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‘Dirgahayu’ Indonesia: A reflection of Accomplishments, Challenges and Strategies

It was 66 years ago, in 1945, when Indonesia victoriously liberated itself from more than 350 years of colonial rule by the Dutch and Japanese. This was not easy. The courage and bravery of Indonesian fighters in battles spread from Aceh to Medan, Padang to Makassar and Ambon and Bandung to Yogyakarta and Surabaya, to allow Indonesia to emerge as one nation.

On Aug. 17, Indonesians will take the opportunity to salute these fallen heroes, take stock of the long and painful journey in our national struggle toward independence and reaffirm the work still to be done.

So, in honor of this day, it is important to reflect on Indonesia’s accomplishments to date, assess the challenges still ahead and outline a plan for moving forward.

In the past 66 years, Indonesia has been through many changes—including President Sukarno’s era (Old Order), President Soeharto’s era (New Order) and the Reform era. Indonesia experienced tremendous growth due to an oil boom in the beginning of the New Order era, but its authoritarian character and restricted civil liberties were not sustainable. The reform era that began in 1998 is characterized by greater freedom of speech and autonomy.

The end of the New Order unleashed pent-up violent forces in places such as Maluku, West Kalimantan and Central Sulawesi. Indonesia also continued to face a prolonged conflict in Aceh that spanned more than 30 years. Yet, the election of Irwandi Yusuf — a former leader of the Free Aceh Movement rebel group — as governor of Aceh, had him leading the very people he once fought against. This was a great inspirational example of national reconciliation.

To this end, Indonesia has enjoyed a period of political calm offering a stable climate conducive to new investments. In fact, Indonesia has been a darling for investors, with its investment shares increasing 46 percent in 2010 alone.

Indonesia’s exports have also been surging, dominated by exports of coal and crude palm oil. It has rendered Indonesia the only country in the G20 with a declining debt-to-GDP ratio in 2009 and robust growth rates. Analysts all over the world foresee Indonesia standing tall as it becomes a global economic powerhouse.

However, this solid progress is not without difficulties. Indonesia now faces an emerging set of challenges unique to the country’s current demographic, economic, political and social realities that must be addressed head on.

While domestic oil demand is on the rise, national oil production is dwindling, resulting in large imports of oil. Although Indonesia has abundant coal, natural gas and geothermal energy, it uses more expensive oil to make electricity. This has the state budget earmarked with a whopping US$22 billion fuel and electricity subsidy, which has a disproportional benefit to the rich and is a major drain on tax revenues that would otherwise be spent on infrastructure, social services and agriculture.

Therefore, the agricultural sector is neglected – maintained by small budgets and imports. This unbalanced agricultural policy marginalizes the country’s farming communities, resulting in questionable long-term food security and extensive poverty in rural areas.

With few jobs in rural areas, millions are working abroad as domestic maids with the help of the government. Yet, fair agreements with destination countries to protect Indonesian workers from potential abuses, such as the June beheading of an Indonesian working in Saudi Arabia, Ruyati binti Satubi, have not been set up by the government. The lack of proper diplomatic acknowledgement in the June incident was a wakeup call that Indonesia needs to be better at preparing and protecting its migrant workers.

The rate of deforestation also is alarming. Three contradictory laws, which make it difficult to coordinate efforts to slow deforestation, are prime examples of a chaotic, decentralized process. With the market for forest-related products contributing greatly to Indonesia’s GDP and trade, harvesting forests remains economically important.

While the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has aggressively detained many perpetrators, corruption is still rampant. Transparency International ranks Indonesia 110 on the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

A recent legal case illustrates the public’s disappointment with our legal system which is often perceived as generating injustice. Prita Mulyasari was given jail time and a hefty fine for complaining about a hospital, and a community fundraising drive collected more than US$47,000 (mostly in coins!) to help her deal with the unfair

The government cannot afford to ignore any of these problems. An initiative by the government, at its highest level, is needed to craft intelligent strategies to resolve them. Leadership must provide a clear assessment of each challenge and remain focused not only on intelligent strategy, but robust implementation of new plans.  

Indonesia’s transformation from a sleepy, economic backwater to an economic powerhouse won’t be smooth, but the nation has shown a strong resilience thus far in gaining its independence and overcoming its past complex challenges. It can do it again. Dirgahayu (Long live) Indonesia! Merdeka (Freedom)!
Source : Jakarta Post


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