Indonesia & East Timor News Updates - March 24, 2017

* Central Java activists hold joint prayer for late Kendeng protester
* Supreme Court ruling on construction of Kendeng cement factory must be obeyed
* Jokowi's short meeting with Kendeng farmers ends in tears
* PKS going for broke for Anies and Sandiaga
* State lender inks deal with Workers Security Agency for mortgage facilities
* Private sector expected to contribute 27% of road construction
* Tough times continue for people of East Timor
* Timor Leste constitution drafter says election shows progress as Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres set to become president


Central Java activists hold joint prayer for late Kendeng protester

Jakarta Post - March 23, 2017

Jakarta -- Peace activists from Semarang, Central Java, held on Thursday a joint prayer and a candlelight vigil to remember Patmi, 48, a farmer from Kendeng, Rembang, who passed away on Tuesday.

Patmi died of a heart attack after participating in a rally in front of the State Palace, Jakarta, to protest the construction of state cement maker Semen Indonesia's factory in the regency.

The joint prayer was conducted in front of the Central Java governor's office on Jl. Pahlawan, Semarang.

Activist Setyawan Budi, who coordinated the event, said the joint prayer was held as a reflection of the struggle by Patmi. Interfaith leaders also participated in the event.

"We planned around 100 people to participate in the event. But we have prepared 150 candles for this joint prayer," Setiawan said as quoted by prior to the event.

"The joint prayer will be held across religions. It is hoped God will give Ibu Patmi a good place beside Him," he added.

The prayer event was initially to be held in the Tugu Muda area, but because a permit would have been required, the organizer moved the event to outside the governor's office.

"Ibu Patmi was a hero. She is the Kartini of this era," said Setyawan, referring to a female national hero.

Patmi, a resident of Larangan village in Tambakromo district, Pati regency, was a female farmer who dared to speak out against any development activities that would be harmful to the environment and its ecosystem. She said nature must be protected against damage for future generations. (rdi/ebf)



Supreme Court ruling on construction of Kendeng cement factory must be obeyed

Jakarta Post - March 24, 2017

Jakarta -- A Supreme Court ruling on the construction of a cement factory in the Kendeng Mountain area in Rembang, Central Java, must be respected by all relevant parties as it is valid and legally binding, says a People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) deputy speaker.

"I think in resolving the ongoing polemics we must look at all regulations. The court has granted a lawsuit filed by Kendeng farmers, ordering a halt to the cement factory's construction. A review should be carried out to assess whether the Central Java governor's permit, which revives the construction project, contradicts the court ruling," MPR deputy speaker Mahyudin said as quoted by Antara on Thursday.

He was referring to a permit issued recently by Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo that allowed state cement maker Semen Indonesia to continue the development of its cement factory in Rembang.

Mahyudin said the problem was that the Central Java governor had re-issued the Rembang cement factory construction permit despite a court decision that ruled in favor of the Kendeng farmers.

"I don't want to take sides with any party but I want investment in Indonesia to run well and for people to not suffer losses."

Akmal Pasluddin, a member of House of Representatives Commission IV, which oversees agriculture, food, forestry, plantations and fisheries and maritime affairs, said separately that commission leaders would summon Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman to explain and take responsibility for the death of Patmi, 48, a Kendeng farmer who staged a rally in front of the State Palace.

"Ibu Patmi is our hero. She has persistently struggled to conserve the environment in her area," said Akmal. (rdi/ebf)



Jokowi's short meeting with Kendeng farmers ends in tears

Jakarta Post - March 23, 2017

Jakarta -- Gunarti, a farmer from Kendeng in Rembang, Central Java, who had participated in a rally since March 13 to protest the construction of a cement factory in the mountainous area, could not hide her disappointment upon hearing President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's response to aspirations they conveyed during their meeting at the State Palace on Wednesday.

"The President told me that it was not him who had the authority to issue a license [for the construction of the cement factory] but the governor," Gunarti told The Jakarta Post, referring to Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo.

"He also told me not to report everything to him and instead asked me whether or not I had met with the governor," she added.

Gunarti and her brother, Gunarso, had a chance to meet Jokowi as she and several other people with the Indigenous People's Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) were invited to meet the President at the palace on Wednesday.

Gunarti said she had expected to use the rare opportunity to greet Jokowi and tell him of her disappointment with Ganjar's decision to reissue a license his administration had previously issued for state cement-maker Semen Indonesia to build a factory in Rembang.

Jokowi's response to her complaint was a shock, she said. "We have met our governor many times, but nothing has changed. That's why we have been holding a rally in Jakarta for days. We hoped that the President, who holds the highest authority in this country, could make a positive difference," Gunarti said, crying. (hol/ebf)



PKS going for broke for Anies and Sandiaga

Jakarta Globe - March 24, 2017

Jakarta -- Jazuli Juwaini, the chairman of the Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS, said on Thursday (23/03) that every member of the PKS faction at the House of Representatives has been tasked to ensure victory for Jakarta gubernatorial candidate Anies Baswedan and his running mate Sandiaga Uno in the run-off election on April 19.

PKS is one of Anies and Sandiaga's backers along with the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party. "There is no other option for us but winning," Jazuli said after a meeting with PKS members on Thursday.

The House of Representatives' Commission I member said the faction's chairman had declared that every member should collect a minimum of Rp 5 million ($375) in donation to be spent on Anies and Sandiaga's campaign.

"We have 40 members in the House faction and we've divided them up to work in the five election areas in Jakarta," Jazuli said. "We will be all out working until April 19," Jazuli said.



State lender inks deal with Workers Security Agency for mortgage facilities

Jakarta Post - March 24, 2017

Prima Wirayani, Jakarta -- State-owned lender Bank Tabungan Negara (BTN) and the Workers Security Agency (BPJS Ketenagakerjaan) sealed an agreement on Thursday on mortgage financing provision for the latter's members.

"As part of our synergy, we will provide facilities for down-payments, housing and renovation financing for BPJS Ketenagakerjaan members," BTN president director Maryono said during the signing ceremony in Jakarta, according to the lender's statement.

The publicly listed bank agreed to disburse mortgages for the agency's members for a maximum amount of Rp 500 million (US$37,529) each and a maximum tenure of 20 years for houses and 15 years for apartment units.

The offered interest rate is also competitive at around 7.75 percent, compared to 9 percent charged for commercial mortgages, Maryono said. He expressed optimism that the partnership would help BTN achieve its mortgage target this year.

BTN, which specializes in mortgage lending, expects to disburse subsidized mortgages for between 180,000 and 200,000 housing units and non-subsidized mortgages for 80,000 units. The lender provided 159,000 and 49,965 subsidized and non-subsidized mortgages, respectively, last year.

"We are optimistic that our target of 21 percent loan growth this year will be achieved with our various mortgage products," Maryono said. (bbn)



Private sector expected to contribute 27% of road construction

Jakarta Post - March 24, 2017

Jakarta -- The government hopes private companies develop 27 percent of new roads nationwide, Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimoeljono has said.

Under the Indonesia Road Development Plan 2015 to 2019, the government plans to develop 2,650 kilometers of toll roads. Some 1,000 km of the roads have been developed. In addition to that, the government also plans to expand the capacity of 3,073 km of existing roads.

The total cost of the projects is Rp 733 trillion (US$34.99 billion). The central government can only develop 37 percent of the roads, while 27 percent is expected to be developed by local governments, and another 27 percent by private companies, with the remaining projects developed by state-owned enterprises.

"We have issued regulations to improve the investment climate, including regulations on government support, government guarantees, tax reduction and land acquisition," Basuki said as reported by after opening the Road Engineering Association of Asia and Australasia (REAAA) in Jakarta from March 22 to 24.

He said apart from discussing the latest technology in road development, the conference, attended by some 1,000 participants, including those from Japan, the Philippines and Australia, was expected to attract more private companies to the development of the country's infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Road Developers Association (HPJI) chairman Hadiyanto W. said the government needed support from private companies to develop infrastructure, including roads. "The 15th REAAA is attended by many potential investors," he added. (bbn)



Tough times continue for people of East Timor

WA Today - March 24, 2017

Lindsay Murdoch, Dili -- When invading Indonesian troops parachuted into Dili in 1975 Filomena Gomes fled into East Timor's cloud-shrouded mountains and for four years scrounged food and cooked for guerrilla fighters.

She remembers a tall, handsome fighter by the name of Xanana. "He liked to eat a soup made from corn, pumpkin and papaya leaves," she says of the man who became the hero of East Timor's independence, and remains the most powerful figure in Asia's youngest democracy.

But like many other Timorese survivors of 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation and a violent withdrawal of Jakarta's troops after an independence vote in 1999, 57-year-old Gomes says her family's life has barely improved.

"We have got little. Life is very hard for us," Gomes says, as her husband chops wood on a hillside beside a road snaking into Dili, where she has lived since Indonesian troops arrested her four decades ago, and brought her down from the mountains. Two of her sons and a daughter have died.

Like scores of others living in deplorable slums encircling Dili, Gomes' family has no running water or sanitation and no money to buy medicines for her two daughters in their 20s and early 30s, or their children, when they become sick.

Gomes and her husband collect and sell wood and try to grow corn but the rains did not come and the latest crop failed. "We have written a letter and tried to see Xanana [Gusmao], to tell him about us, but we have not heard anything," she says.

From Gomes' shack perched on the hill she can gaze to Dili, the town where she was born during an era of largely neglected Portuguese rule, which has been transformed since 1999 when pro-Indonesian militia and Indonesian security forces burnt, looted and rampaged, turning it into a wasteland.

In 1999, I was in East Timor covering the tumultuous events. "We drive in silence through mass destruction, past street after street of smouldering ruin," I wrote with tears in my eyes on September 10, 1999, after I had scrambled onto a RAAF Hercules aircraft, the last evacuation flight from Dili.

Pot-holed tracks have become sealed roads. Instead of frequent blackouts there is power 24-hours a day. Health officials have reduced malaria, which they aim to eliminate by 2020.

There is a shopping mall with an elevator, cinema, casino and even a Burger King's and Gloria Jean's, selling Timorese coffee.

The rustic waterfront Hotel Turismo, where journalists, diplomats and spies once huddled in the beer garden, speaking in whispers about Indonesia's occupation, has been rebuilt into a posh hotel with waiters wearing vests.

There are cavernous Chinese-built government offices and statues of heroes of East Timor's struggle. A Timorese-Chinese consortium is planning two 17-storey office towers that include a restaurant that can sit 400 people.

Outside Dili, former president Xanana and other leaders -- mostly former resistance fighters -- are pushing ahead with multibillion-dollar projects, including a $US1.4 billion ($1.8 billion) down payment on an industrial complex on the southern remote coast designed to process gas from the $40 billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the Timor Sea.

There are also plans for development of a special economic and free trade zone in the tiny former Portuguese enclave of Oecusse that includes highways, an international standard airport, marina, hospital, hotels, a water park and golf course.

Critics say the projects involve significant economic and political risks at a critical point in the resource-rich nation's history.

Fifteen years after gaining independence, some observers and opposition politicians say it is time for East Timor to take stock and re-access how to empower ordinary Timorese to participate in nation building and tackle high unemployment, widespread preventable diseases and malnutrition, land rights issues, illiteracy, corruption and cronyism.

They argue optimism that utopian projects will in the short term reduce poverty and improve the lives of ordinary Timorese is unfounded.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has since 2008 ranked East Timor as the most democratic nation in south-east Asia.

But opposition politicians say Xanana and his ruling executive from a coalition comprising his National Congress for Timorese Construction (CNRT) and Fretilin, the party that led East Timor's independence struggle, now have unfettered powers.

Sweeping authority and generous funding have been given to Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri to turn Oecusse, which is surrounded by Indonesia, into a business and tourist hub,

This elite group appears likely to hold on to power at general elections in July, after their candidate Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, a former resistance commander, decisively won presidential elections last Monday, intensifying concerns East Timor has become a dominant one-party state without a viable opposition.

Around 78 per cent of the $US1.38 billion state budget for 2017 will come from oil and gas revenues and the country has failed to diversify to sustainable manufacturing and agriculture.

The country's only producing gas field, which has provided about $US20 billion in revenue over the past 10 years, is drying up and output is expected to stop between 2020 and 2022.

Greater Sunrise has been shelved amid a bitter stand-off with Australia over sea borders, although there is renewed hope among East Timor's leaders that the project will be resurrected this year by a consortium led by Woodside.

Seventy-year-old Xanana is insisting that gas from Greater Sunrise be piped to the southern coast, a gamble that could bring in $US25 billion over 25 years or send the country broke.

To be sure, without revenues from Greater Sunrise the country's multibillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund will dwindle -- or even be depleted within a decade -- if spending patterns and plans progress, analysts say.

Woodside and its partners want the gas extracted from a floating platform. Soon a floating platform that is the world's biggest vessel and six times the weight of the largest aircraft carrier will sail past East Timor on its maiden voyage from South Korea to Shell's Prelude field off the Western Australia coast.

Charles Scheiner from the Dili-based think-tank Lao Hamutuk believes the southern coast developments will not make back the money they will cost.

"And it will be a lot more -- perhaps as much as $US10-$20 billion if Timor-Leste [East Timor] pays for all the infrastructure, including pipeline, LNG plant and refinery," he says.

"Timor-Leste needs to invest its finite resources more wisely -- in education, health care and local infrastructure which will benefit local citizens rather than foreign construction companies."

Lao Hamutuk has also questioned whether the Oecusse projects should be funded from public funds and how they will benefit the enclave's 70,000 population, some of whom face displacement.

Jose Ramos Horta, a former president and prime minister and still an influential figure in Dili, rejects what he calls doomsday predictions that his country is heading towards becoming a failed state or that the sovereign fund will dry up, and backs Xanana's vision to prioritise the building of infrastructure.

But in an election year, the mega-projects have become a key issue. More than 40 per cent of Timorese live below the poverty line, 30 per cent of adults cannot read and 70 per cent live in rural areas with limited health services.

American Dan Murphy, the head doctor at Dili's Bairo Pite Clinic, says there have been improvements to the health of Timorese since he arrived in East Timor in 1998.

"But to be honest, the improvements have been so slow as to be almost not noticeable," says the 73-year-old doctor, who is regarded as a saint-like figure by his patients.

"Severe malnutrition remains such a huge problem among children that even if many of them survive, they may not even be able to have a normal life," he says.

"Higher population densities mean that diseases spread pretty much as they want to and women are still dying here in child-birth." Murphy says at least once a week his clinic saves a mother's life.

Mario Carrascalao, a 79-year-old former Indonesian-era governor and former deputy prime minister, believes billions of dollars should not be allocated for mega-projects before Timorese have basic necessities like water, sanitation and improved health care and education.

"For me, the priority should be the small people. Then when you get to a certain level, you can go the bigger projects," he says.

Out-going president Jose Maria Vasconcelos, known as Taur Matan Ruak, who is aligned with the recently formed People's Liberation Party, has repeatedly spoken out against corruption, last year comparing Xanana and Alkatiri to the former Indonesian dictator Suharto, saying there is "widespread discontent" among the public that their families are benefiting from lucrative government contracts.

He said the men, whose families have extensive business interests in the country, had divided power among themselves while crushing any dissent. The government denies the claims.

Some businesspeople complain they face seemingly endless bureaucratic hurdles, while other companies win dubious but lucrative contacts.

Estanislau da Silva, the minister for agriculture, fisheries and co-ordinating minister for economic affairs, has ordered an investigation into how a fleet of 15 Chinese vessels was granted a 12-month lease to fish in sovereign waters for a modest fee of just $US312,450.

The company Pingtan Marine Enterprises had previously boasted its vessels can each generate annual revenue of $US3 million.

Australian businessman Ed Turner says he has left the country after 10 years trying to build its only national airline, Air Timor.

The airline quit the once-lucrative Dili to Bali route in January after East Timor authorities had handed operating licences to Indonesian airline Sriwijaya and its budget subsidiary NAM Airlines.

Fares collapsed on the route and Air Timor could not compete. The airline has sacked more than 20 Timorese workers and now only flies the Dili to Singapore route twice a week.

"It's a third world country to do business in," says Turner who has sold his shares in Air Timor but retains an interest through loans.

"Many people will tell you to get officials on side you have to give them girls and money," he says. "If you don't do that you won't succeed... even people who do that often don't succeed anyway."

East Timor's former finance minister Emilia Pires, who is also an Australian citizen, was allowed to leave the country before a court last year sentenced her to seven years jail on corruption charges, which she is trying to fight through an appeal to a Portuguese court.

In January Xanana criticised the verdict and accused some court officials of corruption. Former justice minister Lucia Lobato was also sentenced to five years jail in 2012 on corruption charges.

Ramos Horta says while he makes no judgment about the guilt of the two former ministers he believes they should have received suspended sentences.

The Nobel laureate says there is corruption but insists claims it is rampant at the highest levels of government are exaggerated because of the way the system is set up.

Xanana says East Timor is not yet ready for a transition to a younger generation of leaders in the country where almost two thirds of the population is under 30 years old. But Ramos Horta is helping the government set up an institute to train future leaders.

On September 7, 1999, at the height of violence in Dili, a baby was born on a piece of cardboard next to where I was sleeping in the besieged United Nations compound in Dili.

His mother Joanna Remejio gave him the middle name of Unamet, the acronym for the United Nations mission that made it possible for 439,000 Timorese to vote for their freedom.

I find now 17-year-old Pedro Unamet Remejio painting portraits in his mother's house in a Dili suburb, his passion.

"I am not worried about the future of my country... I plan to study to become an engineer and will find a job when I leave school, so I can help my family," he says.



Timor Leste constitution drafter says election shows progress as Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres set to become president

ABC Radio Australia - March 24, 2017

A Timorese lawyer who helped draft Timor Leste's constitution says the way this week's presidential election ran demonstrates the country is growing as a nation.

It was the first election conducted by the Timorese without any direct assistance from the international community.

Former guerilla fighter Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres, from the political party Fretelin, will be Timor Leste's next president, according to preliminary results.

Mr Guterres secured more than 57 per cent of the vote, while his main rival, Antonio da Conceicao, received a 32 per cent share. A candidate needs more than 50 per cent to win in one round.

Aderito Soares, a former member of the Constituent Assembly, said the people of Timor Leste should be proud of their progress. "I think the Timorese really deserve a big congratulations for their maturity," he told the ABC's Pacific Beat.

"I think they showed a maturity to exercise their political rights by casting their votes on the 20th and it went very peacefully... I'm very happy to see that."

The election commission is expected to confirm the results, which will be verified by a court.

The former Portuguese colony was invaded by neighbouring Indonesia in 1975. A 24-year, often-violent, resistance movement achieved Timor Leste's independence in 2002 and many of its key figures still feature prominently in the running of the country.

Mr Soares, who is also the interim president of the New People's Liberation Party which backed Mr Conceicao, said it was exciting to see new political forces emerging in Timor Leste.

"Antonio did very well and it shows that there is a bit of a change in the mind of voters as well," he said.

"I think Antonio is a new generation from small political parties... I think in the previous election their Democratic Party only got 10 per cent, something like that, so I think it's a big jump."

The main concern among Timor Leste's 1.2 million people has been a failure to spread wealth from oil and gas revenues, with unemployment running at about 60 per cent.

Analysts said the challenge for any incoming government would be to wean the country away from reliance on oil money and diversify its sources of income into agriculture and manufacturing.

The energy sector accounted for about 60 per cent of GDP in 2014 and more than 90 per cent of government revenue. (ABC/Reuters)



Asia Pacific Solidarity Network (APSN)