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Indonesia News Digest 42 – November 9-15, 2007

News & issues

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 News & issues

Indonesia ratifies Aussie security pact

Australian Associated Press - November 14, 2007

Indonesia's parliament has agreed to ratify a key security treaty with Australia, a year after both nations signed the historic pact.

The so-called Lombok Treaty – covering 10 areas including cooperation on defence, law enforcement, counter terrorism, maritime security, aviation safety, intelligence, energy, and emergency aid – is the first formal security agreement since Indonesia tore up the previous treaty during the 1999 East Timor crisis.

It was passed by Indonesia's parliamentary Commission One, which handles security and foreign affairs matters, early on Wednesday (AEDT) with support of 9 of 10 political factions.

The other faction was absent from the parliamentary session. A debate of more than eight hours preceded the vote.

"It's a new historical pillar in building a stronger relationship framework for these two neighbouring countries," Indonesia's Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told Antara.

The signing of the treaty a year ago was a key step in thawing relations between the two nations, after Indonesia's ambassador to Australia was recalled amid a row in 2006 when Australia granted protection to 43 Papuan asylum seekers.

In the treaty, both countries pledge not to support "in any manner" any activities which threaten the "stability, sovereignty or territorial activity" of the other, including separatist groups operating in their own territories.

Head of Commission One, Theo L Sambuaga, said the agreement was a base for wider cooperation "with the principle of mutual benefit, respect and not interfering in each others affairs".

Commission One MP Andreas H Pareira said the vote marked the "first stage" of the ratification process "because technically it will be brought to the plenary meeting to make it official".

"All factions in the commission have agreed to accept the agreement," Pareira told AAP. "From 10 factions, nine agreed and one didn't attend but in their earlier opinion they supported the agreement."

He said there was some disagreement over definitions in the treaty, with some alterations made to the definition of security within the pact.

"It's nothing really difficult... it's better to have a definite and clear definitions, like we want this security cooperation not to be a military pact or lead to a military pact," Pareira said.

"That has been agreed by the government and the parliament." He said the treaty would become official by December 7.

Academics urge action to save endangered local languages

Jakarta Post - November 15, 2007

Oyos Saroso H.N., Bandar Lampung – Hundreds of the country's 746 local languages will disappear forever unless the central and local governments work together to preserve them, a symposium heard.

This warning was heard at the two-day Congress of Local Languages in Western Indonesia, held from Nov. 12-13 and attended by some 150 participants from across the country.

Head of the Lampung Language Office, Agus Sri Danardana, said unless serious efforts were taken to preserve local languages, some 370 of 746 local languages across the country might soon vanish.

"Several local languages have started to vanish. They are threaten by rapid changes within the community in this global era," Danardana said.

The central and local governments, he said, must take real action, involving all stakeholders, including customary institutions and social organizations.

Congress participants said among the actions that needed to be taken was the formulation of standard languages for each region and researching various aspects of local languages and literature.

Efforts should also be made to document local languages and literature to help people appreciate and improve their skills in local languages.

The congress said support was needed for a draft bill to help protect, preserve and develop local languages.

It also underlined the need to empower institutions, customary institutions and local media to help preserve local languages.

Congress participants – comprising language experts, cultural observers and teachers of local languages – also urged provinces to issue ordinances to support local languages.

A linguist at the University of Indonesia, Multamia Lauder, attributed the declining popularity of local languages to the use of the national language as the sole medium of instruction in schools.

"In this matter, inter-generation transmission is one of the key factors for language existence.

"For us in Indonesia, schools should not only develop Bahasa Indonesia, but it should go together with regional and foreign language lessons," said Lauder.

He also said the lack of local language speakers and their negative attitude toward their own languages was speeding up the disappearance of these languages.

"In eastern Indonesia where there are fewer people than in western Indonesia, the number of local languages is higher, but most of them are at risk of vanishing," said Lauder.

Across the country, the number of local language speakers varies.

Javanese has the most speakers, with around 75 million. The Enggano language in Sumatra has 1,000 speakers, Punan Merah in Kalimantan has 137 speakers, Dusner in Papua has six speakers and Hukumina in Maluku has just one known speaker.

House slams ambassador candidates

Jakarta Post - November 14, 2007

Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta – The House commission overseeing foreign affairs criticized a list of ambassador candidates on Tuesday, accusing the President of turning foreign postings into "presents" for former aides.

Members of House of Representatives Commission I hinted they might be at odds with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono over several names on the list because of their track records and perceived competence.

The commission's deputy chairman, Yusron Ihza Mahendra, confirmed members had received the list of 13 ambassador candidates from the President. Yusron said "fit and proper tests" were scheduled for Nov. 26 and 27 to assess the qualifications of the candidates.

He declined to provide the names of the candidates, but several legislators questioned the President's decision to nominate former aides for important ambassadorial posts.

They said they saw no reason for the President to nominate former minister of state enterprises Sugiharto for a posting in London, former attorney general Lt. Gen. (Ret) Andi Ghalib for New Delhi and former National Police chief Gen. (ret.) Da'i Bachtiar for a posting in Kuala Lumpur.

"The President has his own prerogative to appoint new ambassadors, but we also have our constitutional right not to approve several names on the list and to assess whether they are qualified for certain countries or not," said Yusron.

He particularly questioned the nomination of former justice and human rights minister Hamid Awaluddin and Sugiharto, saying they did not have the track records for such foreign assignments. "The ambassadorial jobs should not be given as presents to the two former ministers because it could damage Indonesia's image overseas."

Syarief Hasan of the Democratic Party and Yuddy Chrisnandi of the Golkar Party said they would question the candidates to determine if they were qualified.

Yuddy accused the President of prioritizing loyalty over competence in nominating candidates for several strategic overseas postings.

He said Yudhoyono should appoint qualified diplomats to Britain, India and Malaysia because of their strategic importance and international roles.

"It is quite strange that the President wants to appoint Sugiharto to Britain to replace highly qualified ambassadors such as Juwono Sudarsono and Marty Natalegawa.

"India, the world's largest democratic country, with a booming economy and high technology, is in need of an Indonesian ambassador more qualified than Andi Ghalib," he said.

Syarief said Indonesia should assign an ambassador to Kuala Lumpur who was able to improve Indonesia's image in the neighboring country.

"The envoy must have the diplomatic skills to handle the interests of some two million Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia," he said.

 Demos, actions, protests...

Urban poor accuse governor of lying, failing to keep promises

Detik.com - November 12, 2007

Ramadhian Fadillah, Jakarta – During protest actions, demonstrators usually replace the names of government officials they are protesting against with something bad. But this time it was different, the name of Jakarta governor Fauzi Bowo was instead embellished with the addition of last name of the handsome actor Ari Wibowo.

"Fauzi Wibowo is a liar! Fauzi Wibowo, make good your promises!", the speaker shouted repeatedly in a shrill tone, greeted with cheers and shouts from hundreds of people from the Urban Poor Union (SRMK).

Who knows whether saying Fauzi Wibowo was just a slip of the tongue, but that's what happened during a demonstration in front of the Jakarta city hall on Jl. Medan Merdeka Selatan in Central Jakarta on Monday November 12.

The demonstrators were calling on Bowo – who is better known as 'Foke' – to end the eviction of poor residents. They were also protesting against Foke for not keeping his promise during his election campaign that declared a 'Jakarta for All'. The reality is however, that Jakarta is only for those that are well off, while the poor are endlessly evicted and their homes demolished.

Most of the demonstrators were residents of the Gili Sampeng village which lies on the Sekretaris River flood-plain in the Kebun Jeruk administrative district of West Jakarta. Actually, although they are aware that the land they are occupying is the property of the Jakarta provincial government, they have continued to demand decent housing as compensation for their homes that were demolished on Tuesday November 13.

"Yes, certainly it is government owned land. But where else are we going to live? What we are asking for is a decent place to live by way of compensation", said one of the residents, Nova (24).

As of 2pm local time the protest action was still continuing. The majority of the participants were housewives that had brought their children. (mly/sss)

[Translated by James Balowski.]


Justices ask government to weigh in on Exxon human rights case

Associated Press - November 13, 2007

Christopher S. Rugaber, Washington – The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Bush administration for its view on a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp. that alleges human rights abuses were committed at its natural gas facility in Indonesia.

The justices have not yet decided whether to take the case, but instead asked the US Solicitor General – the government's lawyer – to offer its opinion on whether the court should rule in the dispute.

The case has implications for other multinational corporations because Exxon Mobil is seeking to make it easier for companies to fight suits involving alleged abuses overseas.

The lawsuit was initiated in 2001 by a human rights group, International Rights Advocates, on behalf of 11 Indonesian villagers in the Aceh province, alleging that members of the Indonesian military committed rampant human rights abuses while under Exxon's employ to guard a natural gas facility.

The Indonesian troops allegedly committed "murder, torture, sexual assault, battery, false imprisonment" and other abuses and used Exxon's facilities to do so, the human rights group said in court papers.

Lawyers for Exxon argued in a lower federal court that the case should be dismissed because it involves issues of international relations that should be left to the executive branch.

But the US District Court for the District of Columbia allowed parts of the suit to proceed, and an appeals court refused to consider Exxon's appeal.

The Justice Department's solicitor general, the administration's lawyer, can recommend that the court accept or reject the company's appeal. The Solicitor General's opinion usually includes input from agencies with expertise relevant to the case.

The State Department expressed concern in 2002 that the litigation could harm US foreign policy and security interests by making it harder to work with the Indonesian government on issues such as terrorism.

But Agnieszka M. Fryszman, lead attorney for the Indonesian villagers, said that the department hasn't expressed such concerns since the district court judge limited the scope of the lawsuit in 2005.

Exxon urged the justices to take the case due to a "recent surge of litigation" alleging wrongdoing by foreign governments and multinational corporations.

The company cited lawsuits against Chevron Corp. for abuses committed by Nigeria's military and against Yahoo Inc. for its alleged complicity in human rights abuses by China's government.

Due to fears for their safety, the Acehnese plaintiffs in the suit against Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil are all named as John or Jane Does.

In a separate case involving Exxon Mobil, the court agreed last month to decide whether the company should pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages in connection with the huge 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The human rights case is Exxon Mobil Corp. v. John Doe, 07-81. Justice Samuel Alito recused himself from the decision. While he did not specify a reason, Alito's 2006 financial disclsoure form shows that he owned Exxon Mobil stock.

 West Papua

Human Rights Commission to reopen Papuan disappearance case

Kompas - November 10, 2007

The National Human Rights Commission is planning to re-open the case of the disappearance of Aristoteles Masoka, the chauffeur of Theys Hiyo Eluay, the chairman of the Papuan Presidium Council, even though case of Theys himself has been closed.

Ifdhal Kasim, the chairman of Komnas HAM, told the press that they would be reviewing the documents of the Theys case and the trial that was held in this connection.

"A disappearance is a crime. The Commission has received a complaint from the family of Aristoteles. Moreover, Aristoteles was a key witness of the mysterious killing of the Papuan leader," said Ifdhal.

He said the Commission regards it as its responsible to investigate this disappearance.

In Jayapura, the father of Aristoteles, Yonas Masoka, called for his son be returned to the family, if he is still alive. "If he is dead, then we need to know where he was buried. We would then be able to collect his remains and give him a proper burial. The security forces were responsible for the kidnap and murder of Theys, which means that the state is indirectly responsible for the whereabouts of our son."

He also said that his son's disappearance had never been handled by the courts. "The murder of Theys was dealt with in a court of law but the case of our son has never been dealt with," he said.

 Human rights/law

Trials reveal irregularities at Garuda

Jakarta Post - November 14, 2007

Jakarta – Court hearings on Tuesday around the murder of human rights activist Munir have uncovered irregularities surrounding the deployment of off-duty pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto as an aviation security investigator.

Testifying in the trial of former Garuda Indonesia chief Indra Setiawan on charges of conspiracy for premeditated murder at the Central Jakarta District Court, Pollycarpus repeated he was "personally intrigued about going to Singapore".

"I felt compelled to volunteer for the aviation security investigation going on in Singapore after a briefing with Ramelgia Anwar," Pollycarpus told the court.

He was listed as an extra crew member on the same flight with Munir on the day of the activist's death, September 6, 2004. His listing was on the basis of a note of transfer issued by Rohainil Aini, who was recently charged with conspiracy for premeditated murder.

Rohainil signed the letter of transfer on behalf of Chief Pilot Karmel Sembiring, without confirming it with the captain or the deputy, adding to the many "common practices" being reported by the witnesses.

Pollycarpus said, "The purpose of my flight to Singapore was to meet with an official to gather information and documents needed to investigate (an) earlier (case)".

In a previous court hearing during Indra's trial, Ramelgia told the court Garuda's Singapore management had informed him no such a meeting had taken place.

Indra said before leaving on an assignment to another country, a pilot was required to have a letter signed by the president director and managers.

The letter, he said, was illicitly issued and signed by Ramelgia Anwar after Pollycarpus returned, in an attempt to make the trip appear authorized. "Pollycarpus was on a personal trip, using facilities provided by the office," Indra said.

He also said he fired Ramelgia from his job as the vice president of a corporate security unit after Ramelgia issued the letter for Polycarpus.

In the first session of Rohainil's trial, held on the same day and at the same court, Indra said he appointed Pollycarpus to assist in Garuda's corporate security unit after Pollycarpus handed him a letter from the State Intelligence Agency at Sahid Hotel in July 2004.

Indra said the letter advised Garuda Indonesia to "assign Pollycarpus as part of the corporation security unit in order to improve the company's safety".

Pollycarpus, however, denied any meetings or conversations with Indra prior to his trip to Singapore.

Recently, during a review hearing on the Supreme Court's acquittal of Pollycarpus of charges relating to the Munir case, prosecutors introduced new evidence in the form of a recorded telephone conversation between Pollycarpus and Indra, in which the name of the chief justice was mentioned.

Before the first session ended, Judge Makasau said the court planned to hear the same evidence in the following trial for Rohainil Aini next Wednesday. (lva)

'Essential to deal comprehensively with the Semanggi case'

Cenderawasih Pos - November 13, 2007

Jakarta – Today is the ninth anniversary of the Semanggi I case when 17 people died, including six students. Unfortunately, the investigation into this tragedy which was triggered by repression on the part of the state apparatus against a demonstration held to reject the 1998 Special Session of the MPR (People's Consultative Assembly), is bogged down in the DPR (Parliament), despite the fact that Komnas HAM, the National Human Rights Commission, has declared that this was a gross violation of human rights.

The delay in investigating this tragedy which occurred at the start of the new political era in Indonesia has angered Kontras, the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence. "It is essential to deal comprehensively with the Semanggi case," said Haris Azhar, head of the Division to Counter Impunity of Kontras, speaking on the anniversary of the tragedy. in Jakarta yesterday.

He said that this was not only because it would uphold the right of citizens to enforcement of the law but also because it conformed with the need to correct the system, structure and actions that led to this act of violence against civil society.

Besides Semanggi I, Kontras also urged that the Semanggi II case (24-28 September 1999) should be solved, as well as the Trisakti Incident on 12 May 1998, when four students were killed.

Earlier this year, on 6 March, a plenary session of the Consultative Meeting of the DPR (Parliament) turned down a recommendation by a special committee (pansus) set up by Commission III to investigate these human rights violations. While four fractions supported the motion, six voted against and called for the case to be handed back to Commission III.

"This politicisation by the DPR is a clear sign of vested interests. Members of the DPR do not want to solve these humanitarian issues in accordance with the rule of law," said Haris.

Relatives of the victims plan to place wreaths in front of Atma Jaya University, Semanggi today, and tomorrow they will visit the grave of Sigid Pressetyo. Prayers were also said yesterday by Sumarsih, the parent of Wawan, in memory of the victims. She has persistently fought for justice for her son.

UN torture agent meets rights body

Jakarta Post - November 13, 2007

Jakarta – The UN's special agent responsible for investigations into human rights abuses, Manfred Nowak, is set to commence his two week information gathering exercise across the archipelago – but said Monday he first wanted some local pointers.

Nowak called a meeting with the country's National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham) on Monday to ask for input on his forthcoming inquest into "torturous, cruel, inhuman and degrading human acts" still potentially occurring in Indonesia.

Komnas chairman for internal affairs Ridha Saleh said, "We recommend that he goes to the Jakarta Provincial Police, the Attorney General's Office (AGO), prisons in East Java and several conflict areas like Papua, Poso and Aceh".

"At the meeting, we didn't recommend that he go to Nusa Kambangan maximum security prisons or the juvenile detention center in Tangerang, as we assumed that he already knew about those places."

Ridha said abuse occurred not only in prisons, but also during forcible evictions. "Komnas has received at least 20 cases of torture or abuse, including the recent eviction of squatters from under the elevated turnpike," Ridha said.

Squatters have reported being beaten by Jakarta's public order officers during said evictions.

Ridha said Nowak's visit was by invitation from the Indonesian government and should be a warning for the country to improve its implementation of human rights.

Ridha said Indonesia could benefit from Nowak's visit if all parties distributed human rights information and listened to his suggestions. "Officials from the foreign affairs ministry will accompany Nowak during his visit to all regions," he said. "None of us will accompany him."

Nowak said he would present his report to the UN Human Rights Council in Switzerland on his return.

The UN appointed Nowak its Special Rapporteur on Torture on December 1, 2004. His task is to cover all countries, whether or not they have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Nowak is a professor of constitutional law and human rights at the University of Vienna and director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights.

Laksmita Noviera, a communication officer at the UN's office in Jakarta, said Nowak's schedule was arranged by the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

A staffer at the ministry's human rights section said Nowak would visit various state institutions and ministries on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, the UN envoy would embark on a visit to conflict areas across the archipelago including Aceh, Poso and Papua. Nowak had arranged his own travel itinerary for his trip throughout the archipelago, the staffer said.

Nowak is the third UN rights representative to visit Indonesia this year UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour made a five-day visit in July, and Hina Jilani, the UN secretary-general's special representative on human rights defenders, traveled to Indonesia in June.

Legislative reform needed: Experts

Jakarta Post - November 9, 2007

Desy Nurhayati, Jakarta – Constitutional law experts have recommended improvements to the legislature's system of checks and balances between the House and Regional Representatives Council (DPD).

Denny Indrayana, a constitutional law expert at Gadjah Mada University, said Thursday the country needed to amend the structure and authority of its legislature bodies, including transforming the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) from a body into a joint forum.

"It is necessary to restructure the legislative bodies by giving more power to the DPD and controlling the House, which has become constitutionally too powerful," he said. "The DPD should be allowed to have more power than it currently has under the amended Constitution."

Denny was speaking at a discussion of his recently published book, Amendemen UUD 1945: Antara Mitos dan Pembongkaran, or The Amendment of the 1945 Constitution: Between Myths and Debunking.

The 1945 Constitution was amended four times between 1999 and 2002. "Just like the House, the DPD should also be given the right to implement its legislative authority," Denny said.

The DPD has said it is unable to uphold the system of checks and balances because the House is too powerful.

The council has demanded the amendment of Article 22(D) of the Constitution to give it full legislative and budgetary rights, particularly in matters relating to the regions. It also wants effective controls to provide an effective check to the House.

Denny also said, "It is recommended that the MPR be transformed into a joint session between the House and the DPD rather than being a separate body."

Saldi Isra, director of the Center for Constitutional Law Studies at Andalas University in West Sumatra, agreed the country's legislative system needed an overhaul.

"After being amended four times, there are unfinished parts of the Constitution, especially regarding the legislative system, which is now implementing a three-chamber system consisting of the MPR, the House and the DPD," Saldi said.

"By improving the role of the DPD and changing the MPR, we can implement a two-chamber system and achieve a stronger checks-and-balance mechanism."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged to empower the DPD before the 2009 general election and implement a two-chamber legislative system.

However, MPR Speaker Hidayat Nur Wahid disagreed with the recommendation to change the Assembly's status because it would strip the body of all its authority.

According to Article 3 of the Constitution, the MPR can amend the Constitution, install the president and/or vice president and dismiss the president and/or vice president, according to the rules laid out in the Constitution.

Full access urged for UN envoy on torture

Jakarta Post - November 9, 2007

Jakarta – Rights groups demanded Thursday the government provide full access to a UN special rapporteur on torture and cruelty slated to begin a visit this weekend.

The United Nations special rapporteur on torture and cruelty, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, Manfred Nowak, is scheduled to visit Indonesia from Nov. 10 to 23 at the invitation of the government.

"We hope Nowak is given a chance to gather information and to visit all the places necessary in order to verify the allegations of torture in several places across the nation," Rafendi Djamin, representative of the Working Group Against Torture, told a press conference.

He said the government would benefit from the visit because it gave the country the chance to demonstrate its commitment to improving law enforcement and eliminating all forms of torture, particularly during police questioning and in prisons.

He cited a survey recently conducted by the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute with 639 respondents from two jails and one penitentiary in the capital.

The study found 74.4 percent of inmates interviewed claimed they had been tortured by police officers during investigations, while another 4.5 percent said they had been tortured by prison guards. Some 5.9 percent of respondents said they had been tortured by fellow inmates.

Another group member, Poengky Indarti, said if the government failed to provide access for Nowak, it would harm the country's image and its position on the United Nation Commission for Human Rights, which Indonesia has been a member of for nearly three years. "The harm to our image could mean decreasing international support for Indonesia," she said.

She said the group would submit reports on suspected torture activities to Nowak as an alternative to government reports.

One of the group's concerns is the need to improve the country's laws, particularly the 2004 Terrorism Law, which allows police to question a terror suspect for seven days without the presence of a defense lawyer.

Indonesia has recently received numerous UN envoys on human rights issues, including United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louis Arbor and the special representative of the United Nations secretary-general on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani.

The envoys will submit their reports at the UN Human Rights Commission plenary meeting, to be held in May. (dic)

 Labour issues

Government told to avoid railway workers' strikes

Jakarta Post - November 15, 2007

Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta – After a meeting in London this week, the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) has asked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to ensure the state- owned train company PT KA avoids labor strikes planned by the train employee's union (SPKA).

ITF's Asia-Pacific region secretary Shigeru Wada was the signatory on the letter, which was sent after a meeting held at ITF's London headquarters from Sunday to Tuesday.

During the meeting, Indonesia's representative Hanafi Rustandi reported the latest developments around PT KA's industrial conflicts.

A copy of Wada's letter was given to The Jakarta Post. An excerpt from the letter read: "ITF hopes the government of the Republic of Indonesia will make sincere efforts to implement its promises so that the railway strike can be avoided... In this respect I would like to ask your personal intervention to break the deadlock."

ITF said it had obtained a report from SPKA – a group that has been affiliated with ITF since the 1980s.

Wada said PT KA's employees had planned to strike from Dec. 3 to 5. The employees will demand the government fulfill its promises to provide the pension scheme similar to that is given to civil servants. The strikes are expected to disturb train services and affect the country's economy.

"ITF, in general, does not encourage an affiliate to go on strike. Quite (the) contrary, we support (finding a) solution through negotiations and dialogs," Wada said.

"However, having been kept informed by SPKA on the issue (and) developments, we understand the union's frustration. And (we) fully support its plan to go on strike early next month."

Hanafi said Wednesday the prolonged deadlock indicated poor management by PT KA and showed the government's lack of commitment to develop the transportation sector.

"During the deliberation of the train bill... the government promised to reform PT KA's management and improve labor conditions in the company," Hanafi said.

"But so far, no measures have been taken to improve the remuneration system (or) social security programs for employees. With such conditions, it is not strange to observe increasing railway accidents here. Or see that Indonesia's train is the poorest in Southeast Asia."

Hanafi said air and land transportation workers would join SPKA's planned strike. SPKA chairman Purpawarman said its members in Java and Sumatra would go on strike early in December, "as last resort to press the government to fulfill its promises".

PT KA president director Ronny Wahyudi said in a House of Representatives hearing Wednesday the finance ministry was still looking for ways to finance the social security program. "We understand the workers being frustrated but the state budget just cannot finance the social security program," Ronny said.

"Workers should delay the planned strike to avoid operation disruptions."

Commission member Abdullah Azwar Anas said PT KA should be able to provide the pension scheme because its budget would be raised to Rp 4 trillion (US$434.78 million) in 2008, from Rp 2.4 trillion this year.

New official says strikes don't work, urges talks

Jakarta Post - November 14, 2007

Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta – Considering the current investment climate, industrial strikes are not the best way for workers to settle disputes with employers, a newly appointed official said Tuesday.

Director General of Industrial Relations and Workers' Social Security at the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry, Myra Maria Hanartani, said strikes would not only cost the employer but would end with labor dismissals.

Myra said the several strikes that had occurred in the past few months had also seen disputes left unresolved.

Asked to comment on the increasing industrial disputes, the new director said the relative manpower law guaranteed a worker's right to go on strike. "But this is not the only way to settle disputes with management, even though disputes are normative in nature," she said.

Myra was sworn in last week to replace Musni Tambusai and has already called on workers and employers to negotiate any further disputes rather than take strike action.

She said negotiating issues, rather than striking, would "avoid disharmony and... labor dismissals, outsourcing practices and operation halts".

Bipartite talks between workers and employers, as well as collective work agreements, were "better and realistic alternatives recommended by the law", she said.

"Negotiations should be given more space until peaceful settlements and agreements are reached."

Myra declined to provide further details but said industrial disputes staged in the past 10 months had caused millions of lost working hours and had decreased national export and productivity.

She said the disputes had ended with thousands of workers being "laid off". "Labor strikes have contributed to (a) poor investment climate (and) it is difficult for dismissed workers to get new jobs with such high unemployment rates," she said.

The total number of unemployed persons nationwide was estimated at some 10 percent of the 110 million Indonesians in the labor force.

Former manpower minister Bomer Pasaribu said he was deeply concerned about increased strike action and labor dismissals across the forestry, mining and manufacturing sectors.

"The strengthening labor movement could pose a serious threat to the country's ongoing investment promotion and will worsen the unemployment rate," Bomer said.

"Indonesia is facing an unemployment explosion. The rate has reached double digits and this is a bad indicator for our national economy. Despite the new investment legislation giving facilities and incentives to foreign investors, no foreign investors have invested in the real sector in the past three years," he said.

Bomer, also chairman of the Center for Labor and Development Studies and a Golkar Party legislator, said the government and local administrations should cooperate with the Indonesian Employers' Association to campaign the use of bipartite talks to settle disputes.

Chairwoman of the labor, health and social affairs commission at the House of Representatives, Ribka Tjiptaning, said she was reluctant to comment on labor strikes because the government appeared to be "not serious (in its efforts) to handle labor issues".

She said the increased number of strikes in the past two months were related to employers being reluctant to pay the compulsory holiday allowance before the Idul Fitri holiday. "This condition will remain before the Christmas holiday and the planned hike for the monthly minimum wage," Ribka said.

"Many employers do not pay the holiday allowance because of the absence of legal certainty. They will likely reduce their labor costs anticipating soaring world oil prices and political instability ahead of the 2009 general election," she said.

Domestic workers take the hard way home

Jakarta Post - November 12, 2007

Trisha Sertori/J.B. Djwan, Contributors, Bima and Flores – Daily there are dozens of stories of Indonesia's female migrant workers (TKW) in the news. Some have been abused, some are in other countries illegally, some are murdered, others murderers.

For all, the road home is long and difficult. The Jakarta Post met two young TKW women on that road. Their journeys cover 3000 and 5000 kilometers, helped through every bus, train and ferry crossing by Indonesian police and the nation's social department, (Depsos). This is their story.

Maria Rince is 25 years old. She is from the tiny village of Mangki Pande in Flores; a village absent of modern communications, such as telephones. Maria has a husband and a 2- year-old baby girl. She has neither seen nor heard from them since she was recruited to work in Malaysia in May this year.

Maria never reached Malaysia. She says she has been held prisoner for the past six months in a Jakarta warehouse that acts as a staging post for TKW waiting to head to other countries to work, predominantly, as maids. When The Jakarta Post met Maria on the ferry to Lombok she had been on the run across 3,000 kilometers for four days.

Thin as a reed and barely 140 centimeters tall, Maria is an unlikely fugitive, but when she broke out of her warehouse prison Sunday morning, October 22, that is what she became.

"Every night for the past six months I have prayed to get out of there – to go home," says Maria who failed her medical exam to enter Malaysia as a TKW and was told she could not leave until her sponsor from Flores collected her. The sponsor never came. "At first there were about 400 of us there. After the first 300 workers were sent to Malaysia they moved me into a room on the second floor. It had bunk beds and from the top bed I could reach the roof.

"On Sunday I had the room to myself. The security guard was on the gate – security was always there. I moved some tiles from the roof, threw out my bags and climbed out. I jumped three meters down to the roof next door and jumped again to the ground. My hands and knees were cut, my heart was pounding and I was crying with fear and pain.

"I grabbed my bags and ran to the Ciliduk Police station. I kept expecting the warehouse's security guard to catch me and drag me back. I was carrying two bags and had no strength to run fast. I was terrified," said Maria of her escape from illegal imprisonment.

The Ciliduk Police were the first people to offer her assistance in six months.

During her six months of illegal imprisonment, Maria says she worked for the TKW agency that has sponsors in small towns across the nation; sponsors who woo young women with promises of Rp 1.3 million per month.

"I was never paid for working as a cleaner there. (the warehouse) I was fed just rice and salted fish. There was never enough to eat.

"Many women never get paid, even when they work overseas. The sponsors don't tell us at the beginning that we have to pay back our transportation costs. That takes all the income of the first six months. We are slaves," said Maria, who despite being angry with the people that imprisoned her, grows happier with every kilometer on the journey home. "Soon I will see my baby girl,"

She says police and Depsos officials have supported her at every arrival point. Maria carries documents to harbor masters, station masters and bus drivers, granting her free passage home.

"When I arrive in each city I must first report to the police, then on to Depsos. When we get to Lombok I have this document for the governor. They will give us somewhere to sleep and food until tomorrow's ferry to Flores. I can not thank police and Depsos enough. Without them I could never get home," said Maria who met, Monday, Oct. 23, her fellow traveler, 18-year-old Nur Naya from Tanjung Mas in Sumbawa. The girls met at Surabaya's Depsos office. Nur was another fugitive from TKW life.

Nur's road at more than 5,000 kilometers and two years is longer than Maria's – harder. And it shows. Where Maria is open and smiling, begging her story be told and those involved named, Nur is closed. She watches her back constantly; is nervous to use her real name. She is standing, literally, still dressed in the clothes she left Malaysia wearing some weeks ago. Nur has not had contact with her family for two years. Like Maria's family, they do not know she is nearing home.

She has no other belongings, excepting a passport invalidated by a child's scribbling. A passport she passes this writer low so as not to be seen by other ferry passengers. "They wouldn't let me get my things," she explains on the absence of a suitcase that should be filled with two years of memories and savings to take home. "I was never paid. Two years and I was never paid."

Nur is difficult, cagey. It is hard to listen to her story without a degree of incredulity, until you remember she was taken away to work as a maid at 16 years of age. Her passport passes her off as 27 years of age. In her passport photograph she looks like what she then was – a 16-year-old schoolgirl.

Maria, who spent six months in a TKW holding camp, says this is not uncommon. "I saw a lot of very young girls with false passports. (In the passports) 12 becomes 20 and 15 becomes 25. The birth dates are forged."

Tortured with an electrified baton, her head shaved, routinely beaten, burned, humiliated and possibly regularly pimped, Nur's story is horrific.

"For the first five months things were good. Then one day I had to bath the dog of my boss in West Malaysia. I am a Muslim and I explained handling the dog was against my religion. My boss said we were in Malaysia now. 'I have paid (Malaysian) 1,000 ringgits for you. We don't get you for free. Do what you are told,' My boss then pulled my hair, slapped my face and burned my arm with a boiling saucepan," said Nur, lifting the sleeve of her T-shirt to show the scarring on her upper arm.

As Nur became angrier with her employer things went from bad to worse. Nur admits being less careful taking care of her boss' child than required. "The baby had fallen off the bed and was crying. She was eight months old. For that my boss hit me on the head with her fist. I said I wanted to leave and go home. Then the dog died and my boss kicked me and made me bury the dog.

"That's when she called the agent in Malaysia. He came to see what the problem was. I said I wanted to go home. He took me to his home and there he tortured me with the electric baton. He used that on my ear lobes, elbows and big toes. Then he shaved my head and beat me, saying 'so you want to go home,' over and over again. In the end I said I wanted to stay and work. Just to make the beatings stop," said Nur.

"In the end I worked for the agent. He would sell me on to others for day work. One day people came to pick me up at nine o'clock in the morning. My boss was still sleeping and I had not had breakfast so I didn't go with them. When the boss woke up he beat me and threw me into the street. He would not let me get my things. He said they were his now," Nur said.

Without money, friends or family to turn to, Nur said she was confused and frightened. She spent most of the day in the heat without food or drink. Eventually she walked five kilometers in search of police.

"They asked if I was an Indonesian worker and if I was a runaway. I told them what had happened and they took me to the police station where I gave a statement," said Nur who was finally helped on the road home by the Indonesian Embassy.

Nur says she was promised Malaysian ringgit 450 (Rp 1.3 million) per month to work in Malaysia. She had jumped at the chance to get away from her remote village and earn some money. She returns home hard hearted and broke."The bosses all said they would look after my money for me. They've still got it."

Both Maria and Nur warn others not to look for work overseas. "Until I am an old woman I will never leave again. Don't go. Don't be a TKW girl because you'll be tortured and abused," Maria said. Nur said TKW is the life of a slave: "Don't go overseas to work. Don't work outside Indonesia because people are hard. We are their helpers, but they treat us like animals – like slaves".

 Environment/natural disasters

Experts warn climate change will bring disease

Jakarta Post - November 14, 2007

Jakarta – Experts warn Indonesians of the massive spread of disease due to uncertain climate patterns caused by global warming.

The head of the Center of Environment and Sustainable Development for Indonesia, from Griffith University, in Australia, Dr. Umar Fahmi Achmadi, said the global warming phenomenon would affect health in Indonesia by increasing the occurrence of disease.

"The effect of global warming will not come to an end after disrupting the pattern of the earth's climate. It will also change the behavior of humans as well as the behavior of disease vectors. Eventually that will increase the outbreak of communicable diseases," Umar told a discussion held by the Indonesian Medical Association here Tuesday.

Umar said climate change would inevitably affect the two main health determinants of human population and environment.

"One of the most obvious effects of the global warming phenomenon is the rise of the earth's temperature, which has already caused some substantial changes in daily weather conditions, like temperature, humidity, wind movement and light," he said.

"All of those things will shape new conditions for every environmental medium, like water, air and foodstuffs, as well as animals and humans. Disease vectors, like parasites, have become more brutal and harder to manage."

Conditions can be expected to worsen due to the extreme weather caused by global warming.

"The accelerating process of seawater evaporation will increase the probability of tropical storms, floods and droughts. All of these will affect water-borne diseases like diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, malaria and leptospyrosis."

Umar also cited some examples of vector-borne disease outbreaks in Indonesia related to climate change. He mentioned the malaria outbreaks in Irian Jaya, in 1997; Yogyakarta, in 1998; North Sumatra, also in 1998; and South Kalimantan, in 1999. He also mentioned the outbreak of dengue fever in all parts of Indonesia in 1998.

Public health and preventive medicine expert, Dr. Charles Suryadi, said one step the Indonesian government could take would be to prepare adaptation and mitigation programs on local, regional and national levels.

"The best program is the one that is based on local community. That's why we need to translate the big plan into smaller agendas," he said.

Both Umar and Charles agreed that Indonesia Health Vision 2010 was relevant for anticipating the impact of global warming.

However, the program has to be transformed into clear, practical action plans that can actually be implemented, at the very least at the municipal level. The reason: because every municipality in Indonesia has to overcome its specific problems using its individual capabilities and resources.

"It's all right if the government wants to make a new health plan, but it must be based on the 2010 Vision," said Umar.

Health Vision 2010 foresees Indonesians living a healthy lifestyle, in a healthy environment, with access to healthcare that is medically sound and fairly administered. This is to be achieved though the implementation of programs like Healthy Regency 2010 and Healthy City 2010. (uwi)

Farmers tell government to go organic

Jakarta Post - November 14, 2007

Adianto P. Simamora, Jakarta – Indonesia's farming body has called on the government to help small-scale and family-run farms implement sustainable and organic farming to help combat climate change.

The Federation of Indonesian Farmers Association (FSPI) said December's climate change conference in Bali would be the most opportune time for the government to introduce a program targeted at small and family-run farms.

FSPI executive Tejo Pramono told a media conference Tuesday family farmers should focus on organic farming methods to help reduce the use of fertilizers and fossil fuels.

"By changing the farming system, small-scale farmers can significantly cool down the earth and reduce greenhouse gas emission," Tejo said.

Indonesian farmers were currently facing problems of limited land allocations for farming, he said.

"Most farmers have less than one hectare of land, (which sees) the country rely on imported foods including rice," Tejo said. "We'll ask the government to provide at least four hectares of land for a family farmer."

FSPI is a member of La Via Campesina – an organization that says it brings together millions of small farmers and producers worldwide. FSPI's executive Tejo is a member of La Via Campesina and said both FSPI and Campesina were critical of current world- wide food trade practices.

"The farming policies from the World Trade Organization (WTO), the regional or bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) must be ended," Tejo said. "They promote transporting food around the world," he said.

La Via Campesina's main office is in Jakarta. Tejo said the WTO and FTAs put priorities on food produced with fossil-based pesticides and fertilizers and transported them all around the world. "The globalized farming and food productions will further worsen global warming," Tejo said.

Indonesia has long been a food importer, including unhusked rice, fruits and vegetables.

"All imported food products consume huge fossil fuel during their transportation to Indonesia," Tejo said. He said if organic practices were adopted and Indonesia could become self sufficient, the republic would no longer need to transport food from other countries.

Experts said changing weather patterns due to the climate change "would cause unpredictable drought and floods that lead to harvest failures".

The government said it would negotiate emission reductions from the forestry sector to tap financial incentives to benefit the people in the area.

"We will provide 70 percent of carbon sales from the REDD mechanism to local people living near the forest," a forestry ministry spokesman said.

Wahjudi Wardojo, head of the forestry research and development agency at the forestry ministry, was speaking at a discussion on climate change organized by WWF Indonesia and the Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists (SIEJ).

Reduction Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Country (REDD) is Indonesia's new climate change mechanism to be introduced in December.

Wahjudi said Indonesia, which has the third largest forests in the world, could gain US$2 billion per year from the REDD project.

East Jakarta hit by extensive floods early in season

Jakarta Post - November 14, 2007

Jakarta – Cawang Pulo in Kampung Melayu district was under water again Tuesday morning, just a few days after floodwaters reached the two-meter mark Sunday.

Tuesday's flooding receded substantially by late afternoon and some residents were able to begin the task of clearing away debris.

The flooding caused minor damage to some homes in the area. Many residents hung tablecloths and clothes out to dry on fences, while dozens of chairs, tables and couches were left to dry on a nearby public badminton court.

Cawang Pulo community unit chief Mohammad Harris said the floods were caused by rainwater running into the area from outside Jakarta. "If you come here tomorrow, there will probably be another flood," he said.

The Cawang Pulo area regularly floods due to its low elevation and its proximity to the Ciliwung River, which often bursts its banks during the rainy season. Mohammad said floods in the area had become more regular since 2002.

In 2002, wide-scale flooding in the city caused trillions of rupiah in damage. The city was hit by another massive flood five years later in 2007, which also caused extensive damage and losses.

Experts have blamed the floods on substandard city planning, including a lack of designated green zones and the excessive construction of apartment buildings. "I remember some time ago when the river was 30 meters wide. Now it is barely eight meters wide," Mohammad said.

Cawang Pulo neighborhood unit chief Hendria Nevi said moving residents away from the area to widen the river was not an alternative.

"Many of them are grocery vendors or small-time businessmen. They are poor people," she said. "It would be inhuman to simply throw them onto the streets."

Meanwhile, East Jakarta municipal office spokesperson John Jefferson said little could be done to prevent further flooding in East Jakarta. He said the greatest chance of preventing flooding in the area was with the construction of the East Flood Canal. "People are rejecting the idea of moving squatters to low-cost apartments but the Ciliwung River is uncontrollable."

The East Flood Canal is to be a horseshoe-shaped canal designed to collect water from small rivers, including the Cipinang Canal, Cakung Canal and Jati Kramat Canal.

The project is yet to commence as the administration has faced various hurdles in relation to land acquisition. As of Oct. 26 this year, only 7.7 kilometers of land had been acquired from a total of 23.5 kilometers needed for the project.

Several experts have criticized the plan, claiming that the construction of the canal is a half-hearted attempt by the city administration to overcome flooding in the area.

Mohammad Danisworo from the Center for Urban Studies at Bandung's Institute of Technology said the construction of the canal itself would not solve Jakarta's flood problems as it could only absorb 10 to 15 percent of the city's water influx. (anw)

Forestry minister denies backing illegal loggers

Jakarta Post - November 11, 2007

Alfian and Apriadi Gunawan, Jakarta/Medan – Forestry minister M.S. Kaban has said he had nothing to do with the Medan District Court's recent ruling – in which businessman Adelin Lis was acquitted of all charges – and blamed the prosecutors for indicting the logging boss with weak charges that ended in his acquittal.

Addressing a radio talk show titled "You destroy the forest, I set you free", Kaban, who was in Medan, North Sumatra, said over the telephone he did not defend Adelin, but the forest concession issued by the forestry ministry. "The company (Adelin's company) was legal, in the sense that it had permission to operate there," he said.

But, the minister said, the prosecutors should have learned from previous experiences where cases were initially perceived and built as illegal logging cases but later found to be only administrative violations.

"There were 23 cases (identified as illegal logging) in Papua. But, all of the alleged perpetrators were eventually acquitted by the court there on the grounds they had only committed administrative violations," Kaban said.

"So, why are (the prosecutors) still using the same article (against Adelin)?" asked Kaban, adding two executives from Adelin's company had also been acquitted from all illegal logging charges.

But, Kaban said, those perpetrators could be charged with violating Law No. 41/1999 on Forestry if there were indications of environmental destruction within their concession areas. "It is the duty of the (legal) apparatus to prove that," the minister said.

In this regard, he said, experts at the forestry ministry could assist the police and prosecutors in determining whether the forest had been destroyed or not. However, Kaban said his ministry had never been consulted in such investigations.

A letter sent to Adelin's lawyer, according to Kaban, was just a regular letter, but it had been politicized. "I sent a lot of other letters to other lawyers in response to their questions. Why weren't they questioned also?"

Chairman of the Indonesian Forest Conservation Cooperation Secretariat, Indro Cahyono, however, believes Kaban's letter was a kind of intervention. He said if the minister wanted to provide information on the case, he could have simply appeared and testified as a witness in court.

"By doing so (writing the letter), it is likely he was intervening with court proceedings. That is a violation of the law and he can be prosecuted," Indro said.

Indro said Adelin likely had strong support from local legislators and executives. "There is a strong indication... his impunity indicates he also has strong support at the national level."

He added Adelin's case was only one small example of how illegal loggers could be so powerful. "Illegal logging has become a corporate crime, infecting those with power in politics, the military and the police, as well as the judicial system," said Indro.

"As a result, they (illegal loggers) are never punished. Our investigation found that only 0.1 percent of all illegal logging suspects had been convicted by the court... and all of them were eventually acquitted," he added.

Indra said illegal loggers allegedly financed candidates in the 2004 presidential election. He declined to mention names, but said one of the logging companies that supported a candidate in 2004 is now being investigated.

72th uncontrolled mudflow occurs in Porong

Tempo Interactive - November 9, 2007

Rohman Taufiq, Sidoarjo – The uncontrolled emissions (spurt) of water mixed with flammable gas occurred again near the Lapindo mudflow in Porong, Sidoarjo, East Java.

This time, the new discharge was beside the kampong road, RT 8/RW 1 area, Pejarakan Village, or around 1.5 kilometers South of the Lapindo mudflow center. The Fergaco Indonesia hazardous gas analyst team said this spurt is the 72th that occurred since the Lapindo mudflow disaster. In Pejarakan Village, the spurt was the third one after previous similar spurts in the area.

Yet, the two spurts were only water and gas of limited power. So despite that the gas was flammable, the fire would not be large. "But this one releases a large high fire," said Anas Muslimin, a local, Friday (9/11).

Due to the spurt, Pejarakan villagers panicked and intended to evacuate. However, Fergaco's research confirmed that the spurt is not too dangerous. Officers covered it with perforated drums and put up a police line so the locals do not approach it. A sign forbidding the lighting of a fire was posted around the drums.

"The content of dangerous gas H2S was low but the LEL (low explosive limit) was quite high, up to 25 percent," said the Sidoarjo Mud Handling Agency Public Relations Head, Ahmad Zulkarnain.

 Health & education

Watchdogs howl over school funds

Jakarta Post - November 15, 2007

Jakarta – Corruption watchdogs and concerned citizens on Wednesday complained of weak policy, poor management and financial irregularities in the education sector.

Roy Salam of the Indonesian Forum for Budgetary Transparency (FITRA) said the 12 percent allocation for the education budget, taken out of the total 2008 national budget, failed to ensure free public education.

The state-sponsored school operational fund provides Rp 254,000 (US$27.60) per year for each elementary school student and Rp 354,000 for junior high school students. This covers only 30 percent of the cost of their education.

Ade Irawan of the Education Coalition said: "The ideal figure should be Rp 1.8 million per elementary school student per year and Rp 2.7 million for each junior high school student per year to get them free access to education."

"Even if the tuition is free, all kind of fees for this and that, like the mandatory purchase of new textbooks each year, are demanded," Jumono, the father of a student at Malakajaya 19 state elementary school in Klender, East Jakarta, said.

Ade pointed out still another problem with the operational fund. "We don't even know how many schools refuse this operational fund, so we also don't know where the unused money goes," he said.

National Education Ministry spokesman Bambang Wasito Adi, however, said the ministry reported which schools were willing to take the funds to the Finance Ministry, which then transferred the money directly to those schools.

"If the budget given to us exceeds the needs, we return it to Finance Ministry," he said.

Ade said the real problem was the government does not have a strong commitment to allocating up to 20 percent of the budget for education.

"They seem to care little about long-term investments like education, and instead put more concern on short-term investments," he said.

In order to address this problem, private sector organizations like Sampoerna Foundation have established various programs to improve access to education and upgrade quality.

Lin Che Wei, chief executive officer of Sampoerna Foundation, said: "We hope the Sampoerna Foundation programs will accommodate the need to provide access to higher education, which the government does not offer free of charge, for the most disadvantaged people in Indonesia." (rff)

ICW requests national test be abolished

Tempo Interactive - November 14, 2007

Pramono, Jakarta – The Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) has requested that the government abolish the national test.

Ade Irawan, ICW's Public Service Program Monitoring Manager, believes that national test cannot be the solution to education problem.

"National test can only be a solution for (Vice President) Jusuf Kalla and (National Education Minister) Bambang Sudibyo," he said during a press conference at ICW's office, Jakarta, Wednesday (14/11).

The national test, said Ade, instead caused a lot of problems. The proof is every year there are reports of swindles in the carrying out of the national test. "This test causes collective swindles instead," he said.

Ade said he regretted the government's attitude which does not want to hear many sides' suggestions to abolish the national test. This is despite the national test being regarded as unable to be a standard of education success.

In addition, said Ade, national test is a waste of the state's money as the budget is very large. "The national test should be abolished and the budget used to support access opening and improvement of the quality of education," he said.

National tests still in spotlight

Jakarta Post - November 13, 2007

Apriadi Gunawan, Medan – There have been more protests over the government's decision to continue holding national examinations for elementary, junior high and senior high school students.

With concern rising over high national examination failure rates in parts of the country, hundreds of people from the North Sumatra People for Education group have aired their objection to the 2008 final examinations.

They criticized the government, especially Education Minister Bambang Soedibyo, for ignoring public concerns and continuing with plans to hold the examinations.

Head of North Sumatra Indonesian Teachers' Association, T.J. Pinem, told The Jakarta Post recently that organizing the national examination contradicted the 2003 National Education Law and the 2005 Teachers and University Instructors Law.

He said that based on the National Education Law, teachers and schools have control over students' graduation. The Teachers and University Instructors Law, he added, stated the National Education Standardization Agency was created to evaluate education units, not students.

He said the government's decision to continue holding the examinations violated those two laws. "(Holding the final national examination is) illegal because it contradicts the law," Pinem said.

He said the evaluation parameters used in the national examinations are unfair, especially for students living in rural areas. "The government does not provide good facilities to all schools, so it is not fair to set the same standards for all students across the country," Pinem said.

In order to graduate in 2006, students had to score an average of 4.51 in the three tested subjects: Bahasa Indonesia, English and mathematics. This year, they have to earn an average of 5.00 and will not be allowed to score below 4.25 on any test.

Pinem said not all teachers in rural areas taught within their area of expertise due to a lack of teachers. He said this could be seen on Nias Island in North Sumatra.

"It is hard for Nias students to compete in the national examinations with students from Jakarta or other regions that have better facilities," he said.

For that reason, Pinem said, North Sumatra teachers, which number more than 200,000, will consider boycotting the 2008 national examinations.

A member of the Regional Representatives Council from North Sumatra, Parlindungan Purba, expressed his support for the rejection. He said there were many problems with previous national examinations, such as widespread cheating.

"We hope the government pays attention to the problem because it can destroy the students' character," said Purba. He said he asked other council members to reject the government's plan to continue the exams.

Free health care almost beyond reach

Jakarta Post - November 9, 2007

Jakarta – It was another exhausting day for Sukarti as she waited in line at the Cipto Mangunkusno General Hospital in Central Jakarta.

Her two-year-old son Bagus had been suffering from a liver disease and malnutrition for several months, meaning trips to the hospital were a regular occurrence.

After waiting for more than five hours, Bagus was eventually seen by a specialist in the children's clinic at the hospital.

"I don't understand why we had to wait for so long. Look at the empty chairs. There aren't many patients waiting," Sukarti, 37, told the Jakarta Post recently.

She said the journey from her home in Condet, East Jakarta, to the hospital was not an easy one, but was necessary for her son's health.

"It's really tiring, especially for my son," she said. "If I had more money I would go somewhere else to get better treatment for Bagus."

Sukarti, whose husband works in a factory, said she borrowed Rp 20 million from the bank with her house as collateral in order to pay for her son's medical treatment at first. When the loan ran out, she applied for free health insurance from the Jakarta administration.

Poverty is a chronic problem in Indonesia, which is home to more than 37 million people living below the poverty line according to Central Statistics Agency data. Such wide-spread poverty means a large number of Indonesians do not have access to proper health care.

In 2005, the government launched a health services scheme for low-income families, with the Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital appointed to facilitate the program. About 80 percent of the hospital's patients are poor and receive treatment as part of the scheme.

In 2006, the Jakarta administration paid out more than Rp 10 billion in subsidies for low-income patients treated at the hospital. However, many poor families have complained about the difficulties associated with receiving free medical treatment and medicine under the program.

Sukarti said when she took her son to the hospital as a paying customer, they were not forced to wait for hours and her son was treated more thoroughly.

She said once she joined the government's program, it was a struggle to even receive free medicine. She was often told the medicine her son required was not available and to buy it at another pharmacy. "So on a few occasions I didn't buy medicine for my son because it was just too expensive," she said.

She said on one occasion after being told the medicine she required was not available, a nurse offered it to her for Rp 600,000. "I took it because the price of the medicine at pharmacies was Rp 1.4 million," she said.

Service manager for insured patients at the hospital, Achmad Soebagio, said it was illegal to sell medicine directly to patients.

However, he said while the hospital was against the practice, certain individuals continued to profit from it. "If patients or their families report cases to me, I take serious action against offenders," he said.

Some patients have also complained about being forced to pay illegal levies to employees at the hospital's health insurance center. Yuni, 23, said the official who stamped her insurance documents put his hand to his mouth as if he was smoking.

"At first I didn't understand what he meant, but the woman behind me told me it meant he wanted me to give him money to buy cigarettes," she said.

Yuni said despite the fact there was a sign on the wall saying there was no processing fee for health insurance claims, she paid the official Rp 5,000, as instructed by other patients. (dia)

 War on corruption

Judges, prosecutors under scrutiny after acquittal

Jakarta Post - November 13, 2007

Apriadi Gunawan, Medan – Two judges and seven prosecutors were questioned Monday over the controversial acquittal of logging boss Adelin Lis on illegal logging charges.

Chief of the Medan District Court, Arwan Byrin, who presided over Adelin's trial, and his deputy Robinson Tarigan, who was among the five judges involved in the trial, were questioned by three judges from the North Sumatra High Court behind closed-doors Monday.

Three other judges – Jarasmen Purba, Dolman Sinaga and Ahmad Semma – were questioned Friday.

Head of the three-judge team from the high court, Elsa Mutiara Napitupulu, said the questioning was conducted professionally and the results would be conveyed to the Supreme Court.

"The questioning is still ongoing and the results are not yet known," she said, adding they would also question district court staff involved in Adelin's trial.

Another judge from the high court, Aspar Siagian, said the Supreme Court had ordered the questioning of the district court judges and staff in response to the controversy surrounding the acquittal of Adelin. "The questioning is meant to determine whether the judges handling the case followed the existing laws or not," said Aspar.

In addition to questioning the judges, he said the team would also study the Nov. 5 verdict and examine the records of the court proceedings throughout the trial.

"If they are proven to have violated the code of ethics, the judges will be given punishments, ranging from being downgraded in rank, having their titles as judges revoked and dismissal. It depends on the Supreme Court," Aspar said.

Both Arwan Byrin and Robinson Tarigan declined to comment on the questioning.

The questioning of the district court judges comes amid reports the Supreme Court promoted four of the five judges from Adelin's case to posts outside Medan. Aspar said the results of the questioning would determine whether or not these promotions would be revoked.

Also on Monday, a three-member team from the Attorney General's Office questioned seven prosecutors involved in Adelin's trial and examined the case file for the logging boss.

Meanwhile, North Sumatra Police said that Adelin, who has not been seen since his acquittal, was still in the province and had not gone abroad. Adelin was originally apprehended on Sept. 7 last year in Beijing.

Police say they want to question him over his alleged role in a money laundering case, which a police source said was connected to the earlier corruption and illegal logging charges. North Sumatra Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Aspan Nainggolan said Monday police sources had confirmed Adelin was still in the province.

"But we don't know when we can capture him since he keeps moving from one place to another," Aspan told the Post. He urged people to contact police with any information on Adelin's whereabouts in return for a cash reward.

Megawati, Boediono implicated in VLCC sale

Jakarta Post - November 9, 2007

Jakarta – Former State Minister of State Enterprises Laksamana Sukardi, a suspect in the controversial 2004 sale of two very large crude carriers (VLCC) belonging to state oil company Pertamina, has broken his silence on the identity of other state officials involved in the case.

A lawyer for Laksamana said his client had asked the Attorney General's Office to summon former president Megawati Soekarnoputri and ex-finance minister Boediono to testify as witnesses in the corruption case.

"The presence of Megawati and Boediono in the questioning session is significant and this will help our client to explain the background behind the decision to sell the tankers," Petrus Selestinus told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

"Not a day passed without Laksamana discussing the sale with the two," he said.

Petrus said Megawati should explain to the investigators why she allowed Laksamana to approve the sale at that time. "Laksamana is now a suspect in the case which Megawati and Boediono were familiar with... Therefore, she and Boediono should also take the responsibility for the case," he said.

Laksamana was state minister for state enterprises and president commissioner of Pertamina when the sale took place.

Megawati is now the chairwoman of the country's second largest political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, while Boediono is now coordinating minister for the economy.

Accompanied by a team of lawyers, Laksamana was questioned at the Attorney General's Office for nearly eight hours Thursday. Outside the office, hundreds of supporters from the Democratic Reform Party staged a protest condemning the prosecutors' decision to name Laksamana as a suspect. Laksamana was scheduled to be questioned again Friday.

Also questioned Thursday were two former Pertamina directors, Ariffi Nawawi and Alfred Rohimone, who are also suspects in the case. Petrus had earlier said that the case was political, alleging that Laksamana had been targeted by opponents from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.

The potential state losses due to the sale of the two VLCC tankers by Pertamina to Bermuda-based Frontline Inc. for US$184 million in 2004 emerged after an audit was conducted by Indonesia's Financial and Development Supervisory Board and the independent consultant Japan Marine that year.

The audit brought into light that the initial purchase of the two VLCC tankers for US$130 million in 2002 was appropriate and in line with existing regulations, but questioned the sale of the same tankers only two years later for US$184 million.

Besides the audit result, some parties had pointed out mistakes in the transaction, citing the absence of the approval of the then minister of finance, who acted as the country's treasurer.

Based on the audit and the allegations of Laksamana having endorsed an illegal transaction, Pertamina Workers Union then reported the tankers' sale to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

The KPK announced this year that it had found no indications of graft in the transaction after two years of investigation. The investigation has now been taken over by the Attorney General's Office. (dic)

Minister goes to the docks, likes what she sees

Jakarta Post - November 9, 2007

Urip Hudiono, Jakarta – Irked by the customs service's long- tainted image as a hotbed of corruption and poor service, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati took herself down to the docks to see how things have improved – or worsened, as the case may be.

During an impromptu inspection of Tanjung Priok Port on Thursday, the minister – to her satisfaction – witnessed customs officers intercept a shipment of three luxury cars – a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and a Rolls Royce Phantom – worth Rp 11.8 billion (US$1.3 million) that were imported illegally through the misuse of diplomatic permits.

In recent months, the customs service at Tanjung Priok has also intercepted 117 commercial vehicles and used trucks that were improperly described on the customs documents as ambulances.

Other contraband involved 112 containers of banned bone meal worth Rp 5 billion, and thousands of gas cylinders – which have recently been in the spotlight in relation to the government's gas conversion program.

There was also an attempt to illegally export 30 containers of unprocessed timber and rattan worth Rp 23 billion.

The interceptions and seizures represent the initial results of the reform of the Tanjung Priok customs office since it was designated in April as a pilot project as part of the Finance Ministry's latest effort to overhaul the service.

The ministry recently rescreened 4,000 of its 11,000 customs officials, with only 1,800 been reappointed to the service. It then recruited new officers, with some 800 of these currently assigned to Tanjung Priok Port.

"All institutions are prone to abuse of power, corruption, and other unscrupulous practices. But if we just talk about stopping it without doing anything, then nothing will actually happen," Sri Mulyani said.

"Cleaning up and beefing up Tanjung Priok is the first step for the customs service. Things should be better with new people and a new sense of integrity."

Sri Mulyani also referred to efforts to rescreen and reregister all customs clearance firms as most appeared to be deeply involved in bribery and smuggling. Many regard the customs service as being among the most corrupt institutions in the country, along with the tax service, which also comes under the authority of the Finance Ministry.

A recent survey by the University of Indonesia's LPEM economic think tank revealed how the scale of illegal fees charged by customs officials had increased, while services were perceived as having improved, indicating that people may simply be paying for better service.

The reform program for the customs service also includes expediting clearance at the country's ports to between 20 minutes and 4 hours, if inspection is needed.

Sri Mulyani said that similar, reformed customs offices would be set up at Indonesia's other ports so as to prevent smuggling and corruption being transferred to those ports after Tanjung Priok had been cleaned up.

Regarding Thursday's attempted smuggling of luxury cars, Sri Mulyani said that her ministry was working with the Foreign Ministry to tighten up the procedures for the use of diplomatic permits.

Since 2003, customs have seized 208 luxury cars – 43 this year alone – with all of them being associated with the same suppliers in Singapore.

Adelin's acquittal: Kaban bombarded by criticism

Tempo Interactive - November 9, 2007

Jakarta – Chairman of the House of Representatives (DPR), Agung Laksono, asked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to warn Forestry Minister M. S. Kaban, who is suspected of intervening in the judicial process of Adelin Lis, Finance Director of PT Keang Nam Development Indonesia, yesterday (8/11).

Earlier, a member of the President's Advisory Council, Adnan Buyung Nasution, suggested that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono dismiss Minister Kaban.

He was of the opinion that Kaban is also responsible for the acquittal of Adelin in the case of illegal logging in Mandailing Natal Regency, North Sumatra. "He's the source of the judge's excuse for the acquittal," said Adnan Buyung said yesterday.

It is Kaban's commanding letter, dated September 27, 2006, which according to Adnan was the basis of the panel of judges for acquitting Adelin Lis. In the letter, Kaban says PT Keang Nam Development Indonesia only violated administrative duties with the sanction of fines. The letter then showed up as evidence during Adelin Lis' trial. "Even issuing the letter is wrong. It's mixed up with an executive decision when facing the court," said Adnan.

Head of the National Police HQ Public Relations Division, Insp. Gen. Sisno Adiwinoto, said the process of Adelin's leaving the prison is illogical. "Because the order was issued on November 1, 2007. This is despite the acquittal for Adelin on November 5, 2007," he said yesterday.

A day after the verdict, the police came to Gusta Penitentiary to pick up Adelin with the accusation of money laundering and BNI 46 bank credit. Adelin was in fact already discharged on Monday at 11.30pm.

"The case wasn't yet inkracht (conclusive legal evidence), said Sisno. Looking into this fact, Sisno suspected there is a conspiracy involving an illegal logging mafia to free Adelin.

(Titis Setianingtyas/Sutarto/Rini Kustiani/Aqida Swamurti/Hambali Batubara)


Indifference to social problems leading to new 'deviant' sects

Kompas - November 15, 2007

Jakarta – The Indonesian Islamic Saviors Movement or GPII is urging the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) to immediately find a solution to the various problems facing the Islamic religious community. As an institution that provides a sanctuary for various Islamic organisations, the MUI is being asked to take responsibility for safeguarding the safety of Islamic teachings and the community's morals.

These demands were conveyed during a demonstration by the GPII in front of the Istiqlal Mosque in Central Jakarta on Wednesday November 14.

GPII coordinator Pangalu Alam said that the religious community is confused about the situation they find themselves in. The majority of the destitute, poor, malnourished, migrant workers overseas and corruption suspects are members of the religious community.

Despite this, the leaders of the Islamic religious community themselves are not paying enough attention to these problems. As a consequence, many religious community members are becoming apathetic and seeking an escape precisely by forming and joining new religious teaching that the MUI deems as deviant.

"If the MUI does not quickly seek a solution to the religious community's various problems, then be more and more [new] religious teachings will [emerge] in Indonesia", said Alam.

[Translated by James Balowski.]

Political role of ulemas considered lesser

Tempo Interactive - November 12, 2007

Kurniasih Budi, Jakarta – Ulemas from the Nahdlatul Ulama in the National Awakening Party (PKB), the Ulemas National Awakening Party (PKNU), have said they considered that the role of Ulemas in national politics is lessening.

They wanted to re-emphasize their role in the world of national politics. "PKNU will return Ulemas to their leadership postion in politics," said Ma'ruf Amin, PKNU's Chairman of Mustasyar (a kind of advisory board), in a political speech on PKNU's anniversary at the Senayan sports hall, Jakarta, yesterday (11/11).

Ma'ruf Amin said he regarded that fundamentalist and secular movements have threatened the sovereignty of the nation's performance and unity.

Ulemas, he said, should move through a medium of an Islamic, moderate and nationalistic political party institution in order to maintain the nation's unity.

Ulemas have agreed to support the establishment of the Ulemas National Awakening Party by former PKB East Java management member who was dismissed, Choirul Anam.

PKB dismissed Choirul Anam as he violated the Surabaya congress as the counter of the Semarang congress. During the Surabaya congress, Anam was elected general chairman.

These two congresses occurred due an the internal conflict in PKB, between former Secretary General Saifullah Yusuf and General Chairman Iskandar Saifullah, who was supported by Anam, and preferred to leave the PKB after the Ulemas and Anam established PKNU.

Not only PKB, PKNU's Syuro (Advisory) Council Chairman, Chudori, said that he considered in general political parties failed to make people prosperous.

PKNI does not follow parties which is Islamic fundamental-based. The reason is, "The government must be based on democracy and tradition by prioritizing religious souls."

Sect member sentenced to three years

Jakarta Post - November 11, 2007

Mustaqim Adamrah, Jakarta – The Supreme Court has sentenced senior member of the Lia Eden sect Abdul Rachman to three years in prison for blasphemy, a Jakarta Legal Aid Institute representative said.

Hermawanto, a lawyer from the institute working on Abdul's case, said his team was informed of the verdict by the Supreme Court on Friday.

"The Supreme Court said in its verdict an earlier Central Jakarta District Court ruling was annulled and the defendant was guilty of blasphemy," he said. "Abdul was sentenced to three years imprisonment."

Abdul is second in command in the Lia Eden sect, otherwise known as the Kingdom of God, and claims to be the reincarnation of the Prophet Muhammad.

Supreme Court spokesperson Joko Sarwoko was unavailable for comment. A written statement regarding the verdict from the Lia Eden community was released to the press Saturday.

"We were told by our lawyer yesterday that the Supreme Court granted the appeal made by the Jakarta Prosecutor's Office," the statement read.

Hermawanto said the Central Jakarta District Court acquitted Abdul of all charges brought against him by the Jakarta Prosecutor's Office late last year, including charges of blasphemy and igniting public hostility.

Hermawanto said the institute would study the verdict and appeal to the Supreme Court.

"We're still studying the verdict and preparing a case review as well as waiting for legal submissions from a number of coalitions concerned with pluralism," he said.

On Oct. 30, the sect's leader Lia Eden, also known as Lia Aminuddin, was released from the Pondok Bambu penitentiary after serving a two-year sentence for blasphemy.

Lia, who claims to be both the Angel Gabriel and the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary, said she would continue her teachings despite warnings.

"I received more of God's messages while I was in prison. I'll write them down and share them with the people," she said.

Sect members surrender to police

Jakarta Post - November 9, 2007

Bogor – Four members of the banned al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah sect turned themselves in to police Thursday.

Adj. Comr. Sarjiman, the chief of the Ciomas police station where the four Sukajaya subdistrict residents turned themselves in, said they had signed promises of repentance.

"Members of the public said there were five sect members living in the subdistrict, so we put them under surveillance to prevent public rage.

"The four people came to the station voluntarily asking for protection," Sarjiman said. The fifth member of the sect was yet to hand himself in to police as he had to work, Sarjiman said.

The sect's leader, Ahmad Moshaddeq, who is now in police detention, declared himself a Muslim prophet and taught followers that praying and the haj pilgrimage were unnecessary.

 Elections/political parties

Public has doubts over new political parties - Survey

Kompas - November 12, 2007

Suwardiman – "The facts indicated that up until now many political parties have not really taken up the aspirations of the people. The parties have only become a means for a small group of people to take power. We have merely been turned into spectators that witness their 'attractions' without touching on the real problems confronted by ordinary people. How can we trust them?".

Such was a comment by Indri (43), a respondent from the North Sumatra provincial capital of Medan who was contacted by Kompas on November 8 during a survey that was held between November 7-8. Indri's comment was representative of 79.3 percent of respondents out of a total of 837 netted in this survey, who were disappointed with the performance of the political parties that exist at the moment.

As many as 76.1 percent of respondents believe that up until now the existing political parties have yet to demonstrate their ability as an institution to represent the interests of the majority of ordinary people. Eight out of 10 respondents believe that the political parties at the moment largely exist just to articulate the interests of the political parties and the elite.

This experience appears to have made the public feel apathetic towards the new political parties that have recently registered themselves with the Department of Justice and Human Rights to participate in contesting the 2009 general elections.

Role of the parties

Theoretically, political parties represent the primary pillar and at the same time the spirit of the democratic process. As a political institution they are an important instrument in a modern political systems. Among other things, political parties play a role as an instrument of political education for society, a channel for the political wishes of the people, an instrument of political participation for citizens and a political recruitment channel in the process of filling public positions.

Put simply, political parties are born to become an intermediary or mediator between the people and the government.

Unfortunately, in Indonesia the modernisation of the political system has not been accompanied with significant changes to the political culture. The system and political institutions that now provide more space turn out to mostly be used as a faucet of corruption.

The public is also fed up with the parties only playing an aggressive role in the lead up to the elections. After the 'festival of democracy' is over, no attention is paid to the ordinary people and they are left to go back to confronting their own problems, and by themselves.

It is because of this therefore, that when asked about the performance of the political parties, the majority of respondents said they were disappointed because the parties mostly exist to advance institutionalised interests and the interests of those in power, prioritising the interests of the political elite and the owners of capital that stand behind them.

Just to mention a few examples, what about the antics by the political elite in formulating a solution to the Lapindo mud disaster. For more than half-a-year the people of Porong, Sidoarjo, East Java, has been suffering from the prolonged impact of the Lapindo mudflow.

The failure of the interpellation motion that was presented by the House of Representatives (DPR) appears to have further convinced the people that the political party elite in the parliament is not serious about siding with their interests.

Not to mention the various corruption cases, quite a number of which have involved party leaders occupying seats in the DPR. One of these was the case involving funds from Bank Indonesia, some 31.5 billion of which ended up in the pockets of assembly members.

The revelations in this case appear to have added to the festering ulcer of political party members to whom the voters have given their trust. Finally, the hope that the political party representatives in the DPR would be aroused into action by the acute traffic congestion in Jakarta, also appears not to have been the case.

So, it is not surprising then if the majority of the public feels apathetic towards the work of political party leaders at present. In the eyes of respondents, the political party elite has been coopted by the interests of power and the owners of capital.

As many as 45.3 percent of respondents believe that after they are elected, the political party figures prioritise their own interests, while 44.1 percent said that these figures mostly tend to voice the interests of their parties.

New political parties

In 2004, 24 political parties were registered to contest legislative seats and 16 parties succeeded in winning a seat in the DPR.

The three parties that have succeeded in dominating the DPR through having the largest number of seats are still the big and established parties, the Golkar Party (127 seats), the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (109 seats) and the United Development Party (58 seats). The Democrat Party as a new party who contested the elections for the first time in 2004 is in fourth place controlling 56 seats.

It appears that the public likes the idea of less political parties being involved in the elections. At least that was the opinion 83.6 percent of respondents in this survey. The majority of the pubic (80.8 percent of respondents) believe that too many parties participated in the elections three years ago. The ideal number of parties contesting the elections – according to 45 percent of respondents – is three to five parties. Meanwhile according to 32.2 percent of respondents, the ideal number would be between six to 10.

So far, 79 new political parties have registered and are taking up a diverse range of ideologies and interests.

Out of the 71 parties that have submitted their statues and rules of association to the Department of Justice and Human Rights, as few as eight are recorded as having a religious basis. And the names and identities of quite a few resemble each other.

The public's appreciation of the emergence of new political parties is extremely low. Almost 90 percent of respondents said that they did not know or did not believe that there were any new political parties that would attract their vote. Public apathy towards the emergence of new political parties may well be rooted in their disappointment over the performance of the political parties that exist at the moment.

This disappointment manifests itself in public dissatisfaction with the performance of the elite parties that currently sit in the DPR who represent regional electorates. This can be read from the views of 73.6 percent of respondents that are unconvinced that these new parties will be able to struggle for their interests.

The majority of the public (73.2 percent) is of the view that there is no need for new parties to be formed to greet the 2009 general elections. It is for this reason also that the majority of the public agree that the requirements for establishing a political party be made harder than the requirements that are currently in force as embodied in Law Number 31/2002 on Political Parties.

Proposed amendments are also being mulled over by the DPR in the deliberations on the draft packet of political laws, with proposals that a number of rules on the establishment of a party be tightened up. Included among these is a proposal that required the number of founding members needed to establish a party, which currently stands at 50, be increased to between 100 to 250 people.

The other proposed amendment is that on the number of management boards, which currently requires that a party have branch offices in a minimum of 50 percent of the provinces, be increased to 75 percent. It has also been proposed that the electoral threshold of 3 percent of seats in the DPR be increased to 5.

The unfinished deliberations on the draft political laws are the reason that the Department of Justice and Human Rights has postponed the verification of the parties that have already registered. Based on investigations by Kompas Research and Development, the addresses and identify of a number of the new political parties that have registered is unclear. Several of the registered addresses and phone numbers were also unable to be contacted. (Kompas Research and Development)

[Translated by James Balowski.]

2008 poll budget slashed by government

Jakarta Post - November 9, 2007

Alfian, Jakarta – The government has announced it will allocate Rp 10.4 trillion (US$1.14 billion) to finance the 2009 general election, half the budget proposed by the General Elections Commission (KPU).

"The reduction is done in a spirit of efficiency," director general of budget at the Finance Ministry, Achmad Rochjadi, told Detik.com newsportal after attending a meeting to discuss the general elections budget at the Vice Presidential Palace.

"The amount, however, is not yet final (and is) waiting for the deliberation of the bill on political parties at the House of Representatives," he said.

In addition to Vice President Jusuf Kalla, the meeting was also attended by Home Affairs Minister Mardiyanto, Justice and Human Rights Minister Andi Mattalata, and National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) chief Paskah Suzetta.

The KPU proposed a budget of Rp 22.3 trillion, to be taken from the state budget, and another Rp 25.6 trillion, which could be taken from regional budgets. The KPU also said the budget was for preparations and activities in 2008 and 2009.

The government provided RP 2.3 trillion from the state budget for the 2004 polls. There were, however, additional funds allocated from the regional budget.

Achmad said efficiency efforts included the use of ballot boxes from the 2004 polls as well as increasing the number of voters at each polling station.

"We also do not need special funding for security as it is already the duty of the National Police. Maybe we only need to provide them with meals," he said. "Another way is using ID cards for voter identification instead of issuing a special ID for the election."

The size of ballot papers could also be minimized and using cheaper materials similar to those used for newspapers, he said, and instead of punching through candidates' names, voters could write down the names, thus reducing the ballot paper size.

Meanwhile, KPU chairman Abdul Hafiz Anshary said that he had yet to hear a detailed explanation of the Rp 10.4 trillion figure decided by the government. "I don't know yet whether that Rp 10.4 trillion is for two years or for one year only. We will see what they mean with that figure," said Abdul when The Jakarta Post contacted him.

However, he said, if the money was for two years then it would be irrational. "That figure is far beyond the actual need."

One factor behind the large budget is the increased honorarium for officials at polling stations.

"The honorarium is well below the minimum wage. We cannot raise it with only a Rp 10.4 trillion budget," Abdul said. "It will be a high risk to lower their honorarium. They may possibly refuse to work or they will work but be easily tempted to violate regulations."

Abdul also said the KPU and the vice president would soon form a small team including officials from the Finance Ministry, Home Affairs Ministry and Bappenas to discuss a more detailed election budget.

Parties 'failing' to provide political education

Jakarta Post - November 9, 2007

Jakarta – Political parties in Indonesia have failed in their role as the key providers of political education for their members as well as the general public, said a politician Thursday.

"The political parties in Indonesia are still very primitive," said Nurul Arifin, a member of the Golkar Party, during a public discussion on democracy and the organization of political parties hosted by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) at Bumi Karsa Hotel in South Jakarta on Thursday.

"The political parties are too busy competing for access to power and too absorbed in never-ending internal conflicts."

Speaking also as a representative of a working group for the organizational reform of political parties, Nurul said providing a comprehensive political education for their members, let alone the public, is not yet part of the parties' agendas.

The working group, consisting of 16 members of political parties, non-governmental organizations and academia, presented its proposed changes to the 2002 Political Party Law, currently under deliberation in the House of Representatives.

The group recommended appending three additional clauses to Article 9 on political education within a party, suggesting that a party be responsible for providing political education for its members.

Chairman of the special committee deliberating the bill, Ganjar Pranowo, who also spoke at the CSIS discussion, said the recommendations had merit.

"The current political parties are not attuned to the acceleration of political change and the democratic process. We need to make sure they are," Ganjar said. "This so-called political package, a set of regulations for the political parties, needs to be synchronized with other regulations."

A professor of the Social and Political Sciences Faculty at Airlangga University, Ramlan Surbakti, said parties function more as organizational managers than as motivators of people.

"The law doesn't provide any guidelines on how the political parties should organize political education," he said, adding that details on implementation should be determined by the parties themselves.

He said one of the weaknesses within the parties was their dependency on core leaders, making parties too personality- oriented.

"The development of the political parties is too reliant on certain figures. The parties need to educate their members to produce leaders capable of replacing past leaders," Ramlan said.

The working group also suggested changes in Articles 1, 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10, to ensure the political party bill guaranteed the participation of women and marginalized communities such as the young and people with disabilities.

The recommendation also included changes to facilitate the development of the parties' capacity, transparency and accountability.

Parties receiving subsidies from the government, for example, were asked to make their financial reports available to the general public. (lva)

 Jakarta/urban life

Sluice gates proving to be profitable

Jakarta Post - November 14, 2007

Jakarta – The Cakung sluice gate in East Jakarta provides Ari Syarifuddin with a steady income on a daily basis due to the amount of trash it catches. "You may look at this as trash, but I see it as money," he said.

Ari and several of his workers push up to three meters of trash off the sluice gate at any one time, sending it downstream to a reservoir where it is moved into a truck by a crane and transported to a dump site.

At times the part of the river directly before the sluice gate looks more like land, with styrofoam, bicycle helmets, plastic bottles, broken tree branches and chemical waste, among other items of trash, clogging it up.

"No wonder it always floods here. The amount of trash at this gate is not just bad, it's super bad," Ari said.

Massive buildups of waste are quickly reducing the size and depth of rivers in the capital, especially near their sluice gates.

Some 93 sluice gates have been constructed in 34 locations throughout Jakarta's river network. Some gates were built in the 1920s by the Dutch administration, including the Manggarai and Karet sluice gates in Central Jakarta.

The Manggarai sluice has the largest amount of trash piled at its gates out of all sluices in the city. Debris, including pieces of wood, cardboard boxes and other heavy objects regularly lodge in its gates, causing mountains of waste to form each day.

Manggarai sluice gate operator Parjono said four loads of 18 tons of trash were carried off to the city's dump every day from the area. "After the floods in February this year, we had to transport 40 truckloads of debris to the dump. That was one heck of a day," he said.

In February, floods inundated at least 70 percent of Jakarta, claiming 48 lives and causing around Rp 12 trillion (US$ 1.3 Billion) in damage.

Trash is not the only problem plaguing Jakarta's sluices. Many sluice gates in the city do not function properly as they are too old or poorly maintained.

Hassan, who has been a sluice gate operator in Sunter, North Jakarta, since 1963, said the city administration was no longer concerned with gate no. 8. "The gate can't be closed because some of its gears are missing. Even the operator post has been abandoned," he said.

The head of the water resources and beach development division at the Jakarta Public Works Agency, I Gde Nyoman Soeandhi, said all Sunter sluice gates were still being regularly maintained. "We make sure they work by occasionally coming and moving the gates up and down," he told the Post.

He said gate no. 8 was originally built to regulate irrigation to areas such as Kelapa Gading, but now the agency kept it open at all times. Kelapa Gading was a water catchment area before it was transformed into a bustling residential and commercial district. (anw)

City explores ERP traffic system

Jakarta Post - November 14, 2007

Mustaqim Adammrah, Jakarta – Jakarta is being urged to follow the lead of cities like London, Stockholm and Singapore in introducing an electronic road pricing (ERP) system to ease chronic traffic congestion.

Budi Kuntjoro of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and Darmaningtyas of the Transportation Institute (Intrans) said an ERP system would be effective in reducing Jakarta's notorious traffic.

Budi, a transportation expert and the project director at the ITDP, praised administration plans to introduce ERP.

"It's time for the administration to work on reducing traffic chaos by limiting and controlling the use of private vehicles instead of expanding the roads. There will never be enough roads to accommodate all the cars, even if they are continuously expanded," he said.

The city administration is making other, largely unsuccessful, attempts to ease traffic, including opening busway lanes to motorists during peak travel times.

On Tuesday, the second day motorists were allowed onto busway lanes, there was little visible difference in the traffic. Erlangga Rismantojo, who drove along Jl. H.R. Rasuna Said through to Jl. Mampang in South Jakarta, said traffic was just as bad despite the new policy.

Budi said ERP was one solution for dealing with chronic traffic congestion and preventing the capital from coming to total gridlock by 2014.

Under the ERP system, motorists would be charged for using Jakarta's main thoroughfares. Private vehicles account for 98 percent of all vehicles on the capital's roads, but they only transport half of all passengers, said Budi.

Darmaningtyas agreed Jakarta needed ERP, however, he questioned whether now was the right time to introduce the system.

"I believe the administration will eventually be able to implement the system, but not in a rush," he said. He said implementing ERP would take time because the administration needed to lobby the Finance Ministry to issue the necessary regulations that would allow it to collect fees from motorists.

"On top of that, the administration will need a great deal of money," he said.

Singapore, he said, required at least Rp 6 trillion (US$654 million) for the procurement, preparation and operation of its ERP system.

Jakarta Transportation Agency deputy head Udar Pristono said the agency would complete its feasibility study for the ERP system by the end of this year, which is itself expected to cost Rp 1 trillion, Warta Kota newspaper reported Tuesday.

Darmaningtyas said the administration should first focus on optimizing the operations of all 10 busway corridors, including the three still under construction, before moving to the ERP project.

Sharing Darmaningtyas' opinion, the deputy chairman of the City Council's Commission D on development, Mukhayar, said the right time for the administration to implement the ERP system "is when all public transportation modes are giving good and decent service".

"The right time also depends on the availability of mass rapid transportation modes," he said. The ERP system, he said, can only be applied on roads where "decent" public transportation is available.

City plan to open busway lanes to public 'absurd'

Jakarta Post - November 13, 2007

Adisti Sukma Sawitri, Jakarta – The Jakarta administration's latest policy that allows motorists to use the busway lanes to ease traffic congestion is absurd and will backfire, transportation observers said.

Tulus Abadi of the Indonesian Consumers Foundation told a press conference Monday the policy would make the busway system no different to other public transportation modes in the city.

"With this policy, the administration should forget making more people leave their cars at home to take the busway. The existing passengers may even stop taking it since it would be no different to regular air-conditioned buses," Tulus said.

The busway lanes were built to be used exclusively by the city's TransJakarta buses and are supposed to be free from traffic jams, thereby making city travel faster.

"It's clear the administration (is still) paying more attention to private car owners than to the existence of a good public transportation system," he said.

The administration decided to open busway lanes for all motorists for a month starting Monday in response to worsening traffic congestion in the capital over the past few months. The decision was made after a meeting with Transportation Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal last week in which solutions for Jakarta's traffic congestion problems were discussed.

The administration, in cooperation with the City Police, the Transportation Agency and Public Order Agency, deployed 2,200 officials to clear 112 congestion spots usually clogged by illegal on-street parking, waiting public minivans, street vendors and pools of motorcycle-taxi drivers.

Governor Fauzi Bowo said he would review the policy within a month to decide whether to extend it.

Darmaningtyas of the Institute of Transportation Studies said the administration should find another solution to the city's traffic congestion issue rather than jeopardize the effectiveness of the busway.

He said drivers of private vehicles should be targeted to help reduce traffic jams in the capital. "It is time to increase parking fees and toll road fares. It would be even better if the administration introduced road pricing. An increase in travel costs is the only way to reduce the use of private cars."

Private cars comprise a large portion of the number of vehicles on Jakarta's streets daily. The Transportation Agency recorded that around 44 percent of the 7 million daily travelers traversing the city were private vehicle owners, while the remainder were passengers of public transportation vehicles, including the busway system.

City Transportation Council member Azas Tigor Nainggolan said the administration should improve the existing busway service if it was serious about implementing its Mass Rapid Transit plan.

"The problem with the busway is that it keeps expanding but the administration fails to provide supporting facilities for motorists along each corridor," he said.

He said despite the rapid network expansion to 10 corridors, the administration failed to build parking areas and feeder buses so people could leave their cars at home and conveniently use the busway.

 Economy & investment

Government plans red-carpet treatment for investors

Jakarta Post - November 14, 2007

Nusa Dua, Bali – Having steered its new Investment Law through parliament, the government's next step will be to lay out the red carpet for local and international investors by easing the bureaucratic obstacles to doing business in Indonesia.

"We want to convert the red tape into a red carpet," Muhammad Lutfi, chairman of the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), told the Indonesia-Australia Business Conference on Tuesday.

The board is now working to slash the number of days needed to satisfy bureaucratic requirements in areas like starting a business, securing licenses, registering property, paying taxes, trading across borders, exporting, importing and enforcing contracts, Lutfi said.

He recognized that Indonesia was trailing behind its neighbors in attracting foreign direct investment, but said the new Investment Law, enacted in April, along with improvements in BKPM administration, would help redress that.

The former entrepreneur, recruited by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to lead the investment agency, appears to mean business.

"If Indonesia currently ranks 135th in the world in terms of the ease of doing business, we should be in 55th place this time next year," he said, qualifying his statement, however, by saying that this was provided that other countries did nothing to improve their own investment climates.

That could be a dangerous assumption given the fierce competition among Asian countries to attract foreign direct investment. China has been taking the lion's share, followed by India, and other Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Vietnam, a relative newcomer, has been the most aggressive in laying out the red carpet, slashing the time and cost of starting and doing business.

Improving the investment climate was one of the 2004 election promises of President Yudhoyono. But while he succeeded in introducing the new Investment Law, a new taxation reform package is still a work in progress. Meanwhile, the government has completely given up on reform of the labor legislation, another main bone of contention among investors.

Lutfi gave some examples of where bureaucratic improvements would be made, largely through the introduction of a one-stop service and better coordination with local administrations.

To start a business, 12 procedures are currently involved and these take 105 days to complete. The government hopes to slash this to three procedures taking a maximum of 23 days, bringing Indonesia up to 63rd place from 168th at present

As for securing licenses, 19 procedures and 196 days are required. This will be reduced to 8 procedures and 103 days, which will bring Indonesia up to 33rd place from 99th at present.

Lutfi outlined the main features of the new Investment Law, which include equality of treatment, no minimum capital requirements, freedom to repatriate investments and profits, better legal guarantees, new dispute settlement mechanisms and better investment services.

One area of concern in the new Investment Law is the so-called negative list of sectors that are off-limits to foreign investors. Lutfi said the government was currently discussing this issue with the representatives of business organizations.

The government was also looking at introducing fiscal incentives, ranging from tax allowances, tax deductions and possibly even tax holidays, he said, adding however that there was some resistance within the administration to the idea of extending tax holidays.

On the labor front, he said the BKPM, with the agreement of the labor unions, plans to introduce specific packages of regulations in areas designated as a special economic zones, which, if successful, would be replicated in the rest of the nation.

Indonesia's investment climate seems to be improving, and Lutfi said that the value of investment commitments this year had reached the 1997 level, when Indonesia was struck by the Asian financial crisis.

The BKPM, which approves investment licenses outside the oil/gas, mining and financial sectors, approved US$19.51 billion worth of new domestic investments between January and October, up significantly from $15.96 billion in the same period of 2006.

The figure for foreign investments, which usually takes its cue from domestic investors, was even more impressive. The BKPM approved $36.75 billion during the 10 month period, compared with $13.29 billion for the corresponding period of 2006.

The two-day conference of the Indonesian Australian Business Council ended Tuesday.

Businesses express doubt over government incentive initiative

Jakarta Post - November 12, 2007

Andi Haswidi, Jakarta – Businesses are cautiously welcoming the government's plan to provide incentives for industries willing to convert from oil to using other alternative sources of energy amid high oil prices, which seem to be on course to breaking the US$100 mark a barrel.

While praising the approach, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) warns incentives may not be enough as conversion attempts are still marred by the availability of alternative commodities, environmental issues and redundant regulations.

"There is the need for a holistic approach to addressing the energy conversion issue so all levels of government will support it," Kadin chairman Mohammad Hidayat told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Hidayat said the manufacturing industry in particular was facing a serious threat from rising oil prices, with the cost of logistics estimated to increase by 5 to 10 percent next month, which would further damage the penetration of products.

The issues hampering energy conversion, he said, include fresh capital injection for technology conversion, supporting infrastructure for coal distribution, the availability of gas, biofuel costs, environment and redundant conversion regulations.

"Using coal, in particular, has some repercussions on the environment, but there is the pressing need for cost efficiency. That is why the government must provide a national policy so there will be uniform treatment of the issue across the nation."

Although the type of energy conversion incentives are still being examined, the incentive plan was introduced last Friday by Coordinating Minister for the Economy Boediono. However, he said incentives would likely be in the form of tax cuts and ease on regulations.

Sofyan Wanandi, the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) chairman, shared Hidayat's opinion, saying it was tough for factories to shift to coal as there were too many obstacles including initiation permits, environmental permits, local government regulations and a coal-stockpiling requirement.

In the meantime, he said, the manufacturing industry was forced to make production cost adjustments due to the oil price surge, which could lead to many companies increasing the price of their products by up to 10 percent from the beginning of next year.

Energy analyst Kurtubi added converting to coal also involved the problem of delivery timeliness from coal producers to factories due to the lack of supporting infrastructure, especially in logistics.

"However, converting to coal is still the most probable scenario as other alternative sources of energy are harder to obtain," Kurtubi said.

Chatib Basri, head of University of Indonesia's Economic Research Center, said no specific calculations on the impact of oil prices on industries could be made as yet.

"Preparing incentives would be the right approach. However, it would be significantly more useful if the government continues to eradicate the red tape that contributes to the high cost of conducting business here," he said.

Factory-gate prices 'may jump 10%'

Jakarta Post - November 9, 2007

Andi Haswidi, Jakarta – Hit by rising oil prices, many factory- gate prices will have to rise by up to 10 percent early next year unless the government can reduce its chronic red tape so as to bring down the cost of doing business, says an association.

According to Sofyan Wanandi, chairman of the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo), firms would be forced to increase prices as a result of increasing production and logistics costs.

"The key to facing this situation lies in the effort to reduce the high costs caused by red tape so that the pressure from higher oil prices can be reduced," Sofyan said Thursday.

He said that at a recent meeting of association members, industry players estimated that the total cost of doing business would likely go up by 10 percent starting next month, making higher product prices inevitable.

For November, state oil company PT Pertamina has increased the price of diesel oil for industrial use by 6.4 percent to Rp 4,776 (52 US cents) a liter from Rp 4,489 a liter last month. It has also raised the price of automotive diesel by 3.7 percent to Rp 7,161 a liter.

Meanwhile, crude oil prices fell to US$97 a barrel Thursday after peaking at an all-time high of $98 per barrel Wednesday, although many analysts predict that prices will continue to increase.

"Most companies still have sufficient stocks of products and raw materials to last until the end of the year. So, the increase in prices will be effected gradually at the start of next year."

The price rises, he said, would affect a host of industries, such as the petrochemical industry, including plastic and synthetic fiber products, the transportation sector, and steel-dependent industries.

Benny Soetrisno, the chairman of the Indonesian Textile Producers Association (API), concurred, saying that increases in the prices of textile products were inevitable. However, the association was still calculating how much these would be as it had to take into account people's purchasing power.

"Purchasing power will come under pressure as the government plans to lift the fuel subsidy for private vehicles. So, we are still waiting to see what will happen," he said.

State Minister for National Development Planning Paskah Suzetta said earlier this week that if crude prices reached US$100 a barrel, limiting the sale of subsidized fuels for private cars would have to be considered next year.

Sofyan said that while the increases in oil prices were being felt all around the world, Indonesian companies were being hit harder due to the already high cost of doing business here.

Within the time available, he urged the government to help reduce the impact of soaring oil prices by overhauling the arduous processes for obtaining business permits, eradicating illegal administration fees and easing up the regulations on the use of alternative energy sources.

"It's hard for factories to shift to coal, for instance, as there are too many obstacles right from the start, including things like initiation permits, environmental permits, various local government regulations and the coal stockpiling requirement."

 Opinion & analysis

Investors still waiting

Jakarta Post Editorial - November 13, 2007

The Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) has reported steady and sharp increases in new foreign investment approvals amid persistently negative perceptions among foreign businesspeople and analysts of Indonesia's investment climate.

Most foreign investors and business consultants still consider the country one of the least attractive places in Southeast Asia for direct investment due to numerous impediments to business operations. They do recognize the BKPM figures on licensed investment but point out that investment approval is one thing, while investment realization something else entirely.

Many foreign investors apparently wanted to obtain licenses before the particular business fields were closed to new investors. But the blunt fact is that all the wonderful data on investment approvals mean little for the economy and job creation if the investment commitment is not realized in fixed assets.

The situation is strikingly different in foreign portfolio investment as investors still pour a lot of money into Indonesia's corporate stocks, government bonds and Bank Indonesia's commercial papers. Obviously it is this short term capital inflow that is partly responsible for keeping the rupiah relatively stable on the foreign exchange market. It is the foreign portfolio investment that also has fueled the bullish sentiment on the Jakarta stock market despite the projected weakening of the world economy.

The problem, though, is that these portfolio investments do not contribute much to economic expansion as they are invested only in financial instruments, not in fixed, productive assets. They instead make the rupiah highly vulnerable to speculative attacks as the hot money can fly out instantly at the slightest sign of trouble or even wild rumors.

Some investors have acknowledged the significant progress made through several sets of reform packages launched since early last year. But the problem is that Indonesia still lags far behind many other countries in Asia even in the most basic rules or procedures for doing business.

Eurocham vice chairman Leonard van Hien rightly observed last week that Indonesia, though abundantly endowed with rich natural resources and lucrative business opportunities, has been suffering from negative perception among foreign investors due to extensive corruption, an unreliable justice system and excessive red tape in business licensing.

Starting up a business in Indonesia still takes more than 100 days, as opposed to one or two weeks in most other Southeast Asian countries, and complying with the numerous regulations imposed by the central government and regional administrations is not only time consuming but also costly as the red tape at every step of the bureaucratic process requires the payment of official fees or bribes.

What about the one-stop licensing system promised by the new investment law that was enacted last April? This facility is still on the drawing board as the government regulations regarding the division of licensing responsibility among the various ministries and between the central government and regional administrations are still being drafted.

Besides red tape and regulatory excesses, inadequate basic infrastructure and the utterly poor condition of roads and seaports due to years of under-investment and neglect caused by an acute lack of maintenance budget have been cited as the biggest barriers to new investment.

But only one or two of the dozen major infrastructure projects such as those in power plants and toll roads which have been offered to investors since 2005 are now under construction because investors who made the plunge into this field have been frustrated by red tape and regulatory excesses. Lack of roads and poor port-handling services certainly have increased business costs at a time when companies are now groaning under steeply rising fuel prices.

Most businesses have complained that higher fuel prices have increased their production costs by 10 percent and consequently eroded the competitiveness of their products on the international market.

Unfortunately, it is labor-intensive manufacturing companies such as those which produce textile, garments, shoes and electronics which are suffering the most because they must rely on imported basic materials and parts and components and compete within a very thin profit margin.

It is needless to reiterate the imperative need for bold reform measures to strengthen our economic competitiveness and improve the business climate amid the weakening global economy and uncertainty in the international financial market.

The government should not be lulled into behaving as thought it is "business as usual" by the steady, significant increase in non-oil exports over the past ten months because these gains have been generated mostly by steep rises in the prices of natural resource commodities as coal, palm oil, pulp, rubber and other minerals.

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