenge.”


(Sidebar)

Mobile man

You can’t miss Suwuandi, 37, as he whips his bright red Yamaha motorcycle down the highway and not just because it has a sidecar.

He turns heads because he is small and his disfigured legs and feet are hooked around the bike’s splash shield. The sidecar is used to carry his crutches or passengers.

Suwuandi was born disfigured and spent 15 years at Yakkum before his ambition to be independent could be realised.

He adapted his motorbike himself and now works outside Yakkum making women’s accessories like handbags and belts. He is married to Erna Ekawati, 26, who is not disabled.

“I don’t want people to look down on me or discriminate,” he said. “Most don’t. I can now go most places unaided, including the mosque. I’m no different to anyone else – I just want to work and care for my family.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 October 2009)

##

Monday, October 19, 2009

WELCOME TO INDONESIA: PLEASE SMOKE

First impressions count most Duncan Graham

The reflections of foreigners arriving in Indonesia are now part of the nation’s stock of timeworn clich├ęs.

Being mugged by humidity as you exit the plane, asphyxiated by the spice of burning cloves, stung by the acrid tang of hot oil from roadside fry-ups, choked by the endless fug of exhaust fumes.

It was like that in the old days before aerobridges, indoor smoking bans and air-conditioned taxis with tinted windows. You either loved it and stayed - or threw up and never returned. Now the first impressions are no longer olfactory – they’re visual.

It’s a toss up between the airport crowds and the abundance of cigarette adverts as to which dominates. Both make Indonesia a distinctive destination quite unlike any other.

Unless a victorious sporting team has arrived from conquests overseas, security guards at Western airport arrival gates outnumber greeters. Just the odd spouse (and some even ones too), a business partner or company car driver and that’s the welcome party.

Not so in Indonesia. Elsewhere flying is as ho-hum as catching a bus, but here it’s still a major event. So the extended family, friends, kampong – sometimes the whole village - have to be there to celebrate the return of the rover.

The crowds come even when the traveller has only been next door to Malaysia for a short stint of babysitting or construction work.

(It would be churlish to suggest they’re all there to claim a share of the souvenirs that Indonesians returning from abroad must carry.)

With such enormous receptions who wouldn’t feel wanted? Forget the temperature of the weather – this is real human warmth. No one turns on such shows for expat individualists; we just dart out alone to the cab rank, head down, trying not to show our envy.

So far, so good. When Mohammed Nuh, the acting Culture and Tourism Minister was giving out a top toilet award to Surabaya’s new – though already overcrowded - Juanda airport terminal, he reportedly commented that loved lavatories ‘enhance the image of national culture.’

While it might be better to judge Indonesian culture on more esoteric levels, a clean cubicle does help give a good impression on entering a country. If issues at the bottom end of society are treated seriously, then the top end must be splendid.

If only. Such expectations are rapidly flushed away as you hit the highway and a screaming streetscape of advertising for just one product.

Hollywood toga movies featuring classical Rome always include a long shot of a banner-bedecked avenue, an essential triumphal entrance for the victor.

In modern Indonesia the flags and posters flanking Juanda’s roads are for the losers. They look bright. The captions are smart and sometimes funny. But the reality is funereal.

Not mild.

These adverts suggest a healthy country life but lure millions into addictions and disease. This includes the estimated 500,000 Indonesians who will suffer ghastly deaths from cancers of the lung and other vulnerable organs this year, but who are unreliably informed that using the weed will ensure a jolly life, making them slim, sophisticated and popular.

It’s not just Australia and European Union nations that have long-banned tobacco advertising; so has Singapore, Malaysia and almost 170 other countries. Which makes Indonesia a standout exception, and an airport entrance celebrating nicotine a rare international experience.

Is this the ‘national culture’ Minister Nuh wants to promote? This magic and mysterious country has so many world-class products, like batik, original artwork, imaginative handicrafts and fine furniture made from sustainable materials that could be advertised with pride at the international gateways.

And not just goods. There are many awesome attractions in Java, an island so rich in accessible history that other nations salivate with jealousy. How about higher education? Rough in the past but getting better now, with the smarter universities upgrading staff, curricula and facilities and bidding for overseas students.

So what message is the government allowing the tobacco companies to give visitors? There’s only one conclusion: This is an administration that cares for airport hygiene but not for its people’s health.

(First published in The Sunday Post 18 October 09)
##

MICHAEL ASMARA


The loneliness of the long-distance composer

An executive search for an international event organizer who could attract local and overseas funds probably wouldn’t give Michael Asmara a second glance.

Anyone who freely admits he gossips with geckos, shares his rice with the little lizards and tells them not to squabble should not be taken seriously.

Naturally the guy also looks a bit wild – certainly not a mile-a-minute man and no Indonesian army-style buzz cut. If he tried to wear a suit it would reject him. He’s so low profile he’s almost horizontal, great for a stimulating conversation through a evil fog of continuous cigarette smoke, but certainly no hustler.

Yet the 53-year old composer gets things done big time – though he says he’s not sure how.

Charisma and credibility have to be factors for the founder and director of the Yogyakarta Contemporary Music Festival. His talent is clearly acknowledged by his peers and his personal moral code means that he hasn’t used the festival to promote his works. Trust must be another for he’s not driven by lust for lucre.

Around him composers were going grey by the minute as their musicians either caught dengue fever or couldn’t catch the tempo. Committee members soothed spirits and boosted egos, sorted schedules and paid bills. Asmara turned off his handphone and lit another smoke

“I don’t know where the money comes from,” he said. “I can’t make a living through music but I survive. It’s quite difficult to explain. Birds get by without money – why not me?

“I tell the committee – don’t be ambitious. Be humble. You are nothing. Just learn, learn, learn. When they fight. I say- ‘don’t do that – live in peace.’

“Perhaps I’m a dreamer. Living in peace is my dream. I’m an atheist. I want to be at one with nature – maybe this affects my music. Sometimes I want to run away from life.” This comment didn’t ring true – Asmara may seek rest but he also has zest.

If Asmara doesn’t go looking for dollars they sure come looking for him. In the past he’s been invited to Europe, Japan, South-East Asia and New Zealand where his work has been performed and he’s given lectures.

This year’s festival picked up US $5,000 (Rp 50 million) from the Asian Cultural Council and support from a chorus of other local and overseas sponsors. That sort of backing doesn’t come for a Mickey Mouse show

The proof of Asmara’s abilities was clear with the staging of the fifth festival in mid October. This drew composers from 15 nations with 41 performances over three nights. Crowds of up to 250 came to hear some challenging music at the French Cultural Center. Most were young.
“I know 80 per cent prefer pop and jazz,” Asmara said. “I don’t force people to come. They can listen or not. I hope they’re stimulated. I’m not a music missionary – I just offer ideas.”

Asmara started the festival in 2003 “because I was lonely and needed friends.” This wasn’t just a slick line in self-deprecation. Other composers, like the immaculately suited Karen Keyhani from Iran – a standout among the jeans and sandals - also confessed to loneliness, the quest for the elusive, teasing tone, the right chord, the fickle note, the need to capture and escape.

If you don’t seek perfection above and beyond all else, then making music is not for you. If your partner is a composer expect to spend torrid nights alone while your lover strives to seduce the muse.

The festival took a rest because of the 2005 Yogya earthquake but is now back bigger and, well, maybe better, though Asmara said he was still dissatisfied with the quality.

But then this seemingly happy man never will be truly content. If you’re dispassionate about contemporary music you’re in the wrong genre.

The biggest applause was given to splendid performances by violinist Rieko Suzuki interpreting works from France and the USA – though both seemed more pre 20th century than post modern.

Hair splitters turned to the enigmatic veteran composer Slamet Abdul Syukur, 75, a Toulouse Lautrec figure always surrounded by elegant women, expecting the violin work to be condemned.

Like Asmara, Syukur is a composer who doesn’t just push boundaries – he jumps them with work featuring unusual instruments.

“I loved Rieko’s playing and the compositions,” Syukur pronounced. “They had emotion – that’s all that counts.” With this verdict the disciples stopped debating whether the works pre-dated the expressionist Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg who died in 1951. His Second Viennese School is supposed to mark the birth of contemporary music..

“The criteria is that the compositions must be new,” said Asmara whose past work has included Cooking Music featuring kitchen utensils. Another had motorbikes and sirens. Those who define contemporary music as electro-acoustic have closed off the options.

“In selecting the entries we looked for music that has been inspired by tradition. It must explore original ideas.

“We particularly want to encourage women composers, the old and the young like Yuri Nishida from Japan who is doing extraordinary work with the gender (a gamelan instrument).

“I feel uncomfortable if the participants are all men. I want to hear those from Asia. I want the festival to stay in Yogya, but this is not an exercise in nationalism – I hate that sort of thing.

“Yogya is rich in composers but they don’t get noticed. They don’t know how to promote their music. Typical Javanese – just enough is enough. I want them to get exposed to other ideas, to improve.”

Asmara sheepishly revealed he’d come from a Yogya ‘blue-blood’ family; as a child he was familiar with dance and Western classical music. His father tried to dissuade him from a career in music but the lad was already playing the organ and didn’t fancy a future in medicine checking other people’s organs.

He went to the Indonesian Institute of the Arts in Yogya for three years then studied in Japan where he married, though the relationship didn’t survive. He played the guitar and piano but wanted to compose. His work started winning prizes.

“I wasn’t frustrated by Bach and Beethoven,” he said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself, to compare the gamelan with Western music, to experiment.

“I get my philosophy from Javanese culture. I never think I succeed or fail. I want to feel, to think deeply. We couldn’t have done this (run the festival) in the Soeharto era. Too much bureaucracy.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 16 October 09)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

OUR MAN IN SUVA - PINARDI PRIAMBODO

Filling the Fiji vacuum Duncan Graham 2009

One of the saddest sights in Suva, the capital of the tiny nation of Fiji, is the Parliament building.

It’s reputed to be a splendid example of Pacific island architecture representing traditional Fiji values.

But this can’t be confirmed. The gates are locked and rusting. Weeds are pushing through the driveway. Three years ago Fiji went through yet another coup and the power of the ballot box yielded to the rule of the gun.

There have been four coups in the past 22 years but this didn’t stop Indonesia opening an Embassy in this troubled former British colony.

It was a smart move. As the Commonwealth and European Union punished Fiji for overthrowing democracy, other countries have filled the gap.

“Indonesia’s interests in the Pacific islands used to be served by our embassy in Wellington, but because Suva is the hub of a growing region it was decided to establish a presence here in 2002,” said the Indonesian Charge d’Affaires, Pinardi Priambodo.

“Fiji doesn’t produce much so most of the trade is in Indonesia’s favor. In the past five years the growth rate has been 2.77 per cent.

“The other issue that takes our time is caring for the interests of Indonesian seamen and sorting out disputes with employers. Many problems come about because the Indonesians haven’t read or understood the job contracts they signed back in Jakarta.”

Indonesia isn’t the only nation taking a new interest in a zone once dominated by Australia and New Zealand. The imposition of sanctions and other controls on aid, sporting contacts and government visits by fellow Commonwealth countries has created a vacuum largely exploited by China which is now ramping trade and aid.

Last year Indonesia did business worth US $24.5 million (Rp 250 billion) in the Pacific islands served through Suva. By Indonesian standards it’s little more than a mid-size town with only 200,000 people, but it’s the biggest city in the South Pacific outside NZ, and a multicultural mix of locals, transients, other islanders, Indian traders and Europeans seeking a quiet life.

Indonesia’s natural sphere of influence has long been South-East Asia but its push into the Pacific is logical, according to Pinardi.

There are historical Indonesian links with the peoples of Polynesia. The current theory is that they arrived about 3,000 years ago after travelling south from Taiwan and China, then moved through the Indonesian archipelago, the Philippines and then deeper into the Pacific, reaching Fiji via Tonga.

Though Indonesia isn’t part of the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum it has the status of a ‘dialogue partner’. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda attended the forum’s post-summit meeting in Queensland, Australia in August this year.

Pinardi, who is also known as Pak Klik, a nickname that defied simple etymology, is single and “under 40”. He was previously stationed in Seoul where he specialized in economic issues, spending his spare time on the snowfields. By the time his tour of duty had finished he’d skied seven of the 12 slopes near the Korean capital.

Seeing his love of snow it fits the curious posting system of Foreign Affairs that he should be sent to a tropical island. He runs six Indonesian staff including four lively young diplomats seemingly uninfected by the past rigid bureaucracy of the Soeharto era (Pinardi labelled them ‘the fantastic four’), and five local staff.

Unlike many embassies it’s a relaxed low-security office. Despite the military coup and alleged human rights abuses Suva isn’t full of soldiers and most locals seem indifferent to the political tension, more concerned with public service sackings, the devaluation of the Fiji dollar and the resulting high cost of living.

With no direct air links to Indonesia there’s little demand for visas. For Indonesians wanting to see Fiji the good news is that they don’t need visas, prices are cheap and they can stay for four months, enough time to explore the lush, coral fringed 300 islands.

Indonesia has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Fiji to develop tourism but so far little has happened.

Pinardi arrived in Fiji in June after the departure of the last ambassador. The son of a Christian pastor and academic Pinardi was born and educated in Salatiga in Central Java and educated at the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta.

“I got into diplomacy by chance,” he said. “I planned to be a banker because I’d trained in economics. But when I went to get the transcript of my studies legalized I chanced to see an advert for the Foreign Service.

“I later spent 18 months at Monash University in Australia learning trade negotiation skills, knowledge that came in useful in Korea.

“In Fiji we’re not just concerned with trade. We’re very keen on providing technical assistance, sending Pacific Islanders for training in Indonesia.”

It’s a strange reversal of positions. While the big Western nations are giving aid to Indonesia, the Republic is busy providing assistance to the Pacific. This has ranged from training farmers in artificial insemination of dairy cattle, using the latest fishing technology and navigation aids, and rehabilitating people with disabilities.

“We’ve been passing on our skills in rice planting,” Pinardi said. “Farmers in Fiji used to broadcast their rice seeds. We’re training them in our system planting seedlings in rows while walking backwards. We’ve also donated small agricultural tractors.

“The other skill we’re teaching is in the multiple uses of bamboo. Fiji people don’t do as much with bamboo as we do in Indonesia.”

So while other countries may consider Indonesia to be a poor, low-tech developing nation, Fijians have another view, particularly those who’ve been the lucky recipients of programs like ‘capacity building for poverty reduction.’

The Indonesian touch can be found everywhere from imported Toyota Kijang vans through to handicrafts and women’s clothing. Fiji was once a big garment exporter but Commonwealth sanctions and cheap Chinese imports have crushed the industry, creating opportunities for smart Indonesian businesspeople and not just clothing manufacturers.

Furniture is a trade where Indonesia has few competitors. The big resorts have been ordering large quantities of tropical style rattan and water hyacinth chairs, tables and sofas that can be used inside and outside. They appeal to the environmentally-conscious because they’re made from renewable materials.

“We want to improve people to people ties and build cultural understanding,” said Pinardi. “We’ve been giving scholarships for higher studies at Indonesian universities.

“Fijians are very musical people and great singers. We do have a set of angklung (bamboo xylophones) but no gamelan orchestra. Maybe in the future.”

(Sidebar)

Deja Vu

Being in Fiji in 2009 is a bit like living in Indonesia during the repressive Soeharto years.

Outside journalists are not welcome and the local media is heavily controlled. Australian publishers have been kicked out. The newspapers originally responded by leaving blocks of white space to show readers that local political news had been cut by military censors, but now they fill the columns with bland tales.

Only those with access to overseas TV newscasts would have known that Fiji had been expelled from the Commonwealth on 1 September.

Fiji won independence in 1970 and became a republic. When the country was under British control in the 19th century indentured laborers from India were brought in to work the sugar cane plantations. Many stayed and now about half the national population of 800,000 is Indian. Most are Hindu, though seven per cent are Muslim.

Although the Indians and native Fijians (who are mainly Protestant) seem to get on together there have been few mixed marriages. The two cultures are radically different and don’t share the same values.

Past coups have been explained as bids by native Fijians to retain control of their country, fearing the democratic vote of one person, one value could put Indians in charge.

But the situations is more complex and involves native Fijians owning the land. The industrious Indians can’t get freehold land and many, especially the better qualified, have fled to Australia and NZ.

The present military strongman and self-appointed Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama says he wants to rewrite the constitution, reform land laws and eliminate corruption.

Despite the sanctions and pressures from his neighbors he is refusing to allow elections till 2014.
First published in The Jakarta Post 29 September 2009
##

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Ida Falkner-Head


IDA FALKNER-HEAD

Have stethoscope, will travel Duncan Graham 2009

Young Indonesians keen to travel and earn a good salary should consider nursing, providing they have the calling to care, according to Ida Zuraida Falkner-Head

“However you must be able to speak and understand English at a high level, keep studying and be prepared to learn about Western culture,” she said. “This means getting out and mixing with foreigners.

“You’ve got to build your knowledge of medical practices overseas or you won’t get work outside Indonesia. But if you’re good and qualified you can work just about anywhere.”

This is the message that Ms Head, a registered nurse in general nursing and obstetrics, regularly delivers to nursing students on return visits to her homeland from her present base in Hamilton, New Zealand.

NZ relies on overseas labor to maintain its healthcare services more than any other nation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Many caregivers come from the Philippines, South Africa and Fiji – so far few from Indonesia.

This is a situation Ms Head would like to change because she believes Indonesian nurses are good at caring. Qualified nurses have to pass stringent English tests to practise, even if they’ve come from English-speaking countries. (See sidebar.)

Before taking her present job at the Eventhorpe Rest Home and Hospital where she is a ward sister, Ms Head has worked and studied in Europe, the US, the Middle East, Australia and Indonesia.

She was born in Palembang, South Sumatra and wasn’t keen on entering her father’s business as a commodities trader. Her mother wanted her to be a midwife, but the young Ida had broader ambitions and trained in Jakarta in general nursing.

“As a child I really wanted to travel,” she said. “So I used to dig holes in the garden hoping that I might be able to get overseas that way.”

For a while she worked in the private sector, travelling the region with the SOS Indonesia medical care agency specialising in servicing multinational companies. Keen to improve her skills she went to the US where she studied nursing management at California State University in Los Angeles, and later to Austria where she focussed on oncology and emergency medicine.

At SOS she frequently met Westerners working in Indonesia for international companies. One was Welshman Adrian Falkner-Head, a consulting civil engineer whose job meant he was constantly travelling.

The couple married and the energetic Ida, instead of being the passive partner, found her skills much in demand wherever her husband’s career led.

Her husband died 12 years ago and since then Ms Head has spent most of her time in NZ. But she regularly returns to Jakarta where she owns a house, using every opportunity to persuade young Indonesians to set high goals for themselves.

Not all want to hear. A group of nursing students from Brawijaya University in Malang who attended one of her lectures commented afterwards that they liked the idea of high wages and good conditions overseas. However they weren’t so keen on working for the higher qualifications required, particularly building their English skills.

The general attitude seemed to be that a few seminars at university and getting a basic degree was a big enough load to get them into the workforce without undertaking further studies.

Like civil aviation, English is the international language of the top hospitals in the world, including Saudi Arabia. You’re unlikely to last long in an emergency ward if you press the surgeon a scalpel when he or she asks you to dress the scapula.

“Nursing practices in Indonesia can be quite different from those in Western countries,” Ms Head said.

“For example here in NZ we don’t have to worry about the cost of treatment. If we want to order more dressings or drugs the registered nurse’s primary and only considerations are the medical needs of the patient. This makes a nurse’s life much less stressful.

“The other issue is the patient’s ability to pay. In Indonesia one of the first questions asked of an incoming patient is ‘where’s your deposit?’

“In NZ we don’t care if you have money or not, only how we can make you better.”

Like many Western countries NZ has a universal health care scheme funded through taxation. This runs alongside a private medical system catering for people with their own health insurance.

But the level of care is the same whether the hospital is private or government. The main issues are the waiting lists in the government system for patients to see specialists or have non-essential surgery.

Ms Head (“I find the double-barrel surname too awkward for everyday use”) said she preferred to work in small hospitals where there was a more friendly and intimate atmosphere. Although the hospital where she currently works is almost 30 years old it’s been designed to look more like a private home with pictures on the walls, cheerful furnishings, a minimum of signs and few tiled walls.

It specialises in rehabilitation and palliative care and is located in a quiet suburban street to diminish the institutional atmosphere that makes many hospitals intimidating fortresses of doom.

“The other difference is in the culture,” she said. “In Indonesia the doctor is the boss, but elsewhere doctors and nurses work as equals, in partnership to ensure that the one and only issue is the care of the patient.

“Doctors show respect for nurses here and we are given a lot of responsibility. The pay is good and we get extra if we have to come in if there’s an emergency on our days off.”

(A mid range nurse earns about NZ$ 60,000 a year (about Rp 35 million a month) though specialist nurses can receive a third more.)

“However there are no short cuts,” she said. “Apart from high level language we must continuously upgrade our skills. In Western nursing you can’t just depend on your original basic training.

“Every year I have to renew my practising certificate and I’m always undertaking extra training, internally and externally. Even though I’m 55 and have been nursing all my working life I don’t find this a burden. I think it’s essential.”

(Sidebar)

Check before you fly

Indonesian nurses thinking of working overseas should do their own research to check whether their qualifications are acceptable and do this before applying to migrate.

Most Western nations have their own compulsory national registration systems and websites.

In NZ the authority is the Nursing Council – www.nursingcouncil.org.nz

People giving migration advice must be registered by the government. See www.iaa.govt.nz

Overseas trained nurses must have studied for at least four years in an accredited school of nursing and must be able to score 7.0 in each band of the IELTS examination. (International English Language Testing System.) This is a tough test - higher than the university entry requirement of 6.0.

Getting registered doesn’t mean the applicant will automatically get a job.

In some cases overseas-trained nurses have had to work as lower-paid caregivers while they build their skills.

A particular problem facing Indonesian nurses has been the lack of a national registration scheme.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 30 Sept 09)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

HASSAN WIRAJUDA

The doctor of diplomacy keeps his cool Duncan Graham

Very soon, as the new government sets its tone for the next five years, Nur Hassan Wirajuda will get a call from the Presidential Palace outlining his future.

Will he continue as foreign minister, a position he’s held for the past eight years? Or will he be shelved in some Jakarta cubicle composing reports destined for compost, or sentenced to a dysfunctional outpost where the climate is as extreme as the politics?

By all accounts the cautious, slow-talking Dr Hassan has done a good job since he was promoted by former president Megawati Soekarnoputri in 2001 and retained when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took office in 2004.

He’s certainly handled some awkward moments adroitly, like Australia accepting 43 Papuans who successfully claimed refugee status in 2006 a crisis that almost snapped the elastic links between the countries. Then there’s been the Bali bombings, the rise of Jemaah Islamiyah, Australian drug runners on death row and the 2004 tsunami.

The latest problem worrying Australia, and New Zealand in particular, is the classification of halal meat exported to Indonesia. The MUI (Majelis Ulama Indonesia – Indonesian Islamic Scholars’ Council) wants to handle this without government involvement.

“This is a mechanical issue,” Dr Hassan said. “The MUI can set the standards but administration is the government’s role. More time is needed and the deadline has been extended till next year.”

By now lesser men would have developed a nervous twitch every time an anxious aide approached with another crisis newsflash. But the 61-year old has retained his equanimity, and if his enviable head of jet-black hair didn’t come from a bottle it’s a sure sign of his unflappability.

“Internationally Indonesia is held in high regard, the best it has ever been,” he said during an Australasian tour that included the Pacific Islands Forum in Queensland. “Indonesia is the world’s third largest democracy and has never been so free.” His Australian counterpart Stephen Smith agrees. Earlier this year he introduced Dr Hassan by saying:

“Indonesia (has) transformed to a modern, vibrant, tolerant democracy that is now quite rightfully taking its place in the world as a strong voice: a voice that reflects values and virtues and characteristics that we admire so much.”

Whether this glossy global image is due to the foreign minister or his urbane boss, or because Indonesia is rocketing into democracy without bloodshed, and pursuing terrorism with vigor are different questions.

In the arcane world of foreign affairs where acronyms rule (the minister is Menlu – Menteri Departemen Luar Negeri - the department Deplu) there are whispers that Dr Hassan’s time may be up. However he’ll only say that though he’d like to retain the job, every position has to run its course.

Unlike those who think ASEAN is a dead duck, an anti-communist mutual admiration club constructed by former president Soeharto 42 years ago and past its use-by date, Dr Hassan believes the grouping has relevance.

“No other forum exists that is able to do good and maintain the habits of dialogue,” he said. “It has more than symbolic importance. Many issues, such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea have been settled through ASEAN, which would otherwise have had to be handled on a bi-lateral basis.

“ASEAN helps exercise self-restraint, and good order. Others want to join. We are working to bring democracy to Myanmar.”

Does this mean Indonesia now has a role pushing democracy onto its reluctant neighbors, a South-East Asian version of the US?

“No, we take the subtle approach,” he said. “Rather than impose our model of democracy let’s sit down together. We are quite humble. We must do more to embed the roots of democracy in our own country and educate the populace about the benefits.

“For example, in the last election we had 38 parties because the threshold is 2.5 per cent support with many parties frantically searching for candidates. In Germany the threshold is five per cent.

“That doesn’t mean our democracy is immature. There is no conflict or contradiction between democracy and Islam. It is the duty of Muslims to take part in the political process.

“We don’t see democracy in quite the literal way (supremacy of the people) that it’s seen in the West, but more through the traditional concepts of musyawarah and mufakat (consultation and consensus).”

Dr Hassan started his professional life as a lawyer. He was born in Tangerang (best known for housing Jakarta’s international airport) and got his tertiary education in the US where he won a doctorate in international law.

He also went to Oxford University to study diplomacy, a skill he exercises with aplomb, forever wary of being misinterpreted. Like many diplomats he can use many words to say little, useful in a profession where calling a spade by its proper name may result in it digging your own grave.

“Well, you said that, I didn’t,” was his standard reply when invited to endorse contentious statements. When asked if Indonesia was the only true democracy among ASEAN’s ten members he replied: “I don’t say so.” On only one occasion during a one-on-one interview in Wellington, NZ, did he offer an unequivocal and immediate “No!”

This was to the suggestion that the issue of Papuan separatism was Indonesia’s ‘pebble in our shoe’ as the late Dr Ali Alatas, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister under Soeharto, once described East Timor.

Earlier this year Dr Hassan caused surprise by criticising Myanmar’s treatment of its Islamic Rohingya minority when refugees alleging persecution started arriving on the Sumatra coast. This broke the ASEAN tradition of not interfering in other nation’s internal affairs. So in the same spirit why not open Papua’s borders to foreign journalists?

“We’ve got nothing to hide but the people of Papua must be allowed to determine their own future without foreign visitors,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with demonstrations but the people need time to do things without disruption.

“Papua, like other provinces, now gets 70 per cent of royalties from its natural resources. If you want to go to Papua come and see me in Jakarta."

(First published in The Jakarta Post 19 August 2009)

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Catootjie Nalle


CATOOTJIE NALLE

Having a job that’s just chicken feed © Duncan Graham 2009

Here’s some good news for Indonesia’s 263 million chickens: Your diet is likely to improve significantly in the next few years, though longevity will decrease.

And here’s some really foul news for all those Indonesians who like fowl meals: You’ll be paying more to satisfy your taste for chicken thighs.

These are the predictions of animal nutritionist Dr Catootjie Nalle who has spent the last four years determining the foods that will make chickens rapidly plump while staying healthy and happy in their increasingly short lives.

This is no paltry matter: It takes ten kilograms of feed for a scavenging kampong chicken to put on one kilogram of meat. By comparison an intensively raised broiler in New Zealand, where Dr Catootjie has been studying for her doctorate, the ratio is 1.5 to one.

It’s much the same with the hens. The kampong birds lay about 50 eggs a year, one third of the quantity produced by farmed birds, and there’s a chick mortality rate of 50 per cent.

“Of course other factors are involved, such as breed, environment and management,” she said.

“Indonesia is also way behind other Asian countries so the opportunities to make the Indonesian poultry industry more efficient and put extra money into farmers’ pockets are huge.

“When I get back to my job (she’s a lecturer at the Kupang State Polytechnic of Agriculture) I’ll be encouraging farmers to understand the basics of nutrition and start formulating their own feed.”

One way to do this is by getting chicken meat producers, usually smallholders with a limited number of birds, to form cooperatives. Using their combined funds and buying power they could install equipment to mix and pelletise high quality feed.

Dairy farmers in several regions have long had their own cooperatives to boost milk yields through better breeding and feeding, and the introduction of new technology.

The petite Dr Catootjie, 37, admitted that her task is going to be uphill because many farmers lacked the education to comprehend the issues and that some men might be culturally reluctant to take advice from a woman.

They shouldn’t because she will be one of the best qualified nutritionists in the Indonesian poultry feed business, the youngest Ph D and the first woman to gain the qualification at her polytechnic.

She’s also tough. “Why should I say I like chickens?” she asked. “I kill them to check the effectiveness of diets. I’m a cold-blooded butcher! I only studied non-ruminants (pigs and poultry) because I’m too small to handle cattle.”

The road to the top hasn’t been easy for this exuberant high achiever from an ordinary family, originally from the tiny island of Roti. She was brilliant at school, and then at university, joining the polytechnic’s teaching staff before she graduated in animal reproduction.

“Ever since I was a child before I went to school I prayed that I could work with animals and travel. I did that every day,” she said. Her father was a cattle trader and her mother a teacher.

“My grandfather kept pushing me to get higher qualifications and go overseas, but I didn’t know how that could be done. I just didn’t have the money, but I kept praying.”

In 1999 she won a scholarship to study in Australia at Queensland University where she gained her masters degree. She also got pregnant, but her marriage failed when her husband who had converted to Christianity returned to his Muslim roots.

As a single mother with a small son Dr Catootjie thought her career had hit the wire.

Then she won a NZ government scholarship to study for her PhD at Massey University, but first had to build her already impressive English skills to new academic heights before she was allowed to start. Her grant also included a living allowance so she was able to take her son William to NZ.

“I love this country, people here have been so welcoming, much more than in Australia – I feel I really belong,” she said in the laboratory where she’s been analysing, cooking, dissecting, extracting and extruding.

“The facilities are first class. For example I can use a freeze-drier that cost NZ $60 million (Rp 390 billion); we don’t have access to this sort of research equipment in Indonesia.”

Dr Catootjie’s hopes for a more efficient Indonesian poultry industry face some major hurdles. Soy bean processing by-products are the mainstay of chicken feed, but the quality of Indonesian beans is not good.

Soy beans are also needed for human foods, such as the high-protein soybean cake tempe and the soybean curd tofu, both staples in the Indonesian diet.

The price of imports is linked to the world oil price so Indonesian farmers often find high quality beyond their pockets. Some feeds are protein-inhibitors, meaning they have limited nutritional value even though the chickens find them palatable. So the search is on for new raw materials that can be produced locally.

The lean, low-fat kampong chickens that Indonesians prefer although they’re more expensive than broilers, often have to literally scratch for a living by picking through household waste for food.

Birds in the tropics tend to eat little and often, but moving Indonesian poultry farms to more temperate zones in the mountains isn’t practicable because of high transport costs to the lowland city markets on crowded and poorly maintained roads.

In many western countries chickens are sold deep frozen. Indonesians prefer their meat fresh and don’t always have fridges. “In any case power supplies are too erratic for households to keep frozen foods,” Dr Catootjie said.

“I’d like to see Kupang becoming a centre of excellence for the poultry industry with an artificial insemination facility to introduce new genes.

“Before I left for overseas I really didn’t have enough knowledge to teach properly, now I know that I have the skills and research abilities to really teach well.

“After more than four years away from Indonesia I’ll have to make adjustments because there are so few resources. So will my son (now aged nine) who only speaks limited Indonesian.

“I’m concerned that some of my ambitions will get frustrated by the bureaucracy, but we’ll see what happens. I’m an optimist. So far my dreams have come true.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 4 August 2009)

Monday, July 27, 2009

DOWN UNDER REACTION TO JAKARTA BOMBINGS

Kiwi response to Jakarta killings restrained Duncan Graham

When the first news of the Jakarta hotel bombings reached New Zealand the Prime Minister John Key said the outrage was a tragedy for Indonesia.

After the body of businessman Tim David Mackay, the Kiwi victim of the explosions, was returned home it was taken on Thursday to Wellington’s magnificent Old St Paul’s church. The casket was draped with NZ maritime insignia (Mr Mackay was a former captain in the merchant marine) and Indonesia’s Merah-Putih.

Hundreds, including ten Indonesians from the Embassy, attended the service.

Tom Clough, an executive of the Swiss company Holcim Cement where Mr Mackay, 62, was president-director told the mourners: “It’s easy to blame Indonesia … but that is not what Tim would have wanted. He loved Indonesia and its people.”

Tributes to Mr Mackay mentioned his good relationships with Indonesians and the charities he helped establish. His family thanked the Indonesian people for their support. The Indonesian Embassy condemned the ‘cruel and inhumane’ bombing, and offered sympathy to the victims. Diplomats visited the family privately.
The suicide bombing of the two hotels that claimed the lives of nine people and injured more than 50 is no longer page one in NZ. Media comment has been limited and muted.

That’s not the situation in Australia where updates following the police inquiry continue to dominate the news.

Three Australians died in the blasts. The activities and views of Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir have been widely reported, including hate statements directed at Australia and its people.

There have been regular media reminders of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202. The Australian toll was 88; three Kiwis died. Then there was the 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta that killed nine and injured 150.

Other sad, bad histories continue to grate in Australia, including the killing by Indonesian troops of five journalists working for Australian TV at Balibo in East Timor. That was in 1975, but a new film has revived the story. In fact one of the men, camera operator Gary Cunningham, was a Kiwi, but that’s often overlooked.

Understandably the rest of the world tends to bundle Australia and NZ together. Both countries were ‘discovered’ by English navigator James Cook in the 18th century and soon settled by the British.

Today they share a common heritage. Their flags are confusingly almost identical. They have a similar outlook on many things – but not towards Indonesia.

Australia has set up a taskforce to help Indonesia deal with the Jakarta bombings. But NZ Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said his country wasn’t going to be part of the response. He said the reason was because Australia has a closer relationship with Indonesia than NZ.

However two NZ police liaison officers in Jakarta are reportedly helping the Indonesian police and NZ has followed Australia and put out a travel warning against visiting Indonesia.

Australians are acutely conscious of Indonesia and sadly a large number, according to many surveys, still harbor suspicion towards their over-populated northern neighbor. The fearful know that any attack on Australia would have to pass through the Indonesian archipelago, even if it didn’t originate there.

There’s no such paranoia in NZ, where an armed threat to the South Pacific country would first have to seize and occupy 7.7 million square kilometers of Australia, much of it desert.

Having such a huge barrier between NZ and Asia helps most Kiwis take a benign view of Indonesia.

More than 50,000 Indonesian-born people live in Australia, but only 4,000 in NZ. Indonesians in NZ are frequently confused with Filipinos, and at street level there’s widespread ignorance of the nation with the largest number of Muslims in the world.

Bahasa Indonesia is widely taught in Australia, but not in NZ.

Although Kiwis are great overseas travellers they usually overfly South East Asia on their way to Europe. Australians have long seen Bali as their back-yard holiday home, while Kiwis favor the Pacific Islands.

Overall the response to the bombings in NZ has been sober and balanced. There’s been much condemnation of terrorism, but no hatred directed to Indonesia and its people, despite fanatics killing a Kiwi who only wanted to help Indonesians.

(First published in The SundayPost 26 July 2009)

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

MATURE RESPONSE TO JAKARTA BOMBS

Responses to Indonesian bombing mature Duncan Graham

‘Where, after all, is the Muslim outrage at these events, as their ancient, deeply civilized culture of love, art and philosophical reflection is hijacked by paranoiacs, racists, liars, male supremacists, tyrants, fanatics and violence junkies? Why are they not screaming?’

That outburst came from British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. It followed the 2001 World Trade Centre destruction and the 2002 Bali bombing which destroyed the lives of 202 people, including 88 Australians.
His words were appropriate then, but not in 2009 with the Jakarta hotel bombs which killed nine. That’s because the genuine fury and concern that followed the latest blasts came from within Indonesia and across the religious landscape.
The conservative Muslim organisation Muhammadiyah did not qualify its anger. The Indonesian media even reported that cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual leader of the fundamentalist group Jemaah Islamiyah, disapproved of the bombings.
Past reaction tended to follow the ‘wayward lad’ excuse: ‘Well of course this is wrong and shouldn’t happen, but we can understand their anger and after all they are Brother Muslims …’
In 2002 the president was Megawati Soekarnoputri. She took a floppy position fearing firmness might alienate Muslim support. She also rejected US requests to interdict Bashir.
Her vice president Hamzah Haz refused to accept that radical Islam was linked to terrorism until the evidence became overwhelming. At the time Indonesia wanted no part in George Bush’s ‘war on terror’; many believed the JI was a phantom invoked by the CIA, which was why the organization was never proscribed.
But this time president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) pulled no punches, vowing to pursue and prosecute.
Sure, it’s good hairy-chested stuff, but the Indonesian security forces haven’t found the JI hardliner and master bomb-maker Noordin Mohammed Top who was probably behind the Bali and Jakarta bombings. This despite his photo being widely posted in public buildings around the country for the past five years.
He and other fundamentalists yearning for an Islamic republic may not be getting support from the public outside the extremist pesantren (Islamic boarding schools), but plenty have been prepared to turn a blind eye to their activities.
Indonesia is a country with few secrets. There’s an extensive community watch system introduced during the Japanese occupation, and which reaches right into the smallest street. Coupled with people’s natural nosiness means that no one escapes the neighbours’ scrutiny.
Unfortunately there’s little trust in the police, so unusual comings and goings may arouse comment, but are unlikely to get formally reported. Although reform continues since the police force was split from the military after Soeharto lost power, the public still believes the men in khaki are corrupt and untrustworthy, more interested in pocketing traffic fines than investigating crime.
Western culture has long included a respectable print and screen tradition of clever cops solving complex crimes. It is totally absent in Indonesia.
SBY’s instant and unequivocal response does indicate a welcome rejection of past equivocation. That included tolerating outlandish theories to brush away the idea of homegrown Islamic terrorism.
The looniest explanation had a micro nuclear weapon being fired by a US warship into the Bali nightclubs in 2002 to provoke hatred against Muslims.
The world has moved on. A new man with links to Islam and Indonesia is in the White House. The US is pulling out of Iraq. There are still plenty of reasons for disliking Western imperialism, but the easiest excuses have gone.
The JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta has been marketing itself as a safe venue following the 2003 bombing and a major upgrade in security. It has just been tested and failed dreadfully.
Security in Indonesia has always been porous and reports that this year’s bombers got into the hotel despite triggering screening alarms sounds right.
Like most Westerners I can rattle off a list of examples at many venues where security guards (known as satpam) have gone off duty leaving doors open, guards being posted on one entrance but not another, and bored officials waving through people in a hurry without making baggage checks.
Security gets tightened after every bombing so expect to see heavily armed soldiers in the streets. These will vanish as time passes, creating the opportunities for anyone with evil intent. They just need to bide their time.
Satpam are badly paid – few get more than AUD 100 a month – and many are understandably open to bribes. Some embassies reportedly replace their guards after six months in the belief that by then they’re likely to have been corrupted.
Satpam are also employed in the suburbs, closing streets between 11pm and 5 am, but if your house gets burgled, they’re the first people under suspicion.
Travel warnings may help the Australian government avoid litigation should wounded travelers who don’t read, watch or listen to the news claim they should have been told of the risks. However the alerts tend to do more harm than good. They certainly damage neighbourly relations.
Academics, students, businesspeople and others genuinely interested in Indonesia will be denied the opportunity to visit by nervous bosses and restrictive insurance polices.
Bad things and evil people exist everywhere; wise travelers will not go to the obvious targets like the up-market hotels (where you’ll never experience the real Indonesia) and maintain a low profile.
Most Indonesians are tolerant pluralists, genuinely friendly, proud of their country, and keen to meet and help visitors. Proportionally there are probably no more fanatics in Indonesia than Australia and the chance of meeting one ready to do serious harm is rare – there and here.

(First published in On Line Opinion 20 July; a similar version was also published on Scoop (NZ) the same day.)

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

RI ELECTION REDUCES BALKANISATION RISK

Indonesians reject race and religious politics Duncan Graham

Next week the Indonesian presidential election results will be officially announced. Counts so far show the present incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will be back in power for a further five years with a whacking 62 per cent of the popular vote.

His main rival in the three-way tussle was Megawati Soekarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia’s charismatic first president and so-called father of the nation. So far her score is 29 per cent. Jusuf Kalla, the vice president for the past five years, has mustered under 10 per cent despite having the backing of Golkar, the most powerful party in the country.

This is good news for the West that’s long feared the republic would suffer Balkanisation, fragmenting into warring groups fighting over sectarian issues and creating turmoil in South East Asia.

Indonesia is an archipelago nation straddling the Equator, a heady mix of about 300 ethnic groups dominated by the Javanese. It’s the fourth largest nation in the world with about 240 million people.

SBY, as he’s widely known, seems to have been re-elected because he’s stabilised the economy, tackled corruption and combated terrorism in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Up-beat commentators in Indonesia claim his win marks the end of politics based on race, faith and ethnicity as voters in the direct presidential election plumped for secular pragmatism.

Cynics, noting a drop in the number of electors bothering to vote, claimed SBY won not on his merits but because his rivals were long on slogans and short on policies. Either way it seems democracy is taking root

SBY is a US-educated former army general with a PhD in agricultural economics. Despite his military background his first term was marked by indecisiveness, though he was hampered by having to work with a coalition.

Indonesian scholar Professor Jeffrey Winters from Chicago’s Northwestern University said the lack of violence in the transition to democracy was “no small achievement.”

In adjacent Philippines, a country with a far longer democratic record, between 80 and 100 candidates get assassinated every election.

“The number one election issue was poverty and economic performance,” said Winters, in Wellington last week to address the Institute of International Affairs at Victoria University,

“Issues of human rights were not in the forefront of the debate. People are tired of the old politics known as KKN – Korupsi, Kolusi and Nepotisme – no translation required.

“It seems that the power of the generals left over from the Soeharto period has peaked.”

Indonesia only returned to democracy in the past decade after 32 years of military rule under General Soeharto.

Winters said the election campaign was lacklustre and the electorate apathetic with up to 30 per cent no longer participating in the political process.

Some tried to play the religious card claiming the wives of SBY and his running mate, Australian-trained economist Boediono, were not proper Muslims because they don’t wear headscarves.

Smear campaigns were run against ‘neo-liberals’. “Few defined the term though it generally meant being too reliant on foreign investments, not being sufficiently nationalistic and getting a bad shake internationally,” Winters said

Voters rejected candidates running on religious issues. However the rapidly expanding PKS (Prosperous Justice Party), which won almost nine per cent of the parliamentary vote on an anti-corruption, more piety ticket, is alleged to have another agenda.

The PKS has been linked to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the fundamentalist Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia, and is alleged to be working in a sophisticated way to slowly impose Islamic Sharia law on Indonesia. The party’s development is concerning moderate Muslims and the ten per cent of the population registered as followers of other faiths, mainly Christian.

As in the US, presidents are restricted to two terms. The next test for Indonesian democracy will come when SBY has to quit politics in 2014. He’ll then be 65.

“There’s already talk in Jakarta that he might want to hold onto power by trying to amend the constitution or getting his wife Ani to stand for office,” said Winters.

“The problems of succession remain.”

(First published in Scoop 15 July)

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