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Indonesia News Digest 47 – December 16-22, 2008

News & issues

Actions, demos, protests... Aceh West Papua Human rights/law Labour issues Environment/natural disasters Women & gender Health & education War on corruption Islam/religion Elections/political parties Armed forces/defense Economy & investment Analysis & opinion

 News & issues

SBY wins politician of the year award

Jakarta Post - December 23, 2008

Jakarta – Seputar Indonesia has named President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the winner of the "People of the Year" award in politics.

The general manager of the daily newspaper, Hary Tanoesoedibjo, presented the award at the Presidential Palace on Monday.

The jury panel consisted of the University of Indonesia's School of Social and Political Sciences dean Hikmahanto Juwono, historian Taufik Abdullah, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences' political researcher Ikrar Nusa Bakti, Bank DKI president director Winny E Hasan, former chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission Taufiqurrahman Ruki, senior journalist Arswendo Atmowiloto and UI's School of Economy dean Bambang Brojonegoro.

Hikmahanto said the jury believed Yudhoyono had performed successfully this year, particularly in dealing with the economy crisis and his ongoing commitment to fighting corruption.

"Of course, the president is an inspiration for his people. One of the criterion for the award is that the recipient can inspire others," he added.

Other winners included Finance Minister Sri Mulyani for her work with the economy, the widow of murdered human rights campaigner Munir, Suciwati, in the legal field and actor/director Dedy Mizwar for his efforts in culture.

Lawmakers likely to miss sessions ahead of elections

Jakarta Post - December 23, 2008

Jakarta – House of Representatives Speaker Agung Laksono has expressed concern that the number of lawmakers attending plenary sessions and meetings will decrease due to their tight schedules ahead of the legislative elections.

"I am afraid the House's meetings will be empty or just attended by a few lawmakers," he told reporters in Jakarta on Monday.

Agung said the House should follow recent suggestions and announce the names of lawmakers who frequently miss bill deliberation meetings or plenary sessions.

"I think the essence of this idea is good as it will teach lawmakers a lesson about understanding their obligations and duties," said Agung, also deputy chairman of the Golkar Party.

He said lawmakers would be focusing more on getting re-elected, campaigning in their electoral districts and fighting for seats ahead of the April 9, 2009 elections. Their absence in the House, he said, would impact on the effectiveness of meetings.

"The House Speakers will try discussing this issue with the faction heads at the House. We don't want to see lawmakers sacrificing their legislative duties because of election campaigns," he said. "They must remember they are still active lawmakers."

If the faction chairmen agree to the measure, the House would ask the secretariat general to list lawmakers' attendance and submit it to the disciplinary council.

Agung said lawmakers still had 35 bills on their list pending deliberation, including those involving the military and corruption courts. He hoped lawmakers would obey the existing standing order.

Last Friday, the Prosperous Justice Party urged the disciplinary council, comprising of lawmakers, to actively take part in announcing the names of lawmakers who frequently skipped meetings.

Bills passed by House of Representatives in 2008:

1. Ratification of ILO Convention No. 185 concerning the revision of the Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention, 1958
2. Political Parties Law
3. The Use of Chemical Substances and the Ban on Using Chemical Substances for Chemical Weapons Law
4. Legislative Elections for House of Representatives and Regional Legislative Councils Law
5. Information and Electronic Transaction Law
6. Amendment of Law No. 32/2004 on Regional Administration Law
7. Haj Pilgrimage Law
8. Access to Information Law
9. Ratification on Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters
10. Amendment of Law No. 45/2007 on 2008 State Budget Revision
11. Shipping Law 12. Waste Management Law
13. Sharia-based securities Law
14. Micro, Small and Medium-Enterprises Law
15. Sharia Banking Law
16. Amendment of Law No. 7/1983 on Income Tax Law
17. The Republic of Indonesia's Ombudsman Law
18. Ratification of the Charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
19. State Ministry Offices Law
20. Eradication of Race and Ethnic Discrimination Law
21. 2009 State Budget Law
22. Presidential and Vice Presidential Election Law
23. State Territory Law
24. Pornography Law
25. Mining Law
26. Social Welfare Law
27. Tourism Law
28. Education Entity Law
29. Supreme Court Law

Source: Justice and Human Rights Ministry, House of Representatives

Revealed: Australia's secret labour camps

Sydney Morning Herald - December 21, 2008

Connie Levett – It was a throwaway line from old Uncle Gordon: "We had a lot of 'Javos' in Wallangarra during the war."

That comment would set Jan Lingard's course for the next decade as she asked why more than 350 Indonesians were camped in the remote NSW-Queensland border town. And what were others doing behind wire in Cowra and Casino?

"It blew my mind," said Lingard, an Indonesian language academic who discovered 5500 "Javos", or Indonesians, were interned and later conscripted for the military effort between 1942 and 1947. Their stories are told for the first time in Lingard's book Refugees And Rebels: Indonesian Exiles In Wartime Australia.

Lingard spoke with Indonesian internees and the Australians who remembered them.

"It was a different kind of internment. Germans and Japanese were considered a security threat. We were at war with Germany and Japan but we were not at war with the Dutch East Indies [Indonesia's colonial name]. We were really interning them on behalf of the Dutch," Lingard says.

The first Indonesians interned at Cowra, in 1942, were 800 striking merchant seamen from Dutch ships. When the Dutch East Indies fell to Japan, the men demanded equal pay with Dutch and Australian counterparts to transport war armaments. They were knocked back, and shunted off to Cowra for their impudence. Because they could not be held there indefinitely, a deal was struck – return to the Dutch ships or be conscripted to military labour camps.

So it was that some of the seamen washed up in Uncle Gordon's home town, Wallangarra, cross-loading war supplies from NSW to Queensland trains because of the different rail gauges.

The most significant group of Indonesian internees to pass through Cowra were political prisoners, shipped from Dutch New Guinea as the Japanese marched south in 1943. Dutch authorities convinced Australia the men and their families, whom they described as communists, may assist the Japanese if left behind.

Transported from the steamy tropics to a bleak Cowra winter, nine died in the first three months. Lingard says the plan was never for permanent internment, but it took leaked reports of the Cowra deaths to force the Australian Government to action. Single men went to work camps in Casino, with freedom to move around the town, and the young women trained as nurses for the Dutch war effort.

The Dutch tried to portray the political internees as dangerous and uneducated but their Red Cross submissions for intervention were well-prepared, Lingard says. What the Dutch really wanted was to keep the nationalists away from the seamen.

In Casino, where they finally came together, Dutch fears were realised. After General Sukarno proclaimed independence on August 17, 1945, some demanded to be repatriated, they went on strike and declared they were no longer under Dutch jurisdiction. In response, the Dutch erected barbed wire around the camp, "making them genuine political prisoners".

The seamen, whose strike action led to their initial internment behind the wire in Cowra in 1942, were again on strike and again behind the wire, but now they were politically awakened. With the end of war in the Pacific, all the "Javos" were repatriated to their newly independent homeland.

From the jungle to Cowra's winter

Siti Chamsinah had never felt cold like it. Aged 17, she arrived at Cowra in June 1943 with her family, transported from their jungle detention camp in Dutch New Guinea to a new life.

They were political prisoners, exiled for 15 years to Tanah Merah, a remote jungle camp, by the Dutch because of her father's involvement in Indonesian nationalist politics. "In Cowra, I felt like a prisoner because of the fences and barbed wire at the camp. In Tanah Merah, the forest was our fence," recalls Siti,82.

She spent eight months in Cowra, constantly ill with malaria, bronchitis and flu. Behind the wire, she says living conditions were quite comfortable. The detainees were treated well and "could hold meetings to talk about what was happening in Indonesia".

In January 1944 Siti went to Melbourne to study nursing but did not complete the course. "I didn't feel like helping Dutch soldiers because they had invaded my country," she says. "The training came in handy later for my own people."

Siti has good memories of her time in Australia and says she did not experience racism. She remains in contact with one Melbourne nursing friend. They have exchanged letters for 60 years.

Of bathing and bikinis: Porn law claims yet more victims

Jakarta Post - December 20, 2008

Agus Maryono, Purwokerto – The association of tour guides at the Baturraden holiday resort in Banyumas, Central Java, has blamed the much-decried anti-pornography law for a slew of recent cancellations by Dutch tourists planning to visit the area.

Association chairman Tekad Santoso said Friday he had received several emails from Dutch would-be holidaymakers saying they were canceling their visits over fears they could fall foul of the law while enjoying Baturraden's attractions.

"It's true, they said they were afraid the police would arrest them for bathing in the local sulfur springs," Te-kad said.

Baturraden, he went on, was a popular destination among Dutch tourists, with an average of two tour groups visiting the resort each week. Tekad added that for most Dutch tourists, Baturraden held a sentimental attraction because of its rich Dutch colonial heritage.

"So when they come here, they feel they're cherishing memories of their ancestors," he said, adding he had shown Dutch tour groups around the area for more than 20 years.

He also said most of the tour guides in the area had built up a good rapport with the visitors. One of the most popular activities here, Tekad went on, was to bathe in the natural hot springs and enjoy a sulfur wrap and massage, during which the men normally wore only shorts and the women bikinis.

"It seems they followed the news on the porn law in Indonesia and got the idea they could be jailed for bathing like that, just because of the law," he said.

The controversial anti-pornography bill was passed recently by the House of Representatives and signed into law last week by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Djatmiko, chairman of the Baturraden tourism community association, concurred the resort had long built up good relations with Dutch tourists.

"The relations are so good, (the tourists) established the Tileng Foundation to help improve Baturraden's education sector," he said, citing a local elementary school that had received a donation of Rp 600 million (US$54,500) from the foundation.

Djatmiko said an average of 1,000 Dutch tourists visited Baturraden annually. However, he also said at least three planned visits by Dutch tour groups had been canceled since the law was enacted. "But I don't think it's just about the porn law; the global financial crisis could also be behind the cancellations," he was quick to point out.

BRR mission to rebuild Nias Island wraps up

Jakarta Post - December 20, 2008

Adianto P. Simamora, Medan – After three and a half years on the job, BRR Nias, the agency overseeing the reconstruction of Nias Island, officially closed up shop Friday, leaving as its legacy nearly Rp 2 trillion worth of infrastructure.

BRR head Kuntoro Mang-kusubroto said that by December, the agency had handed over infrastructure assets valued at Rp 1.8 trillion (US$160 million), including houses, roads, government offices, medical facilities, schools and airports.

"But some of the road construction is still in the finishing stages so that will be transferred in January," Kuntoro told reporters in Medan before departing for the Nias capital of Gunung Sitoli.

The BRR also handed over on Friday a well-furnished local parliament building worth Rp 9.3 billion.

Kuntoro said the closure of the BRR office in Nias would be followed by the end of the agency's mission in Aceh, the region hardest hit by the devastating tsunami in December 2004. "We have so far closed several offices in Banda Aceh. We hope to close the BRR office in Lhokseumawe on Tuesday," he added.

The BRR, tasked with the recovery of the tsunami-ravaged areas in both Aceh and Nias, will have to end its mission by April 2009.

The agency started the rehabilitation in Nias in June 2005, three months after a devastating earthquake flattened the island.

The disaster cost Nias, one of the poorest regencies in North Sumatra, nearly 1,000 lives and about Rp 6 trillion in total damage.

Kuntoro said there was no need to worry about the capability of the local workforce in managing the assets.

"We have provided a series of training workshops for local residents, including the local administration staff. Let them develop self-reliance," he said.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla had earlier expressed concern about the sustainability of the reconstruction projects in Nias because of the local workforce's lack of skills.

Kalla asked donor countries involved in the Aceh and Nias rehabilitation projects to help sustain the projects by such means as providing scholarships to local people.

Kuntoro said that the BRR had also helped revive economic development by rebuilding the maritime, fishery, agriculture and tourism sectors, which were worst affected by the tsunami.

Former environment minister Emil Salim, representing the BRR supervisory board, praised the work of the agency after the tsunami.

"The government needs to adopt the working system of the BRR to speed up the construction of infrastructure across the rest of the country, including housing," Emil said.

 Actions, demos, protests...

Students protest education legal entities

Jakarta Post - December 22, 2008

Surabaya – Dozens of students under the Surabaya Students Central Movement (SGMS) staged a rally on Monday in front of 17 Agustus University, Surabaya, in protest against the new law on legal entities in the education system.

Students erected banners and blockaded streets surrounding the campus, causing traffic jams in the area. Tires and leaves were also burned as a sign of protest, tempointeraktif.com reports.

One of the demonstrators, Kristianus, said students opposed the new law as it created leeway for the commercialization of education. "Students from low-income families will find it more difficult to get access to education as it will become very expensive," Kristianus said.

Under the new law public universities can charge exorbitant fees to finance their activities, students say. (ewd)

Seven demos to enliven the capital today, beware of traffic jams

Detik.com - December 16, 2008

Aprizal Rahmatullah, Jakarta – It is as if Jakarta is never free from the bustle of protest actions. Today, seven groups of demonstrators are ready to enliven the capital with the potential to create traffic congestion.

Based on data compiled by the Metro Jaya regional police Traffic Management Centre (TMC) website, for Tuesday December 16, at 8.30am the Indonesian Metal Workers Federation (FPMI) will be holding a demonstration at the Central Jakarta Court of Commerce.

Following on from this, for those of you who often pass through the National Monument area in Central Jakarta, it would be better to find and alternative route, because between 9am and 12noon, four protest actions will be held in the vicinity of the State Palace.

The first group of protesters from the Block M Melawai Market Traders Association, accompanied by the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH Jakarta), will be demonstrating at the city hall and the Jakarta Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) on Jl. Merdeka Selatan at 9am.

At 11am demonstrators from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) will also hold a protest action at the Jakarta city hall. Protesters from the Indonesian Poor People's Union (SRMI) National Leadership Board meanwhile plan to visit the Department of Home Affairs on Jl. Merdeka Utara at 9am.

Later in the afternoon, demonstrators from the Student Alliance of Legal Concern (AMPH) will hold an action at the Vice Presidential Palace, also on Jl. Merdeka Utara.

Then at 10am, the offices of the Finance Ministry's Capital Markets Supervisory Agency (Bapepam-LK) on Jl. Wahidin Raya will be visited by the Indonesian General Insurance Association (AAUI) while the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) building will be visited by a group calling themselves the Corruptor Eradication People's Front (BRSK). (ape/mad)

[Translated by James Balowski.]


Aceh faces rising unemployment

Jakarta Post - December 19, 2008

Abdul Khalik, Jakarta – The looming termination of many labor- intensive programs in Aceh, combined with the remnants of its conflicts and rebellion, is putting the tsunami-devastated province under the twin threats of social deprivation and unemployment.

Four years after the 2004 tsunami that killed 168,000 people in the province, the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR) is preparing its exit from Aceh, raising fears unemployment will soar next year in the province.

The agency was established to manage all recovery programs, including a series of labor-intensive projects, to rebuild Aceh.

The Multi Donor Fund (MDF), a key group of international donors, which includes the World Bank and the European Commission, declared Thursday the reconstruction of areas devastated by the tsunami was nearly complete, while the BRR will leave the province in April next year.

But Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf said the province had to deal with the current unemployment rate of 23 percent from its population of 4 million people.

That figure is expected to soar after the BRR leaves and as the global financial crisis starts taking its toll on the province next year, he added. "There will be an increase in unemployment and economic slowdown due to the global economic crisis," he said Thursday at a press conference.

Irwandi added that besides dealing with the fallout of the tsunami, the province was also dealing with the remnants of past conflicts and finding employment for some 20,000 former combatants from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

"I've just found that more than 100,000 people live in misery because of the conflicts. There is also a feeling of envy among victims of the conflicts because of how they are neglected as compared to victims of the tsunami," he said.

Irwandi said the problems were compounded by the fact half of GAM's former combatants were either unemployed or underemployed. "They have been jobless for three years. They're still committed to the peace agreement, but we need to work fast to find them jobs or at least give them an opportunity," he said.

To create new jobs, he went on, his administration would allocate Rp 9 trillion for 15,000 hectares of plantations – including rubber, cocoa and palm oil – and invest in education infrastructure, roads and other labor-intensive projects.

In its progress report, the MDF, a partner of the BRR, said it had paid out US$334 million of $692 million pledged since May 2005 to help tsunami-hit Aceh and Nias Island.

The MDF's funds, which make up less than 10 percent of the $7.2 billion in aid pledged after the disaster, have been spent on building and repairing more than 13,000 homes, 2,500 kilometers of roads and 1,000 bridges, it said.

Donors have pledged to extend the MDF's operating period by two years to 2012 to ensure hundreds of millions of dollars in remaining funds are paid out, rejecting suggestions of a sudden withdrawal from Aceh.

"Our investment in institutions does not stop at the BRR and provincial governments, but also reaches as far as the grassroots level," said Joachim van Amsberg, MDF co-chairman and World Bank country director.

MDF manager Shamina insisted the group would ensure the sustainability of economic development in Aceh.

Distribution of recovery aid for Aceh uneven: WB

Jakarta Post - December 17, 2008

Erwida Maulia, Jakarta – An ineffective relief and recovery system has led to uneven distributions of disaster-relief funds for reconstruction projects post the tsunami disaster in 2004, a World Bank expert said Tuesday.

Jock McKeon, the bank's Aceh-based financial analyst, said that while the education and health sectors in Aceh had received more financial support than they needed to recover from the tsunami, other sectors, including environment, energy and infrastructure had "consistently" received inadequate funding.

He said NGOs operating in the region had focused too heavily on short-term relief.

"Donors and the government programs tend to look at longer-term reconstruction programs, such as in the energy and infrastructure sectors. However, NGOs have tended toward more short-term projects, like health and education.

"So a lot of the NGOs' money has gone in particular into these two sectors. There is really an uneven split in where the NGOs channel their money to," McKeon said on the sidelines of a book launch by the World Bank and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The book, entitled Data Against Natural Disasters, highlights the critical need for effective systems in post-disaster areas to ensure aid effectiveness.

It reviews the success and failures of efforts to establish innovative monitoring systems in post-disaster Guatemala, Haiti, Indonesia, Mozambique, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The chapter on Indonesia describes the methodology used by the World Bank to track nearly US$8 billion worth of funds for the post-tsunami reconstruction of Aceh and Nias.

McKeon, who wrote the chapter on Indonesia, said the channeling of the funds had been assessed annually during meetings of the Coordination Forum for Aceh and Nias, organized by the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR), in which information on the latest issues regarding where the government, donors and NGOs would channel money was shared.

The forum, he said, appeared to have failed to guide NGOs to reallocate their funds.

Priyadi Kardono, data and information division head at the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), said the government, through either the BRR or the now-defunct National Disaster Management Coordinating Agency, had yet to maximize its power to coordinate the aid distributions in Aceh.

However, he said the establishment of the BNPB in January would hopefully boost coordination among the government, donors and NGOs.

The tsunami that devastated Aceh and Nias is estimated to have cost a total of US$4.5 billion in losses, or 2.2 percent of Indonesia's GDP.

The infrastructure sector received most of the reconstruction funds, amounting to $2.87 billion, followed by the social sector (including health and education), $1.55 billion, the productive sector (such as agriculture and enterprises), $645 million and other sectors, $630 million. So far, only about 50 percent of the funds have been channeled.

The post-tsunami reconstruction funds for Aceh and Nias were partly provided by more than 130 donor countries ($2.1 billion), the Indonesian government ($1.9 billion) and NGOs ($1.6 billion).

 West Papua

Papua puts off controversial microchip plan

Jakarta Post - December 16, 2008

Nethy Dharma Somba, Jayapura – Papua's provincial legislative council has decided to postpone the endorsement of the Papua HIV/AIDS Handling bylaw planned for approval this Monday, after the provincial administration deemed it would violate human rights.

"The endorsement was postponed because the legislative and executive branches had different perceptions on the use of microchips for people with HIV/AIDS," council deputy speaker Komarudin Watubun told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

"The executive sees it as violating human rights, while we councilors view it as an effort to build awareness within society." Several NGOs working on HIV/AIDS and women's issues have also expressed strong opposition to the draft bylaw, Komarudin added.

Because of this deadlock, he went on, the provincial administration and the legislature might agree to strike the controversial microchip article from the draft, following widespread public rejection of the article.

"If the public cannot or will not accept (the article), the council cannot force its will," he said. "The bylaw's endorsement depends on public reaction. Why would we pass it if the public was against it? The draft bylaw will only be passed when the administration, legislature and NGOs agree on it. Meetings will be held to reach this."

Papua Vice Governor Alex Hasegem, reading the administration's response at the legislature's plenary session, said HIV/AIDS handling should apply universal principles. One of those principles, he went on, was to respect people living with HIV/AIDS by eradicating stigmata and discrimination.

"Implanting microchips in people with HIV/AIDS is not in accordance with these principles because it is a form of stigmatizing," Alex said. The proposed measure has never been done anywhere in the world and has not been tested to gauge its success.

Alex rejected the inclusion of the microchip article in the draft bylaw, saying the regulation was not meant as a test run for the microchip scheme. As it stands, the 40-article bylaw requires microchips be implanted in people with HIV/AIDS deemed aggressive, or actively seeking sexual intercourse.

In November, councilor John Manangsang said the public should not misunderstand human rights as it related to this issue. "If we respect the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, then we must also respect the rights of those without," he said.

He added the public should judge the draft bylaw as a whole rather than by its constituent articles. "The draft, for instance, requires everyone to take HIV/AIDS tests so preventative measures can be taken early on."

 Human rights/law

Defense minister, TNI chief's statements on violations condemned

Kompas - December 20, 2008

Jakarta – Although admitting that they may contains some truth, statements by a number of public officials on human rights violations during the National Human Rights and State Defense Seminar at the Department of Defence on Thursday December 18 are believed to be incomplete have the potential to mislead the public.

On Friday, National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) chairperson Ifdhal Kasim even said that statements by officials, particularly Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, indicate the strength of the leftover of a culture of denial within state official circles.

"So, 10 years of reformasi appears to have not yet been able to do away with this culture of denial, particularly over how to realise accountability for human rights violations that have occurred in the past", said Kasim.

According to Kasim, if there is indeed a desire to resolve a problem, the government though the Attorney General's Office should follow up the results of Komnas HAM's investigations in to various cases. This is particularly so bearing in mind that Komnas HAM found alleged gross human rights violations in these cases.

"It is the AGO's job to follow up investigations for the sake of ascertaining [the truth of] our findings. However, this has never been done and there are some that to this day have been refuted based on personal opinions and by not complying with existing legal procedures", said Kasim.

As reported, Sudarsono stated recently that accusations of gross human rights violations by government institutions, particularly the Indonesian military (TNI), in number of past cases such as Talangsari(1) and the abduction of activists(2) are only anecdotal accusations.

In a speech written by TNI Commander in Chief General Djoko Santoso meanwhile, he called on all parties not to see these incidents in black-and-white terms. What was done by the military at the time was within the context of state defense and safeguarding national integrity. Furthermore, violence committed by state institutions is indeed the military's legitimate authority (the monopoly of legitimate violence).

"Certainly it is true that the state has the authority to use violence, but its application must be in accordance with legal, humanitarian and human rights standards. The defenders of the state must still be guided by the rules of a civilised country", said Kasim.

Kasim criticised Sudarsono's argument, which in his view gave the impression of trying to monopolise the truth. According to Kasim, if they do indeed want to clarify these issues, the government, including Sudarsono, but be open to the investigation process carried out by his institution (Komnas HAM), particularly in cases of past violations.

Contacted separately, other human rights activists also reacted strongly. Asmara Nababan from the Indonesian civil liberties group Demos asserted that a decision as to whether there was or was not gross human rights committed in the past, such as Talangsari, should be made by an ad hoc human rights court.

"The statements by Sudarsono and [other] government officials are disappointing because they are not illuminating for society. It's all very well to say that the state has the authority to use violence. But, there are provisions on this matter and that was what was not explained", he said.

Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) coordinator Usman Hamid said that the military in the past (then known as ABRI) was used as a tool of oppression by the authoritarian regime in various kinds of "clothing". But even in the context of war or confronting an armed struggle, he continued, the military is still bound by humanitarian law or the Geneva Convention, which was ratified by Indonesia on September 30, 1958.

According to Hamid, the ethics of humanitarian law require the fulfillment of the principles of military necessity, a code of military professionalism and humanitarianism. Meaning, while each party is allowed to use violence against its opponent, this cannot be allowed to be done in a deceitful manner. The principles of humanitarianism also prohibit the use of violence that causes excessive injury.

"Capturing the enemy is more important that wounding them, let alone killing them. Non-combatants must be kept clear of the battle field and the wounded should be treated", said Hamid. (DWA)


1. The Talangsari incident revolves around a dawn attack by a battalion of army soldiers on the village in Lampung regency on February 7, 1989, which was believed to be home to a group accused of attempting to establish an Indonesian Islamic state. Officials said 27 members of the Warsidi-led Koran recital group were killed in the incident, but rights groups put the death toll as high as 246.

2. Between 1997 and 1998 as many as fourteen pro-democracy activists were abducted by members of the elite Special Forces Kopassus. After extended periods of detention – in many cases the victims were severely tortured – most were released although four remain missing and are presumed dead.

[Translated by James Balowski.]

Thousands of cases of rights violations remain unresolved

Kompas - December 20, 2008

Jakarta – Some 2,000 public complaints lodged with the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) in 2008 have still not been settled. This year, the commission received around 7,000 complaints of rights violations. Around 75 percent were rights violations in the economic, social and cultural fields. The remainder was complaints about civil and political violations.

"Complaints related to economic, social and political rights were generally related to land disputes, evictions, hampering people's right to seek a livelihood, healthcare, freedom to practice one's faith and freedom of expression. The largest number of complaints this year was related to religious freedom and freedom of expression. The purification movements resulted in an increasing number of parties lodging complaints. Complaints also came from believers outside of the mainstream", said Komnas HAM chairperson Ifdal Kasim during a break in a stakeholders meeting titled "The Role of Komnas HAM in Realising Advancement, Protection and the Upholding of Human Rights at the National and International Level", on Friday December 12.

Kasim said Komnas HAM investigates the cases that are reported. After this, they make a recommendation to the party concerned or assist in mediation between the parties involved. "After there is a letter from Komnas Ham, local governments, and the related department, start taking direct action to overcome it. Out of 7,000 complaints, around 5,000 have been able to be resolved through this means", he said.

Kasim added that the involvement of foundations or institutions who should implement the upholding of these rights, particularly the government, is extremely important. If Komnas HAM and implementing institutions do not perform, the public's expectations will continue to decline and this will create difficulties for the country in the long term. Public trust will disappear. (INE).

[Translated by James Balowski.]

Muchdi lodges final plea against charges

Jakarta Post - December 20, 2008

Dian Kuswandini, Jakarta – Former top spy Muchdi Purwopranjono made a last-ditch effort Friday to defend himself against charges of planning the murder of noted human rights activist Munir Said Thalib in 2004.

The South Jakarta District Court is scheduled to hand down its verdict on the former State Intelligent Agency (BIN) deputy chief on Dec. 31.

In the final defense statement, Muchdi insisted he had no involvement in the murder of Munir and asked the panel of judges to reject the prosecutors' demand he be sentenced to jail for 15 years.

"This trial has revealed there is not a shred of evidence directly linking me to the murder," Muchdi told the packed courtroom. He described the charges against him as "devilish", claiming they were politically motivated, particularly to satisfy the international community.

Muchdi demanded the judges declare him not guilty and restore his image and reputation.

In its indictment, the prosecution said Muchdi had masterminded the high-profile murder and had recruited former Garuda pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto as a nonorganic BIN agent to carry out the assassination.

Munir was found dead on Sept. 7, 2004, aboard a Garuda flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam via Singapore. An autopsy conducted in the Netherlands revealed an inordinate amount of arsenic in his body. Earlier this year, Pollycarpus was sentenced to 20 years in jail for his role in the murder.

Muchdi denied he knew Pollycarpus despite police evidence in the form of phone call data records, which confirmed 41 calls were placed between his and Pollycarpus' phone numbers.

"Note that it was call data records, not voice records. It only recorded the numbers and locations where the conversations took place," Muchdi's lawyer Wirawan Adnan told the court.

There was no proof that the defendant actually spoke to Pollycarpus as his cellular phone might have been used by another party, he added.

Muchdi's defense team also said there was no evidence that the defendant had given Pollycarpus Rp 13 million to carry out the murder.

"Budi Santoso, the only witness who could prove the payment and the relationship between the defendant and Pollycarpus, failed to appear in court," Wirawan said.

Budi, a former BIN director working under Muchdi, had testified to the police in October 2007 and May 2008 that Pollycarpus and BIN agent Kawan confessed to him they had received an order from the defendant to kill Munir. Budi also said he had often seen Pollycarpus at the BIN headquarters, particularly inside Muchdi's office.

The defense lawyers asked judges to dismiss all charges against their client because of the lack of evidence and witnesses. "Moreover, the prosecutors constructed the defendant's motive to murder Munir based only on a statement by Munir's widow Suciwati," Wirawan said.

The prosecutors have said Muchdi sought revenge against Munir after the latter had revealed the involvement of several Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) soldiers in the abduction of 13 democracy activists critical of the government between 1997 and 1998.

Following the incident, Muchdi, who was Kopassus chief at that time, was dismissed from the prestigious post only 52 days after his inauguration, they added.

House passes social welfare law

Jakarta Post - December 19, 2008

Dian Kuswandini, Jakarta – The House of Representatives passed a welfare bill into law Thursday, requiring all social organizations, including foreign-based ones, to register their operations with the Indonesian government.

Social Affairs Minister Bachtiar Chamsjah said the registration with his office aimed at preventing malicious practices among socially active groups.

"Any unregistered organization will face a series of punishments," he warned after a House plenary meeting to endorse the bill. According to Article 49 of the law, the punishments comprise of a written warning, temporary ban, permanent ban and fines.

Bachtiar assured that the registration would be fast, easy and free of charge as mandated under the recent measure.

Foreign organizations operating in Indonesia must also register to ensure they do not "cross the line". "Who can guarantee that foreign social organizations stay on tracks while operating here? (Any of their violations) would be dangerous," the minister said.

Article 50 of the law stipulates that a government regulation will be issued to monitor the activities of foreign social organizations in the country.

According to the law, central and local administrations are also required to list all social forums operating in their territories. The law also recommends certification and accreditation of groups and their workers.

"The certification and accreditation are part of efforts to support the professionalism of organizations and individuals while carrying out their social welfare activities," Bachtiar said.

The law defines social welfare activities as social rehabilitation, insurance, protection and empowerment.

The head of the House's Commission VIII overseeing social affairs, Hasrul Azwar, said the passage of the law was urgent and responded to the current issue of poverty, which remains a key problem in the country.

The House-initiated law was approved by all factions in the legislature during the plenary meeting. However, the law was quickly opposed by several NGOs, led by the People's Anti- Impoverishment Movement (GAPRI).

In a press statement, the GAPRI called for all sides to file a request for the Constitutional Court to review the newly passed bill, which replaced the 1974 social welfare law.

"The passage of the law strengthens the indication that House members do not understand the substance of welfare for the people," the GAPRI said. "The new law will not guarantee that Indonesian people will enjoy better welfare in the future."

New law to allow for much older justices

Jakarta Post - December 19, 2008

Dian Kuswandini, Jakarta – The House of Representatives has passed a controversial bill on the Supreme Court, defying opposition from two factions over a much-decried extension of the retirement age of justices to 70 years.

Eight of 10 factions in the House endorsed the extension of the retirement age from 65 years – as stipulated in the existing law – to 70 years.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) strongly rejected the idea, sticking to its proposal that the retirement age remain at 65 years. The United Development Party (PPP) also objected to the extension, calling instead for a compromise of 67 years.

PDI-P faction chairman Tjahjo Kumolo lambasted House speaker Agung Laksono for banging his gavel to pass the new bill without giving dissenting parties the opportunity for a final lobby in a plenary session.

"We'll send a letter of protest to (Agung) for this unfair decision. It clearly violates the House's formal mechanism. Even if only one faction rejects a bill, there should still be another procedure open, like lobbying or voting," Tjahjo said after the plenary meeting. "It has become a habit within the House to pass bills without considering protests."

PPP faction head Lukman Hakim Saefuddin expressed similar regret over Agung's "ignorant" move. "We are dissatisfied because (Agung) did not take a fair look at my party's proposal for a retirement age of 67 years. But this will allow the public to judge the quality of the law," he said.

In response to the criticism, Agung said he had agreed to immediately pass the bill because the majority of factions had approved of it. "I only did what the majority wanted," he whined, adding it was up to the PDI-P and the PPP to protest or report him to the House's disciplinary council.

PDI-P legislator Gayus Lumbuun said his party was amenable to the compromise offered by the PPP. "We can't agree to more than (67 years) because we want to stick to our commitment of boosting reform and regeneration within the Supreme Court," he said.

"Agreeing to a retirement age of 70 years would be like supporting the status quo within the court, which all we know has failed to show satisfactory performance."

The PDI-P also criticized another contentious article in the law, which stipulates the money generated from court cases does not require an audit by the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK).

Article 81 of the law states because individuals have to pay court fees themselves, the money could be categorized as non-tax revenue, thus a BPK audit was not required. Gayus said this stipulation would endanger transparency in the judiciary system by keeping alive the court's "mafia" practices.

Another sticking point concerns the authority to supervise the judiciary system, which places the Supreme Court as the country's highest legal authority, above the Judicial Commission.

The bill only allows the commission to supervise justices, not the trial process. Critics say such an internal supervision system will tarnish the spirit of reform within the Supreme Court.

Rights groups face classic problems

Jakarta Post - December 17, 2008

Anton Muhajir, Denpasar – Bali's human rights organizations were still embroiled by classical, internal problems diminishing their capability to implement their agendas, an activist said during a civil society gathering last week.

"Efforts to implement human rights agenda in Bali are still hampered by a lack of coordination among the human rights organizations," chairwoman of the Indonesian Legal Aid Association's (PBHI) Bali Chapter Nyoman Sri Widiyanthi said.

The gathering, titled Consolidation of the Civil Society Movement for Human Rights, was attended by 30 people, including students, journalists and victims of human rights' violations in Bali.

Widiyanthi further disclosed that the local human rights organizations were still struggling with a myriad of internal problems, including a lack of funding and qualified human resources.

"Other internal problems are the lack of a solid database on human rights violations in Bali because in-depth research has not been conducted yet and a network of human rights activists is limited," she said.

Consequently, those organizations could not operate at its optimum level. "The advocacy works could not be carried out at the level we wished for and we couldn't achieve all the objectives that we set," she said.

Besides the internal problem, she added, the organizations also had to cope with external problems such as the rise of civil militias on the island.

"The emergence of civil militias in the domain of local politics has raised the possibility of violence, thus increasing the probability for the occurrence of human rights violations," she added.

As a center of tourism in the country, Widiyanthi said, there was always a massive flow of capital coming into the island from investors. "Human rights violations will take place when investors marginalize locals in the process of developing tourism on the island," she said.

She referred to several cases in the past involving developments of tourism projects and the marginalization of local communities by the investors.

Unfortunately, in all those cases, the investors were supported by local administrations, the state and a large number of the island's intellectuals. "Many of our intellectuals have became ardent supporters of the neoliberal agenda," she claimed.

Her statement was supported by Made Sudiantara, a victim of an alleged human rights violation involving the construction of a golf course in Selasih, Gianyar Regency, in 1992.

The golf course's investor, assisted by the local administration, allegedly intimidated the locals to sell their lands at low prices for the planned 200-hectare golf course.

"We haven't seen any significant development in the investigation of the case. As a victim, I have assisted the investigation by gathering evidence and submitting it to the authorities," he said. "There were many government officials involved in the violation, but none of them have been indicted."

Sudiantara urged the human rights organizations to bring those officials involved in Selasih to court. If the organizations succeeded in doing so, he said, the organizations would receive stronger support and recognition from the public.

House set to pass Supreme Court bill

Jakarta Post - December 17, 2008

Jakarta – The House of Representatives' Commission III overseeing legal affairs approved a controversial bill on the Supreme Court on Tuesday, except for the article on justices' retirement age.

The contentious article will remain undecided until the deliberation of the bill with government representatives Thursday. The House plenary is scheduled to pass the bill either unanimously or via a vote.

Unlike the majority of the House, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) resisted the extension of justices' retirement age to 70 as stipulated in the government-sponsored bill. The faction also rejected an article on the Supreme Court's financial management.

PDI-P lawmaker Eva Sundari said her party would persuade the United Development Party and Prosperous Justice Party to support its argument at the decisive plenary session.

The PDI-P faction, which holds only 109 out of 550 seats in the House, has opposed the adjusted retirement age for justices, fearing it could hinder change within the judiciary power.

Corruption watchdogs have increased pressure on the House to drop the article and reinstate the original retirement age of 65 years. Emerson Yuntho of Indonesia Corruption Watch said the new retirement age went against the blueprint of the Supreme Court's internal reform, which proposed that justices retire at a maximum age of 67 years.

ICW called on factions opposing the controversial article to boycott the plenary session unless the article was brought back to the negotiating table.

Separately, dozens of activists grouped under the Non- governmental Organizations Alliance of People Concerned for the Law (Ampuh) rallied outside the office of Vice President Jusuf Kalla in Central Jakarta to seek his support for their cause.

"The final chance for the public to see honest and competent Supreme Court justices rests with Vice President Jusuf Kalla," rally coordinator Edy Chumaidy said to Antara. The protest sparked no comment from Kalla on the issue.

Minister of Justice and Human Rights Andi Mattalata defended the controversial article. "The new retirement age will not deter new ranks in the court. The older the wiser," Andi said.

He suggested protesters respect the legitimate decision making process of the House and accept its result. Presidential advisor Adnan Buyung Nasution defended the proposal, saying many serving justices would retire soon.

Media told to stop discriminating

Jakarta Post - December 16, 2008

Luh De Suriyani and Claudia Sardi, Denpasar – The Bali Commission for Children's Protection (KPAI) and Yayasan Bali Sruti, a local women's rights NGO, have warned local media to stop publishing material that discriminates against and is offensive to their charges.

The warning was conveyed early last week during a women's and children's empowerment workshop organized by Koran Tokoh, a local tabloid and Rotary Club Bali at the Bali Post building. The workshop was attended by 30 journalists, writers and artists.

The KPAI and Bali Sruti said the mass media had become bolder and more aggressive in its publications about violence against women and children in recent years. They said the articles rarely considered the perspective of those who were discriminated against.

"The media has committed additional violence by publishing such discriminatory news. They should have acted as a dedicated proponent of gender equality and protection for children," said Luh Riniti Rahayu, a chairwoman of Bali Sruti.

The most recent example, she said, was a series of reports about two students in Buleleng who unknowingly and without giving consent were filmed while having sex by their friends. The movie was later distributed, again without their knowledge, to their fellow students and later was leaked to the general public.

Rahayu said that the local media, instead of portraying the two students as victims, had pressured the schools and the local education agency to discharge the students from their school.

"The Law on Children Protection clearly stipulates that every institution should provide children who are subjects of legal proceedings with legal protection and uphold their best interests including preserving their rights to schooling," deputy head of KPAI Luh Anggreni said.

He aid the media had a very powerful influence on readers' opinions. "News coverage that fails to project empathetic images of the victims makes it more difficult for us to empower the marginalized groups, such as women and children," she added.

Rahayu said the media was dominated by a patriarchal paradigm and a capitalist mind-set, adding that both were traditionally the dominions of men. She said the media largely portrayed women as sexual, helpless objects.

"The media should hire more women and provide them with active and influential roles in the editorial process of deciding what news should be published," she said.

Luh Ketut Suryani, a psychiatrist and founder of the Committee Against Sexual Abuse (CASA), said that in general the law was effectively implemented. "People are becoming more and more aware of their rights to reject pedophilia and to protect their children," Suryani said.

She said her committee aimed to sensitize people to the issue. CASA cooperates with NGOs and local police in pedophilia-related crime cases. "Many of the suspects have been sued and are now facing possible long-term imprisonment, which is a big success in the acceptance of children's rights," she added.

 Labour issues

Job losses next year 'could top one million'

Jakarta Post - December 20, 2008

With many industries resorting to production cuts amid weakened demand, hurting their revenue, layoffs next year could reach far more than 1.5 million, business associations are warning.

In addition to estimated dismissals of up to 150,000 workers in the textiles and garments industry next year, as predicted by its association, the footwear as well as food and beverage industries will also be hit hard by lower demand, forcing them to reduce production, which could lead to layoffs.

Eddy Widjanarko, chairman of the Indonesian Footwear Association (Aprisindo), said the industry would see nearly 10,000 layoffs by the end of 2008 and another 30,000 next year.

The footwear industry generated US$1.6 billion from exports in 2007, with $1.7 billion targeted this year.

Franky Sibarani, regulation division head of the Indonesian Food and Beverage Association (Gapmmi), said small and micro food and beverage producers, who worked only based on orders, would be the most severely hit by the crisis.

However, the largest number of layoffs will likely come from the construction sector, amounting to around 1.5 million, according to Sofjan Wanandi, chairman of the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo).

"The government should start its infrastructure projects, including the development of roads, electricity, piped water and irrigations, as early as Jan. 1."

The government estimates about $65 billion will be needed in new infrastructure investment in the next three years. – Mustaqim Adamrah/Multa Firdaus/Nana Rukmana

Expect big layoffs in 2009, say industries

Jakarta Post - December 20, 2008

Mustaqim Adamrah, Jakarta – Industry players say a collapse in many sectors next year is not likely, but warn a drop in revenue is very real, with some industries to be hit harder than others as the impact of the global downturn peaks at home.

On Friday, associations representing the footwear, textile and garment, food and beverage, and construction industries gathered to discuss the economic climate, and concluded layoffs next year could see more than a million workers lose their jobs if the government did not take urgent action.

The crisis is already taking its toll on local industries heading into the end of this year, forcing numerous industries to cut production, and will worsen next year as revenue is expected to drop by an average 30 percent.

Benny Soetrisno, chairman of the Indonesian Textile Association (API), said textile makers could be hit by a revenue drop of as much as 50 percent.

"We expect to see layoffs of 70,000 to 80,000 workers in the textiles and garments industry next year," he said, adding the industry had already dismissed 30,000 workers in the past two months alone.

The global financial crisis has tipped into a recession, significantly reducing demand for products and casting a bad spell for developing countries such as Indonesia.

Indonesia's economy is now predicted to grow by around 4 percent next year, slower than an estimated 6 percent this year. Under the 2009 state budget, the government assumes economic growth of 6 percent next year.

In addition to a weakening demand for exports, investments are also likely to take a hit as the ongoing credit crunch derails flows of funds.

With investments and exports drying up, domestic consumption would again be the country's main economic driver, although that too could be affected by weakening purchasing power if consumers lose their jobs, the gathering was told.

Sofjan Wanandi, chairman of Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo), said the government could prevent massive layoffs in labor-intensive industries such as construction by speeding up infrastructure development plans.

"Government spending will be the key for the economy next year. The government must accelerate infrastructure projects, otherwise we'll see millions of workers laid off," Sofjan said.

On the bright side, however, the automotive and retail industries could perform a little better than others, with only slight drops in revenue expected and layoffs unlikely.

Gunadi Sindhuwinata, president director of PT Indomobil Sukses International, said the automotive industry would likely be safe from the threat of dismissals, but was already being forced to cut production capacity by an average 30 percent.

Retailers, meanwhile, are looking to rely on discounts to help maintain sales targets next year, said Indonesian Retailers Association (Aprindo) adviser Suryadi Sasmita. "Revenue will unlikely drop, but we'll be giving more discounts than in 2008," he said.

250,000 migrant workers sent home

Jakarta Post - December 18, 2008

JP/Suherdjoko – The global economic meltdown has slowly taken a toll on Indonesia as 250,000 of the country's migrant workers have returned home, exacerbating the already high jobless rate, a minister says.

Manpower and Transmigration Minister Erman Suparno said Wednesday the workers, who are mostly semi-skilled, had to leave for home early before their contracts expired as their employers were hit by the financial crisis.

"The cause is obviously the global economic downturn. Employers are facing financial problems due to sluggish demand," said Erman, adding the employing countries included Malaysia, South Korea, Hongkong and Middle Eastern countries.

He believed the return of these workers to Indonesia would severely add to the country's unemployment.

According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), 9.43 million people were unemployed as of February this year. As the country has no social security for the jobless, it is estimated there are actually 40 million unemployed people. These people are now working doing just about anything to make ends meet.

According to the National Commission for Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers (BNP2TKI), there are around 5.8 million Indonesian workers abroad, mostly in Malaysia and the Middle East.

In 2006, remittances from migrant workers reached around Rp 60 trillion (US$5 billion), providing an impressive contribution to incoming financial flows alongside foreign direct investment, according to BPN2TKI chairman Jumhur Hidayat recently.

Aside from overseas migrant workers, there are also indications of mass return of internal migrant workers into Java as a result of tumbling commodity prices forcing plantation companies in Kalimantan and Sumatra to scale down their workforce. Java is Indonesia's key economic island, the center for all labor- intensive industries.

Erman said the government would try to limit the impact of unemployment by providing training for labor-intensive industries and by intensifying the internal transmigration program.

Income gap widens in Indonesia, most other countries: ILO

Jakarta Post - December 17, 2008

Erwida Maulia, Jakarta – Indonesia, along with most countries in the world, has seen the gap between the salaries of its workers widen in the past two decades, a condition that is protracted in Indonesia's case because its informal sector absorbs such a large portion of the total work force, an ILO study has revealed.

In its World of Work Report 2008, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said about two-thirds of more than 70 developed and developing countries surveyed had seen the incomes of their richer households increase relative to those of middle class and low-income households.

The report, drawn up by the ILO's International Institute for Labor Studies, also reveals the gap between salaries of top executives and the average employee in Indonesia is widening at an increased rate.

CEOs of the 15 largest companies in the United States, for example, earned 520 times more than the average workers at their respective companies in 2007, up from 360 times in 2003, it added.

"Income inequality has been increasing especially in advanced countries like the US and Nordics; but also in emerging economies such as Eastern Europe, China and Indonesia," the institute's lead economist Ekkehard Ernst said in a discussion on the report in Jakarta on Tuesday.

"In Indonesia, the incidence of informal employment remains significant and is on the rise," said Ernst, adding that a shift toward informal forms of employment was among the factors widening the inequality.

Ernst said some disparity between incomes was necessary as a way to reward work effort and talent, and to encourage innovation, but he warned that excessive inequality would lead to social unrest and economic inefficiencies.

Bambang Widianto, a deputy to the state minister for national development planning, said Indonesia's Gini coefficient (a measure of the inequality of income distribution, in which a lower index indicates better equality) had risen to 0.368 in 2008 from 0.311 in 1999.

Of the country's 49.67 million workers, about 70 percent are employed in the informal sector, and in particular by micro and small enterprises, he said.

Bambang said informal-sector workers received an average salary of Rp 603,000 (US$54) per month, one-quarter of the average amount earned by employees at medium and large enterprises.

"This shows an evident inequality of income," he said, adding that while formal workers had seen their salaries rise by 20 percent on average since 1999, the salaries of informal workers had not matched the rate of increase.

Indonesian Employers Association chairman Sofjan Wanandi said he was aware of the widening income gap between rich and poor people in the country. But the gap, he said, was not as severe as in the United States, which had a Gini coefficient of 46.3 in 2007.

Sofjan said there should be policies put in place to employ more people in the formal sector to oppose the widening of the gap.

Indonesian Labor Union Confederation vice president Thamrin Mosii said that formal jobs were not necessarily secure as many were employed on contract-based systems and were thus vulnerable to mass layoffs that have been forecast to hit the country next year due to the global financial crisis.

An economist at ILO's Jakarta office, Kee Beom Kim, forecast that between 170,000 and 650,000 Indonesian workers would be laid off next year, which would increase the country's unemployment rate, currently 8.46 percent, by 1 percent.

Worker union braces for possible mass layoffs

Jakarta Post - December 17, 2008

Ni Komang Erviani and Andra Wisnu, Denpasar – The Bali Tourism Workers Union, particularly in the Badung regency where over 200,000 workers depend on tourists for their livelihood, is bracing itself for possible mass layoffs as the global financial crisis persists.

Head of the Badung chapter of the Bali Tourism Workers Union, Putu Satyawira, said the financial crisis had already begun to affect the island's tourism industry, citing numerous booking cancellations in several star-rated hotels.

The current global financial crisis could hurt tourism workers more than the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, saying that the provincial government could give assurances in terms of security back then, he said.

"But right now, we are completely helpless because it's all happening out there and there's nothing we can use to assure tourists to come here," Satyawira said.

He said the holiday season at this year's end might soften the blow to the island's economy, but was quick to add that his organization had begun talks with hotels to prevent mass layoffs, which he predicted could happen in February of next year if the global financial crisis continues.

He said his union, which represents some 10,100 tourism employees in the Badung tourism industry, was ready to help workers keep their jobs, citing its experience with the last mass layoffs that occurred in the advent of the Bali bombings.

"The bombing attacks gave us insight as to how we can cooperate with employers so they can keep their workforce and, at the same time, save money in times of crises.

"There's good communication between the workers and the employers now, at least in Badung, and I think that will help reduce the possibility of massive job losses." As many as 5,000 workers were laid off during the January to September period after the 2002 bombing, he said. The bombings that occurred in 2005 caused several hundred hotel employees to be temporarily suspended from work.

Satyawira further urged unions and tourism associations to come together and brainstorm to find ways to increase the number of tourists. "I think all parties are interested in preventing Bali from suffering economically in light of this crisis."

According to the Bali Workforce, Transmigration and Population Agency, there have been no reports of layoffs directly linked to the financial crisis, though the agency chief, Komang Rai Sudjaka, said the crisis remains a threat to the livelihood of tourism workers.

"But we've always urged employers to be more humane in dealing with employees in anticipation of the crisis," Rai Sudjaka said. "For example, they can reduce overtime or maybe suspend employees temporarily. Just don't simply fire people."

 Environment/natural disasters

Unending mud flow wreaking havoc

IRIN News - December 22, 2008

Jakarta – Two-and-a-half years after a volcano erupted in the East Java province of Sidoardjo, the mud shows no signs of abating.

One of Indonesia's worst disasters, the eruption on 29 May 2006 displaced more than 75,000 people and destroyed more than 10,000 homes, 35 schools, 31 factories, 65 mosques, a major toll-road and an orphanage.

Many families have lost their farms, while factory and construction workers have been forced to seek work as tour guides, showing people around the muddy plains and selling DVD footage of the ongoing disaster.

Most people have been paid about a fifth of the compensation promised to them as part of a 2007 Presidential Decree, following negotiations between the government and the company that was drilling for gas when the disaster happened.

The company, Lapindo Brantas, agreed to pay compensation to locals without accepting liability for the mudflow, which it said was caused by an earthquake 250km away and not a drilling accident. Many scientists and specialists and most afflicted disagree.

A recent settlement on the remaining compensation payments reached on 3 December has left the community divided. People from housing estates who lost their homes and are owed about 100 million rupiah each (US$9,000) are happy with the settlement as they will be paid in full by early next year.

Others, who co-own houses and land worth a lot more money, are concerned that they will be compensated over a seven-year period as Lapindo Brantas, which is facing debt problems, has agreed to payments of 30 million rupiah ($2,670) a month.

"In most cases, those houses are owned by several families and the compensation payments end up getting split six ways," a local activist, Winarko, told IRIN.

Some families travelled to Jakarta and covered themselves in mud to demonstrate against the agreement.

On 21 December, the government announced it was prepared to set aside RP82 billion ($7.5 million) from the 2009 budget to help four additional villages affected by the mudflow.

Winarko, who lives just 2km away from the centre of the mudflow and works with the Civil Alliance for Lapindo Victims, a coalition of NGO groups working to gain fair compensation, said 506 families were still living at a refugee camp in Porong market. They sleep in 6m x 4m tents and share 15 toilets, with deliveries of clean water and food having stopped months ago.

As many as 10,000 people have lived at the market place since the mudflow devastated the area. "It's amazing how these people survive without steady jobs," Winarko said.

"Now they work here and there, but before all of this, while they weren't rich, they were wealthy enough in their own way," he said. "It's hardest for the farmers. Even if they get the payment, it's not easy to move somewhere and buy a new rice paddy. Communities are very local."

For others, the mudflow has ironically provided an opportunity for better pay. Iyek used to earn RP750,000 rupiah ($67) a month at a beverage factory, which was buried in the mudflow. He now works as a guide for tourists, journalists and NGO representatives, ferrying them around the site on his motorbike, pointing out the latest gas leaks or small eruptions and selling DVDs for RP30,000 ($2.70) apiece.

The work is more erratic, but he earns between RP30,000-150,000 ($2.70-13.70) a day. The problem is increasing competition: "It is getting harder every day as more and more people compete for work," he told IRIN

Gas leaks

The number of victims is rising daily as the sinking mud triggers gas leaks. "In my village, several houses have big cracks in the floor and if you put a lighter near the cracks, flames leap up," says Winarko, "and these people have no choice but to live in these dangerous conditions with small children."

While the amount of mud spewing from the volcano has decreased, it is still enough to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools every day. Ahmad Zulkarnaen, spokesman for the disaster response agency, Badan Pelaksana Penanggulangan Lumpur Sidoardgo, said the focus was no longer on stopping the flow after numerous attempts, including plugging the hole with cement balls, failed. Instead, the agency, which is using government funds to rebuild infrastructure and maintain the dam walls containing the disaster site, is focusing on shipping the mud out to sea via the Porong River.

While that has its own problems, in terms of endangering river and sea life and increasing the risk of major flooding in East Java's capital city Surabaya, it is seen as the best option for dealing with the mud crisis.

EnvironmentWatch: Shrimp farms hurt mangroves, fishermen

Jakarta Post - December 19, 2008

The rapid expansion of traditional shrimp farms in Lampung has not only damaged mangrove swamps but forced local fishermen to seek their catch in the open sea due to the scarcity of fish along the coastline.

"Since the coast is now teeming with shrimp farms, it is difficult to find fish because they have migrated to the open ocean. Lampung Bay is also full of chemical waste dumped by the traditional shrimp farmers. We have to sail out to the Indian Ocean and face large waves," said Sukarja, 50, a fisherman from Punduh Pidada, South Lampung.

Another problem facing fishermen is an increasing need for fuel due to the greater distances they must travel.

"Diesel is costly. Many fishermen have shifted professions and become laborers and pedicab drivers. If we force ourselves to find fish, we incur losses because our earnings cannot match operational costs. Hundreds of fishermen have stopped going out to sea and shifted jobs," said Sukarja.

Besides the growing number of shrimp farms along the coast, the Lampung Bay area has been reclaimed in the past five years to make way for a city development project on the waterfront.

"The reclamation project has also affected us because we can no longer seek fish along the coast. Many traditional shrimp farmers have also converted mangrove swamps into ponds. To make matters worse, they dump chemical waste into the sea," said Sukarja.

Herza Yulianto, director of the Mitra Bentala environmental group, said the use of chemicals to maintain the acidity level of sea water was to blame for the damage to marine life, such as coral reefs and fish.

The damage to the marine environment has threatened the existence of established resources in Lampung Bay, known for its ideal snorkeling and diving.

"Mangrove logging has not only taken place in the Lampung Bay area, but virtually every coastal area in Lampung, thus receding the coastline at an average of 500 meters," said Herza.

Lampung is home to 69 large and smaller islands, and its coastline stretches 1,105 kilometers, making it the longest in Sumatra.

Traditional shrimp farms have been expanding along Lampung's coastline at an alarming rate over the past five years. The impact has not only depleted mangrove forests but farmers have also converted their farmland areas into shrimp ponds.

Consequently, farmers in a number of districts in South Lampung often experience harvest failure due to leeching from nearby damaged mangrove swamps.

Suparno, 50, a resident from Bandaragung village, South Lampung, said mangrove swamps once spanned more than three kilometers along the coast about a decade ago.

"Mangrove areas have become sparse in the past five years because they have been cleared by outsiders. As a result, seawater seeps into our farms," said Suparno.

"We are forced to convert our farms into shrimp ponds. Now, 90 percent of the farmland here has been converted," he said.

Data from the Lampung branch of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) indicates that 70 percent of mangrove forests in Lampung have been damaged as a result of shrimp farming. Of the total 160,000 hectares of mangroves, 136,000 are considered damaged.

The worst-hit areas are in the traditional shrimp farming regions in the South and East Lampung regencies, where mangrove trees have been unnecessarily cleared to open shrimp farms and build squatter accommodation.

The mangrove forests in Ketapang and Sragi districts in South Lampung, and Pasir Sakti and Kuala Penet in East Lampung, which once spanned 100 and 300 meters from the coastline a year ago, are now virtually barren, ranging less than 10 meters.

In South Lampung's coastal areas, remnants of mangrove stubs can still be seen. The area has now overrun by shrimp farmers from Banten, West Java, and Central Java.

Data from the Lampung Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Office shows there are 1.9 million hectares of mangrove forests along the Lampung coast. Data from the Fishery Office suggests as much as 736,000 ha, or 60 percent, have been severely damaged.

Lampung Walhi director Hendrawan said the destruction of the mangroves had not exclusively been caused by the expansion of shrimp farms, but was also due to the lack of willingness on the part of the provincial administration to maintain their existence.

"The central government has distributed tens of billions of rupiah to the cause, but nothing has come of it. Environment groups and the local community have however expressed interest in regenerating the area," said Hendrawan. – JP/Oyos Saroso H.N.

A corner of Indonesia, sinking in a sea of mud

New York Times - December 18, 2008

Seth Mydans, Renokenongo – Her children insist, so every week or two Lilik Kamina takes them back to their abandoned village to look at the mud.

"Hey, Mom, there's our house, there's the mango tree," she said they shout. But there is nothing to see, only an ocean of mud that has buried this village and a dozen more over the past two-and-a-half years.

The mud erupted here during exploratory drilling for natural gas, and it has grown to be one of the largest mud volcanoes ever to have affected a populated area. Unlike other disasters that torment Indonesia – earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis – this one continues with no end in sight, and experts say the flow of mud could go on for many years or decades.

The steaming mud keeps bubbling up, spreading across the countryside, driving people from their homes, burying fields and factories. It has forced the relocation of roads, bridges, a railway line and a major gas pipeline.

As the earth disgorges the mud and the lake of mud grows, the land is sinking by as much as 40 feet a year and could subside to depths of more than 460 feet just one hour's drive from Indonesia's second city, Surabaya, according to Richard Davies, a geologist at Durham University in Britain who is an expert on mud volcanoes.

Siti Maimunah, an environmental advocate, said people who lived nearby had begun getting sick, with about 46,000 visiting clinics with respiratory problems since the mud eruption.

Ms. Siti, who is national coordinator for the Mining Advocacy Network of Indonesia, said the gas that emerged with the mud was toxic and possibly carcinogenic. "We worry that in the next 5 to 10 years people will face a second disaster with health problems," she said.

Attempts to stem the flow have failed. These have included a scheme to drop hundreds of giant concrete balls into the mouth of the eruption; the concrete balls simply disappeared without effect. A project to divert some of the mud into the nearby Porong River has raised fears that the buildup of silt on the riverbed could cause severe flooding, possibly in Surabaya itself.

The disaster has become an embarrassment to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who faces a new election next year, with groups of displaced people demonstrating in the distant capital, Jakarta.

The drilling company that critics say caused the disaster, Lapindo Brantas, is indirectly owned by the family of one of Indonesia's richest and most influential men, Aburizal Bakrie, who is a major financial backer of President Yudhoyono and serves in his cabinet as coordinating minister for the people's welfare.

The victims say compensation has been slow, with only a portion of promised funds delivered to them. Sixty-thousand people have fled their homes and many, like Ms. Lilik, now live in nearby shelters and in a marketplace. This is a particularly forlorn class of displaced people who mostly fend for themselves because, as victims of what is being called a man-made disaster, they receive little assistance from the government or from international aid agencies.

"So we live without hope," said Ali Mursjid, 25, who was in college studying to be a teacher before the mud volcano made him destitute. "Nobody is willing to help us."

His village, Besuki, was only partly buried in mud, and it is now a ghost town of empty houses and hard, cracked mud where children fly kites and shout to hear their voices echo.

The steaming mud erupted from the ground on May 29, 2006, as Lapindo Brantas was drilling near the industrial district of Sidoarjo. Its tunnel pierced a pressurized aquifer 9,000 feet underground.

Experts on mud volcanoes say the drilling and inadequate safeguards in the borehole set off the eruption of water, gas and mud that continues to flow, at about 100,000 cubic meters a day.

Lapindo says that it was itself a victim, blaming vibrations from a major earthquake that struck two days earlier with an epicenter 186 miles away.

After listening to new evidence about the eruption, 74 petroleum geologists attending an October conference in Cape Town concluded that the drilling had been the cause.

"There is no question, the pressures in the well went way beyond what it could tolerate – and it triggered the mud volcano," said Susila Lusiaga, a drilling engineer who was part of the Indonesian investigation team, according to a report on the conference by Durham University.

The debate over responsibility has severely limited the payments, said Elfian Effendi, executive director of Greenomics Indonesia, an environmental advocacy group.

After paying out 20 percent of a promised compensation package, Lapindo agreed this month to begin monthly payments equal to $2,500 to 8,000 families it said were eligible. But as part of the Bakrie family holdings, Lapindo has been severely affected by the current economic downturn and some experts question whether the full amount will ever be paid.

Since the first eruption in May 2006, there have been more than 90 others, most of them small but some explosive, said Jim Schiller, a political scientist at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, who has published a study of the disaster.

He described what he called the horror-movie progress of the mud, which continues to burst from the ground at unexpected times and places. "I've got pictures of them popping up in people's living rooms," he said.

The village of Renokenongo was buried during the biggest of these eruptions, in November 2007, when the weight of sinking earth burst a major natural-gas pipeline, killing 13 workers and sending a fireball into the sky.

Ms. Lilik, 30, who teaches kindergarten, said the visits to the levee by her former village calm her children, Icha Noviyanti, 11, and Fiqhi Izzudin, 5.

"People say it's not a good idea to take the children there, but I think the opposite," she said. "I think it's very important for them to see their home and express their anger. They throw rocks at the mud and shout, 'Lapindo!'".

 Women & gender

Marriage law considered as legalizing polygamy

Jakarta Post - December 22, 2008

Irawaty Wardany, Jakarta – Calls are mounting for a revision of the 1974 marriage law which activists claim justifies polygamy and exploits disadvantage women.

Legal Aid Foundation of the Indonesian Women's Association for Justice (LBH APIK) says the law discriminates against women and paves the way for a husband to marry another woman without the consent of his wife.

LBH APIK director Estu Rakhmi Fanani said an article in the law allowed a husband to propose polygamy at the religious court if his wife suffered from physical disadvantages or incurable diseases.

"It means it is all right for a man to take another wife if his current one is disabled. What happened to the wedding vows the husband made to stay by his wife in both good and bad times?" she told a media conference in Jakarta on Saturday.

The motives behind polygamy often center the blame on women, she said. LBH APIK says polygamy is a marriage crime. The NGO has received 87 reports of polygamy this year, up from 16 in the previous year.

Most cases involve polygamy stemming from adultery while the remainder concern polygamous marriages conducted without the permission of the wife, or simply undocumented polygamy.

"The legalization of polygamy only forces women into an inferior position, and often this has negative impacts on children," said Estu.

A woman at the media event said she only found out her husband was involved in a polygamous marriage seven years after he remarried.

"I opened a text message on my husband's cell phone and the contents gave me the impression it was from a woman who he was close to," she said. She immediately called the woman who admitted to having been married to her husband for seven years.

Another speaker said his father had proposed polygamy to a court citing his mother's acute schizophrenia as a reason. He said his father had resisted advice to take his wife to a psychiatrist. "I found out later the real motive behind my father's reluctance was tied up with his proposal in court to practice polygamy," he said.

Estu said the fact the marriage law did not take into consideration the impact of polygamy on children should prompt the government to revise the law. Islam allows a man to take up to four wives.

Few women willing to defy violent husbands

Jakarta Post - December 17, 2008

Women's rights activists in Bandung have largely failed to empower female victims of domestic violence to defy their husbands and seek legal means to protect themselves and their children, an expert says.

Only two of six incidences of domestic violence reported this year have been brought to the Bandung District Court.

Records at the Bandung Religious Court reveal a steep increase in the number of divorces due to domestic violence to 27 cases this years as of November from five last year.

"The number is of wives who testified that they were being abused by their husbands. Many of the domestic violence cases were reported as having boiled over from heated arguments," the religious court's deputy clerk Rahmat Setiawan told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

"But many housewives did not cite domestic violence as the reason (for divorce) but rather instead simply stated there was disharmony in their marriages."

Rahmat said the number of divorce cases brought to the religious court this year was 15 percent higher than in last year, or 2,342 cases in 2008 from 2,049 last year.

He said he suspected that "disharmony" was largely cited as a reason for divorce as a cover for domestic violence, adding that the ratio of reported marriage breakdowns citing disharmony had increased from to 71 percent in 2008 from 58 percent last year.

Ummi Maskanah of the Women's and Children's Legal Aid Institute said the reason that only two out of six marriages known to have experienced domestic violence ended in divorce was because women tended to take pity on their husbands and were not inclined to report them to the district court.

"The wives would in the end prefer mediation as they were unable to see their husbands in the defendant's chair," she said.

"Although they have sat through counseling, love remains a psychological barrier (to sending their husbands to jail). The wives cannot let their husbands languish in prison."

However, the same could not be said for Rika Mayrani, 31, and Susilawati, 39, who both reported their husbands to the district court on charges of assault. Rika filed a divorce lawsuit after her husband of six years allegedly tormented her in an effort to evict her from their house.

During the marriage, Rika suffered a miscarriage. Rika said the court had denied her husband access to their children – twins, who were born in July; after the trial verdict.

"Initially, my husband accused me of having an affair with one of his employees but it was not proven during our divorce trial last year. I was not having an affair," she said. "But he then sent his goons to frighten me."

She initially reported the case to the National Women's Commission, which suggested she get legal aid. Susilawati's husband, who is a police officer at the Bandung City Police, slammed a door on his wife, bruising her.

After divorcing her husband, Susilawati, who hails from Bangka Island, sought for her husband to be taught a lesson for his actions.

"We had been married for 16 years and I struggled with him but then he changed," she said. "When I asked him (a question), he refused to answer me and we then argued. He even tortured me." Susilawati raises her two children alone. - JP/Yuli Tri Suwarni

 Health & education

Protests mar passage of education entity bill

Jakarta Post - December 18, 2008

Erwida Maulia, Jakarta – Critics and education experts are up in arms after the House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill on educational legal entities, which detractors say will lead to the commercialization of education in the country.

After three years of deliberations, the bill was unanimously endorsed during a House plenary session, amid strong protests from students and community groups who demanded the endorsement be delayed.

All 10 factions in the House argued the bill's final draft was complete makeover of the previous draft, particularly with regard to with controversial articles on education funding.

"Previously, the bill didn't even include a chapter on funding, and so raised fears it would lead to commercialization. But this final draft obliges the government to provide financial aid for poor students and to pay most of the costs," the Golkar Party's Anwar Arifin said when presenting his faction's final views to the plenary session.

"The final draft of the bill spells good news for the education sector. The public should no longer worry about education turning corporate." The new law, he added, was also expected to end decades of mismanagement in the sector.

Anwar, who also heads the bill steering committee, said the new regulation barred schools from imposing levies on students, adding that violators would face disciplinary measures, including possible revocation of school operating licenses.

Article 41 of the educational legal entities bill states the government is responsible for all the expenses of state schools that provide nine-year basic mandatory education.

This means once the bill becomes law, the government must cover all operating costs, investments, scholarships and financial aid for these schools, thus bringing the country closer to universal free basic education.

Senior high schools and universities may still charge students a maximum fee of one-third of operating costs, while the government will be obliged to cover at least one-third of the operating costs of high schools and half of those of universities. The remainder of operating expenses must be covered by the schools themselves.

Unlike the articles on the "autonomous, accountable and transparent" management of educational institutes that apply to both state and private schools, the articles on funding apply only to the former.

Ever since the university autonomy policy was issued in the early 2000s, the absence of a regulation on funding has sparked continued increases of tuition fees at seven state universities granted autonomous status. The fee increases are part of the reason the bill is facing resistance.

Wednesday's House session was interrupted for about 10 minutes when 20 students from the University of Indonesia staged a noisy protest inside the hall. Outside the House compound, more than a hundred students staged a similar rally against the bill.

In Yogyakarta, education foundation Tamansiswa, one of the country's oldest educational institutes, also lambasted the bill, which it said would allow foreign institutions to invade the country's education sector.

[Slamet Susanto contributed to this story from Yogyakarta.]

Poor hygiene costs Indonesia Rp 56 trillion yearly

Jakarta Post - December 18, 2008

Jakarta – Poor sanitation has cost the state in terms of both health and wealth, a World Bank expert said Thursday, citing annual revenue losses estimated at Rp 56 trillion yearly.

A regional communications specialist for the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program for East Asia and the Pacific, Yosa Yuliarsa, said the financial loss was spurred by the 90 million cases of diarrhea and 23,000 diarrhea-related deaths incurred every year.

Yuliarsa added that at least 45 percent of the population across the country has yet to gain access to proper sanitation, with far higher proportions in Papua and Maluku.

"About 88 percent of Jakarta's residents do have access to sanitary facilities, but almost half of the residents of Papua and Maluku have no access whatsoever," he said, as quoted by kompas.com. By improving public sanitation, Yuliarsa said, the state could save at least Rp 10.6 trillion per year.

"This is based on a calculation of the energy conserved by individuals who would need to travel in order to access a lavatory or queue up for a public toilet," he said. (amr)

Illiteracy, mortality rates stay high

Jakarta Post - December 18, 2008

Panca Nugraha, Mataram – West Nusa Tenggara was ranked 32nd among 33 provinces in the Indonesian Human Development Index (HDI), since its illiteracy and maternal and infant mortality rates remain high.

During a ceremony commemorating the province's 50th anniversary on Wednesday at the gubernatorial office in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara Governor Zainul Majdi said his administration was committed to improving its HDI rank by making a concerted effort to improve the province's illiteracy, maternal mortality and school drop-out rates over the next five years.

"We will take this opportunity, at the golden jubilee event for West Nusa Tenggara, to focus our energy toward improving public services. God willing, the administration will improve its HDI rank in the next five years by carrying out a number of development programs that we have already designed," Zainal said in his speech.

Among those attending the event were Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari, East Nusa Tenggara Governor Frans Lebu Raya and regents and mayors from across West Nusa Tenggara.

Based on data from West Nusa Tenggara Education, Youth and Sports Office, the number of illiterate people over 15 years of age in the province stood at 316,200 this year, nearly five times the number in Bali (79,000).

The provincial school participation rate was also low, especially at a senior high school level.

According to data from West Nusa Tenggara Health Agency, in 2007 the provincial maternal mortality rate was 390 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was very high compared to the Healthy Indonesia 2010 target that aims at no more than 150 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

In 2007, the provincial infant mortality rate was 61 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to the national target of 40 deaths per 1,000 live births.

To improve the its HDI ranking, Majdi said his administration aimed to achieve zero illiteracy, maternal mortality and school drop-out rates.

To support these programs, West Nusa Tenggara provincial administration has initiated free education and health care programs to commence in the 2009 fiscal year.

Provincial, regency and municipal administrations would jointly fund the free education program and provide health care subsidies for those not yet covered by health insurance, so as to increase school participation and reduce mother and infant mortality rates in the province, Majdi said.

The provincial administration has set aside more than Rp 124 billion (about US$11.2 million) in its 2009 budget, toward free education.

The education funding would be channeled through scholarship programs for needy students of elementary to senior high school levels, targeting 260,202 students.

Elementary, junior high and high schools would receive grants of Rp 30,000, Rp 48,000 and Rp 65,000, respectively, per eligible student.

To fund its Rp 250 billion scholarship program, the provincial administration will cover half the amount, while the rest will be jointly funded by regency and municipal administrations.

The provincial administration will earmark Rp 8.5 billion for a health care program in its 2009 budget. This program includes health insurance for low-income families that are not yet covered by the Jamkesmas community health insurance scheme provided by the central government.

Recent figures show West Nusa Tenggara has a population of 4,292,491 and 2,038 of these people are categorized as living in poverty.

 War on corruption

Restructure aims to pave way for lean, clean AGO

Jakarta Post - December 22, 2008

Dian Kuswandini, Jakarta – The Attorney General's Office will scrap 8,000 positions as part of a plan to streamline its bureaucracy in a bid to prevent corruption and abuse of power.

AGO spokesman Jasman Pandjaitan said Sunday his office was assessing which positions would be cut. "We believe the restructuring program is urgent because power tends to corrupt," he said.

The bureaucratic reform means remaining officials will carry out more tasks, he said. "The motto is: fewer structural posts, more functions. Where a position is cut, its tasks will be handled by another position."

Jasman said the AGO was anticipating resistance from prosecutors nationwide. "A restructuring program like this tends to meet challenges (from officials), so we need to look at this carefully," he said.

The AGO will present its proposal to the administrative reforms minister, the finance minister and the Corruption Eradication Commission in January next year. The program, which it is hoped will restore the AGO's reputation, will become effective when the AGO celebrates its anniversary in July.

Attorney General Hendarman Supandji said earlier he would focus on tackling corruption and improving prosecutors' performance next year to fix what he called a "crisis of credibility" in his institution.

Corruption watchdogs and the Public Prosecution Commission have slammed the AGO for systemic bribery and extortion.

In 2007, the commission received 422 public complaints alleging abuse of power and poor performance by prosecutors, an increase from 398 in the previous year. About 200 of the complaints were referred to the attorney general.

Jasman said corruption within the AGO had contributed to the waning public trust in the law enforcement agency, although added that many people had not noticed the AGO's efforts to combat graft.

"It seems that the public says the entire basket is rotten just because of one or two bad apples," he said.

Assistant attorney general for special crimes Marwan Effendy said the public often blamed his office for moving too slowly on corruption without appreciating the challenges it faced.

"We need an audit from the State Financial Development Comptroller (BPKP) to get an official statement on state losses resulting from corruption allegations, but we only employ 76 forensic auditors to do the job," Marwan said, adding the bureaucratic procedure tended to slow down corruption investigations.

The AGO has also had difficulty obtaining permission from banks to examine suspicious accounts, he said. "When it comes to investigating high-ranking officials such as regents, mayors and governors, we need to obtain presidential consent, which can take several months," Marwan said.

The AGO recently came under fire for its reluctance to reopen its investigation into the alleged embezzlement of Bank Indonesia Liquidity Support funds, even though a prosecutor who led a probe into one of the major graft cases was convicted of receiving bribes.

New law sees 'Mafia court' in charge

Jakarta Post - December 20, 2008

Dian Kuswandini, Jakarta – A gloomy outlook is overshadowing much-demanded reforms within the country's judiciary, after lawmakers endorsed a new law limiting the Judicial Commission's authority to supervise the Supreme Court, legal experts warned Friday.

The newly passed Supreme Court law bars the independent commission from examining possible flaws in verdicts. Instead, it is only allowed to conduct an ethical probe into judges.

Article 32 of the new law names the Supreme Court as the highest authority to supervise the judicial process at all court levels, putting the Judicial Commission at a lower position than the Supreme Court.

Hamid Chalid of the Indonesian Transparency Society (MTI) said the law, approved on Thursday, was a setback in the government's efforts to fight corruption and collusion within the judiciary.

He joined other critics in saying such internal supervision did not reflect a spirit of reform within the Supreme Court, widely considered one of the country's most corrupt institutions.

"Internal supervision is never effective in an institution such as the Supreme Court, where the abuse of authority has occurred often. It's no secret that justices often conspire (in handling cases)," Hamid said.

Noted legal expert Frans Hendra Winarta expressed similar views, adding the internal supervision would keep alive the Supreme Court's "mafia" practices.

"The idea of justices supervising other justices is just ridiculous. People from other backgrounds or institutions should be allowed to do this job to ensure objectivity," Frans said.

He also criticized another "non-reformist" article in the law stipulating the money generated from court cases did not require an audit by the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK).

Article 81 of the law states because individuals must pay court fees themselves, the money could be categorized as non-tax revenue, thus a BPK inspection was not required. "This does not promote transparency within the court. The court coffers are just the same as state coffers, so it does require an audit," Frans argued.

Experts also slammed the extension of the retirement age of justices from 65 years to 70 years. "The move to extend the retirement age of Supreme Court justices is suspicious because it was not based on any research. It came out just like that; it's groundless," said Hamid, co-founder of the Center for Indonesian Law and Policy Studies.

"It looks like this law was passed to help certain individuals (in the Supreme Court) maintain their political positions."

The most contentious issue during the bill's deliberation was the retirement age extension, rather than the court supervisory system, which was deemed more substantial.

Frans said justices were often slow in resolving cases, particularly because of old age and the failure to allocate cases to judges with the relevant expertise. "The law should instead have considered adopting a cameral-based system within the Supreme Court to support the reform agenda within the judiciary," he said.

"This would allow justices to handle cases based on their own particular knowledge. It's impossible for a justice to handle all kinds of cases – criminal, civil and more specific one such as commercial cases – when legal cases have now become more complicated."

Currently, justices are appointed randomly to handle cases, with no consideration for their background or expertise – a system criticized for being slow and inefficient.

Indonesia targets youth in fight against corruption

Sydney Morning Herald - December 20, 2008

Tom Allard, Jakarta – It is a pernicious malady that infects all levels of Indonesian society. Kickbacks, bribes, "special service" fees: corrupt activity that extends from the courts to parliament and the bureaucracy, the police and diplomatic service.

Now, after snaring some big-time scalps including a former central bank governor and an ambassador to Singapore, Indonesia's highly regarded Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, is taking its fight against graft to another level.

From next year it will roll out an innovative anti-corruption campaign targeting the next generation – school students. It will become part of the curriculum at thousands of schools across the archipelago.

Hasballah, a law student at Jakarta's Pancasila University, is one of the frontline troops in a drive aimed at snapping an ingrained culture of graft at its root. He has recently completed corruption commission training to become a mentor to senior high school students, explaining to them the price to society of corrupt behaviour and promoting the benefits of honesty.

"I was a bit surprised [by the training]," he said. "Several activities KPK categorised as corruption were in fact the sort of activities we did as a habit.

"We often booed government officers who were caught by KPK for corruption while, in fact, we ourselves did the same. [Things like] cheating in tests, marking up the school fees, sort of bribing lecturers by buying them their favourite food in order to get better marks."

Sneaking a peek at a fellow student's homework is a universal trait, but low salaries for teachers means that petty corruption in education institutions is rampant.

Poorly paid teachers, for example, are known to hold special after-hours classes for a fee to supplement their incomes. Those that attend do well; those who don't seem to slip down the rankings no matter how smart they are or how hard they work.

The state-run SMA-13 high school in Jakarta has been running a pilot anti-corruption program for several years. It has a "canteen of honesty", where there are no cashiers and students take the drinks and food, putting the money in an unattended box.

"The canteen didn't run well in the beginning," says the school's deputy principal, Rasmadi. "All the stuff was gone but the money was not equal to the stuff purchased. But it's getting better and better. Next year we plan to sell stationery as well."

The canteen of honesty is just one part of the education "module" in the commission's anti-corruption curriculum, which will be adopted by religious, state and private schools from elementary to senior high levels. "We teach them here, if you cheat at school age, you will likely cheat for the rest of your life," Rasmadi said.

Indonesia consistently ranks at the bottom end of global corruption indexes, although it has been showing steady, if slow, improvement in recent years.

Rezki Ribowo, deputy executive director at the Indonesian chapter of Transparency International, says corruption became ingrained in Indonesia under the Dutch colonialists and their system of patronage.

The Soeharto dictatorship took graft to another level, as the long-time leader funnelled billions in state funds to his family and his cronies, solidifying his power base.

Indonesia's democratic reforms in some ways made the problem worse, creating layers of government and devolving power to the regions, widening the number of officials who could take kickbacks.

Still, ordinary Indonesians are fed up with corruption, and commitments to anti-graft measures carry huge political benefits; they swept Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to office in 2004.

The commission's staff are heroes. Their stings are on the front pages of Indonesian newspapers almost daily. But, said Ribowo: "This is a long-term project. To change this, you have to change the perception of the people, that corruption doesn't pay, that it doesn't have to be like this."

Indonesia's corruption-busters take on the tomcats

Reuters - December 17, 2008

Sara Webb, Jakarta – When Indonesia's president delivered his independence day speech to parliament, stressing the need to eradicate corruption, it was clear to many onlookers that the biggest problem was staring him in the face. In Indonesia, members of parliament top the charts when it comes to corrupt practices.

They're known in the media as "kucing garong" – tomcats, who prowl the neighborhood in search of something to steal – and the public here is treated to an almost daily diet of news about corrupt officials who skim, steal, or extort.

For decades, corruption has been a way of life in Southeast Asia's biggest economy. It permeates almost every level of society, reducing the country's appeal to a wide array of foreign investors, and curbing Indonesia's potential for growth and development so that it lags far behind its Asian rivals, such as China and Malaysia.

With the fall of former president Suharto in 1998, and the move toward greater democracy and regional autonomy, the situation grew even worse, according to some business people, because with more potential decision-makers, that often meant that more officials had to be paid off.

True, Indonesia has pushed through a host of political, economic and social reforms in the past decade, but it's only quite recently that it has made more progress in tackling corruption.


Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won Indonesia's first direct election for president in 2004 on pledges to crack down on corruption. By tackling graft, he expected to attract foreign investment, boost economic growth and create more jobs.

In the past couple of years, Indonesia's anti-corruption agency has taken on scores of officials, from central bankers to ministers, procurement officials to prosecutors.

Even Yudhoyono's relatives are considered fair game: his eldest son's father-in-law was detained as part of a corruption investigation involving the central bank. The fact that Yudhoyono expressed regret but did not interfere in the case has been widely praised and may have won him some political support.

Officials at the agency, known by its Indonesian acronym KPK, have won plenty of media attention with their James Bond-like exploits.

They have tapped suspects' phones and gone under cover to catch their prey, nailing businessmen in hotel lifts while they were in the act of handing over briefcases stuffed with cash, or in luxury hotel rooms with their accomplices.

The taped conversations between prosecutors and businessmen or women discussing pay-offs have been played in court, with one recording even making the rounds as a ringtone for mobile phones.

Yudhoyono's finance minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, has taken on two notoriously corrupt departments – tax and customs – increasing officials' pay in an attempt to reduce the temptation to steal and reinforcing the message that corruption won't be tolerated.

These measures have paid off. Indonesia's ranking in Transparency International's corruption index has improved slightly.

But there is still plenty to do, particularly in parliament where Indonesia's newfound democracy has been tarnished and a tradition of cash-for-votes raises serious questions about the kind of legislation or regulations that are passed.

Cash & caviar

That practice was highlighted by a member of parliament called Agus Condro Prayitno earlier this year. A member of Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (or PDI- P), Agus admitted he had been given cash after voting in favor of the appointment of senior central banker Miranda Goeltom.

Goeltom, a respected economist, has denied any knowledge of the payments, which according to local media reports may have been instigated by local business groups. Agus, who admitted to taking the cash and named several others who also took payment, has been expelled from his party.

Members of parliament like Agus are obliged to make donations to their political parties: some have to resort to graft to raise sufficient funds, receiving travelers cheques in exchange for their votes (although one is apparently famously fond of caviar).

Sutan Bhatoegana, another member of parliament, told Reuters that soliciting bribes wasn't common practice among parliamentarians, but does take place.

Such venality puts parliament and legislature at the top of the league tables for corruption in Indonesia, ahead of political parties, police, and customs, according to Transparency International's 2008 Bribe Payers Survey.

The authorities are still working on ways to deal with corruption, including special uniforms for those charged with graft in a bid to shame them when they appear in court.

But some fear that won't be enough to stamp out the practice. Little wonder perhaps that the hardliners are putting up posters on the streets of Jakarta calling for the death penalty for the corrupt.

[Additional reporting by Telly Nathalia in Jakarta; Editing by Bill Tarrant.]


HTI rallies for 'khilafah'

Jakarta Post - December 22, 2008

Desy Nurhayati, Jakarta – Thousands of Muslim women from the hardline Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) organization staged a rally Sunday calling for the country to enforce sharia law and establish an Islamic state led by a caliphate.

They marched through downtown Jakarta from outside the US Embassy to the nearby State Palace, with some carrying their children.

The protesters reject the current system of democracy because it is a Western product and said it failed to bring prosperity to this predominantly Muslim nation. The rally was peaceful amid tight security.

Protest leader Febrianti Abassuni said the women's wing of HTI would intensify its campaign for an Islamic state this month to coincide with the commemorations of Mother's Day on Dec. 22, the Islamic New Year on Dec. 29, and in the lead up to the 2009 elections.

"This movement offers guidance for the people to contribute to the country's transformation in the upcoming elections," she added.

The protesters claimed khilafah, an administrative system based on Islamic ideology and led by caliphate, would be best for Indonesia and should replace Pancasila as the national ideology.

Democracy has led Indonesia to capitalism and allows it to be used as a "cash cow by advanced states", leaving its citizens in poverty, they added.

"Democracy and capitalism have proven ineffective in bringing about prosperity. Therefore, we are calling on this nation to apply khilafah," Febrianti said. "Islamic sharia is the right way toward an advanced and strong nation."

Under the khilafah system, she claimed, citizens would have stricter control over the government to ensure their welfare be a top priority.

"In accordance with Islamic values, the society would be sinful if it let the government abuse power; they should even be willing to die for it because it is considered as mati syahid (martyrdom)."

She claimed the group's mission of establishing khilafah would be accomplished, saying they had gradually received more support, including from scholars. "It is just a matter of time. The society needs enlightenment to get out of the current political system."

Commenting on the rally, constitutional law professor Jimly Asshiddiqie dismissed such a campaign.

"There is no need to be concerned about such a movement because it will always exist but will never be accepted by mainstream Islam. What we should do is nurture the principles of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution because Indonesia is a constitutional country," he said.

He said movements have survived for many years and continue to spring up during recent years because of the domination of the West over the oppressed Muslim society.

He criticized the HTI of misinterpreting the concept of khilafah, which actually meant a governance system applied by caliphate emerging after the Prophet Muhammad.

Saldi Isra, also a constitutional law expert, shared the view, saying it would be impossible for the country to shift into khilafah, given the fact that the principles of the Constitution are well established.

"The idea (of establishing khilafah) is merely a discourse. There has never been further discussions on this issue because we have committed to enforcing the Constitution," he said.

PKS uninterested in joining alliance of Islamic parties

Jakarta Post - December 21, 2008

Jakarta – The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), a major Islamic party, is not interested in joining an alliance of Islamic parties, a party executive, Mahfudz Siddiq, said in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, on Sunday.

"Strengthening a coalition of Islamic political parties tends to maintain latent conflict (among Islamic parties) and would not bring benefits to the country in the future," he told journalists, as quoted by Antara.

Siddiq said that Islamic parties, even if they all united together, would only garner around 40 percent of total votes.

He said the PKS would continue to maintain its image as a "clean and caring" party, and next year would add "professional" to its list of official attributes. Thus, the PKS would be known as a "clean, caring and professional" party, he said.

Siddiq noted that PKS aims to become the third biggest party in Indonesia.

Various surveys show that PKS currently sits on the fourth place after Golkar, PDI-P and Democratic Party. "During the next three months, we will pull down one of those three to become number four," he said. (rid)

Clerics choose politics over followers: BIN

Jakarta Post - December 21, 2008

Jakarta – The government has asked Muslim clerics to avoid actively participating in politics, as it will keep them from serving their followers and will threaten social unity.

After a series of meetings with Muslim leaders in the Central Java town of Pati on Saturday, he was concerned about the fact that many clerics have turned to politics, said State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Syamsir Siregar.

"Nowadays many clerics have chosen their own political affiliation. This is regrettable as people will find it difficult to find role models and now the clerics have put their political interests above the needs of the people," Syamsir said as quoted by Antara news agency.

However, democracy allows the clerics as individuals to exercise their political rights, he said. "But the clerics' decisions to turn to practical politics should not be a hardship for Muslims and cause the disintegration of Islamic boarding schools," Syamsir said.

During his visit to the town, known as the stronghold of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country's largest Muslim organization with over 35 million members, Syamsir held a tete-a-tete meeting with prominent NU figure Sahal Mahfudz, who chairs the Indonesian Ulema Council. Syamsir also met with local Muslim clerics.

It is well known that Muslim clerics have been involved in politics long before independence in 1945. They founded the NU Party, which finished among the top four in inaugural general elections in 1955.

NU joined the United Development Party (PPP) when the New Order government simplified the political party system in 1972.

In 1984, under then chairman Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, NU decided to quit politics. But it has maintained its influence in politics ever since, as evidenced by the formation of the National Awakening Party (PKB) in 1998 and the election of Gus Dur as the fourth president in 1999.

Of the 38 political parties which have qualified for the 2009 elections, three of them – PPP, PKB and the National Awakening Party – claim to represent the political aspirations of NU.

Muslims at the grassroots level are having difficulties in seeking guidance from their clerics, who have been busy with their political activities, Syamsir said.

"Islamic boarding schools have been reduced to a battle field for various interests. This solemn tradition (of boarding schools) has now been disrupted by political activities." Pati's prominent cleric, Asmuj, who runs Salafiyah Islamic boarding school, agreed with Syamsir.

"Today there are many clerics and ulemas pursuing political interests at the expense of their followers' needs for moral guidance," Asmuj said.

BIN: Ulema's entering into politics causes rift among followers

Jakarta Post - December 20, 2008

Jakarta – Head of the Intelligence Agency Syamsir Siregar said Saturday the increasing number of religious scholars and leaders entering into politics has caused rift among and neglect of their followers.

"Many religious scholars are up against each other due to their decision to enter into politics now. This is regrettable as society starts to face difficulties in finding leaders to look up to," Siregar said in Pati, Central Java, Antara news agency reported.

Even though the decision to be political is a right of every citizen, he added, "It shouldn't lead to a neglect of madrasahs (religious bording schools) and followers who have also split up in the process."

"The madrasahs, which used to be a subject now becomes objectified by various political interests. The age-long tradition of madrasahs as peace sanctuaries has turned violent due to vested political interests," Siregar lamented.

Headmaster of Madrasah Salafiyah in Pati, Asmuj, concurred. "Indeed, nowadays many of the scholars focus on worldly affairs, including politics, while the affairs of the hereafter are set aside," he said. He added that there should be a balance between the two.

"Scholars aren't prohibited against meddling in politics, but this shouldn't be at the expense of their primary role as the conscience of society," Asmuj said.

Proponents of Islamic state jailed

Jakarta Post - December 20, 2008

Yuli Tri Suwarni, Bandung – The Bandung District Court has convicted and sentenced 17 alleged members of the Islamic State of Indonesia (NII) to between two-and-a-half and three years in prison for treason.

On Friday, the panel of three judges, hearing 14 dossiers, said the defendants were guilty of violating Article 107, clause 1, of the Criminal Code on treason, and Article 55 on conspiring to commit treason.

Judges Yance Bombing, Joni Santosa and Abdul Moehan said the 17 defendants had caused public disturbance and threatened the integrity of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI).

"They have deviated from the NKRI by acknowledging the NII as their state," the judges said in their verdicts.

The sentences handed down were lighter than those demanded by prosecutors, who had sought prison terms of four to five years. But the judges said the defendants had no prior criminal convictions and had behaved well during the trial that began on Aug. 8.

Police arrested the men last April in the Bandung districts of Cihanjuang, Cijerah and Riung Bandung.

The four men who received three-year sentences were: Suganda, alias Miftahayatudin, accused of being the Region 7 (Southern West Java) vice governor and chief spokesman; Mulyadi, the so- called Region 7 sharia division head; Uden Abdullah, the alleged Region 73 (Cianjur and Sukabumi) head; and Oban, considered the Region 72 (Garut and Sumedang) head. The men have not said whether they would appeal the verdicts.

During a heated discussion with defense lawyer Seprandjaya at the court's detention room, the defendants said they feared receiving longer sentences should they file appeals with the West Java High Court.

Seprandjaya called the verdicts ambiguous, claiming the judges did not take into consideration facts revealed during the trial that showed the men were unaware they were part of the NII.

"The judges should not break the rules, they should be professional in handing down verdicts and not eliminate facts uncovered during the trial," he said, adding he would recommend his clients file appeals.

"There were no witnesses called to testify, except for the defendants themselves." He added it was clear they knew nothing about the NII.

"It all started when the defendants became involved in conversations with people such as Haidir, Musa and Abu Patin, who are still at large," he told The Jakarta Post after the sentencing.

"These people then asked the defendants to join Koran study groups, leading to their being named by the police as NII officials."

Most of the defendants, the lawyer went on, were only infak (tithe) collectors for the real NII leaders who had evade arrest.

"If they are guilty of treason, then there must be masterminds who can attest to the defendants being part of the NII," he said. "But during the trial, no one knew who the masterminds were."

Politicians divided on new Islamic coalition

Jakarta Post - December 19, 2008

Abdul Khalik, Jakarta – Some Islam-based parties are pushing for a political coalition to win next year's elections, but others are questioning the relevance of such a sectarian alliance to nurture Indonesia's democracy and pluralism.

The Islamic coalition, similar to the axis force that won Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid the presidency in 1999, is driven to reform the poor image and performance of the majority of Islam- based parties in the post-reform era.

It will also act as a strong political vehicle for Muslim politicians who require significant support in order to nominate a presidential candidate under a strict new law.

Parties have been under pressure to merge since the law ruled that only a party or coalition of parties with 20 percent of seats in the House of Representatives, or 25 percent of popular votes in the legislative elections, would be able to contest the presidential election.

All Islamic-based parties garnered less than 10 percent of votes during the 2004 legislative elections. Only the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the United Development Party (PPP) managed to grab about 10 percent of the votes each.

Recent surveys found all Islamic parties, except for the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), would see a significant drop in votes in the 2009 elections.

"We need to form a strategic coalition to make ourselves heard. This coalition of Islam-based parties will have the same platform for strategic issues relevant to the Islamic community as a whole," Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin, who initiated the alliance, said at a discussion Thursday.

The discussion, hosted by the Center for Dialogue and Cooperation among Civilizations (CDCC) which is also led by Din, was attended by representatives from major Islam-based parties and organizations.

They included National Awakening Party (PKB) chairman Muhaimin Iskandar, Azrul Azwar of the PPP, Hamdan Zoelva of the Crescent Star Party (PBB) and Busroh Zarnubi of the Star Reform Party (PBR).

At a separate forum Thursday the National Sun Party (PMB), founded by Muhammadiyah figures and activists, declared Din its presidential candidate.

"Pak Din is what the nation needs. He is an excellent alternative candidate," PMB chairman Imam Addaruqutni said in a speech announcing his party's presidential nomination.

Din, speaking at the CDCC discussion, said a strategic coalition is needed for Islam-based parties so they can offer an alternative and challenge the nationalist parties, especially Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), in the upcoming elections.

The PDI-P has nominated Megawati Soekarnoputri as its presidential candidate while Golkar will likely back a re- election bid for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

Hamdan and Azrul said their parties would support the Islamic coalition to promote stronger action for the interests of Muslims.

Amidhan, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and Tuty Alawiyah, a former religious affairs minister and current chair of a national communication forum for Islamic gatherings, agreed that the discussion should be immediately followed up by action to push for the coalition.

Muhaimin welcomed the establishment of an Islamic coalition, but could not say whether the PKB would join the alliance. "We need this coalition not for the 2009 elections but for the longer term," he said without elaborating.

Busroh quickly criticized the Din-proposed coalition, saying the pluralist country did not need sectarian politics. "It will break up the country. Why do we need a dichotomy of Islam and nationalists while most of us are Muslims?," he said.

Opposition was also voiced by the PKS which questioned the relevance of such a sectarian political approach. "What we need most is a strong government to accelerate our development. I doubt that such a coalition will contribute to that objective," senior PKS politician Mahfudz Siddiq said in a text message to The Jakarta Post.

 Elections/political parties

Economy a challenge for SBY: Survey

Jakarta Post - December 20, 2008

Jakarta – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono remains popular for his performance in national security and legal affairs, but is facing a challenge to improve Indonesia's economy, a recent survey reveals.

The survey was conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) from Dec. 5-15, and was released on Friday in Jakarta. The results saw SBY gain 42.9 percent of respondents' support, higher than other presidential candidates including Megawati Soekarno Putri, who gained 40.7 percent.

"75 and 68 percent of respondents say they are satisfied with SBY's performance in security and legal affairs, respectively," the institute's executive director, Denny JA, told kompas.com on Friday.

Denny said 59 percent of respondents had said they were dissatisfied with SBY's handling of the economy. "35.2 percent of respondents say the current economic condition is worsening, while 29 percent say the opposite," he added.

In terms of issues, Denny added, 72.7 percent of respondents were of the opinion that social welfare was most important. "Corruption only attracted 12.5 percent of respondents' votes, while only 4.1 percent said security was most important," he said. (ewd)

New group supports Sultan's presidential bid

Jakarta Post - December 18, 2008

Slamet Susanto, Yogyakarta – Merti Nusantara, an organization made up of 18 community groups representing hundreds of people, was established Wednesday to back Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Sri Hamengkubuwono's bid for the presidency next year.

"Eighteen community elements support the founding of the forum, from village officials and farmers, to artists," said Merti chairman Robby Hermawan. Robby added Merti's Yogyakarta office was just one of several branches established in all provinces across the country.

Following a community workshop last week, participants decided to set up Merti Nusantara in all 33 provinces in a bid to support the Sultan's candidacy, Robby said.

"It also serves as a forum from which to endorse the Sultan's presidential bid... because he is someone who can bring about culture-based changes."

He added the forum would gather as much support as possible for the Yogyakarta ruler through base groups spread out across the country, by organizing farmers' and craftsmen's meetings and holding popular events such as walks.

"We also offer a chance to residents, forums or individuals to support the Sultan," said Merti member Arif Wahyudianto.

Robby said based on Merti Nusantara's estimates of its potential member base countrywide, Hamengkubuwono could receive the support of 36 million voters in his bid to become president.

Since declaring at a pisowanan agung (grand meeting of the country's royalty) on Oct. 28 that he would run in the 2009 presidential election, Hamengkubuwono has received widespread support, including from hundreds of artists from Yogyakarta, Central Java and East Java.

Robby also said Javanese migrants in 21 other provinces had also expressed their support for the Sultan by setting up the United Rainbow Nusantara Communication Forum (FKPNB).

Hamengkubuwono said Wednesday he was unaware of the founding of the Merti Nusantara forum to support his presidential bid. "I didn't even know about Merti Nusantara being set up," he said.

A recent poll suggests the most popular candidate team would be the one pairing Hamengkubuwono with former president Megawati Soekarnoputri as her running mate. However, the Sultan played down this possibility. "That's only the result of a survey so it's not really a big deal," he said.

PPP to remain loyal to SBY-JK

Jakarta Post - December 18, 2008

Jakarta – The United Development Party (PPP) has begun screening presidential hopefuls in a bid to select a candidate for nomination in the 2009 election.

But PPP chief patron Bachtiar Chamsyah said Wednesday the majority of his party still wished for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla to retain power next year.

Bachtiar, also currently the people's welfare minister in the Yudhoyono administration, said the party invited presidential candidates to campaign for nomination so they could learn about their policies.

The PPP had already invited presidential candidates, including Prabowo Subianto, from the Greater Indonesian Movement Party (Gerindra) and Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengkubowono X to discuss their policies.

Bachtiar denied the PPP demanded Rp 300 billion from candidates seeking the support of the Islam-based party. "There is no such practice in our party," he said.

Poll stations 'empty' in West Lombok

Jakarta Post - December 16, 2008

Panca Nugraha and Yuli Tri Suwarni, Lombok, Bandung – Few residents of West Lombok regency, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), bothered to turn up to polling booths Monday to vote in the second round of the regent election, which was held simultaneously in 15 districts.

Despite the local election commission's (KPUD) early forecast of a 70% voter turn out in the first round, polling stations (TPS) were described as relatively "empty" Monday.

At TPS 3 in Taman Sari sub-district, Gunung Sari district, 115 out of the 445 listed voters had cast ballots an hour before it was scheduled to close at 1 p.m. A similar scene was reported at TPS 4 in Midang sub-district in the same district, with 118 of 380 registered voters casting ballots.

Others had errands to do. "People may have been fed up with voting, with the process for the gubernatorial election starting in July, then the regent election in October and now the regent election again," local figure Hamdan said. "They may just be thinking 'let the others do the voting'," he added.

Two pairs of candidates contesting Monday's election were Zaini Arony and running mate Mahrib, nominated by a coalition of parties, and independent candidates Lalu Sajim Sastrawan and running mate Munajib. The election cost the state Rp 4.75 billion (US$424,100).

Chairman of the West Lombok KPUD Hasanain Juaini said 537,335 eligible voters had registered for the second round, or 635 less than for the first round.

Hasanain also said the KPUD would not use a quick-count system to tally votes, but instead perform a manual count. The official results of the election will be announced Dec. 20.

In Bandung, West Java, tens of students and residents of Subang regency staged a rally to protest Governor Ahmad Heryawan's plan to swear in Subang Regent-elect Eep Hidayat despite alleged corruption charges leveled against him. Marching in front of the gubernatorial office at Gedung Sate building on Jl. Diponegoro, they said they refused to be led by a corrupt regent.

They further demanded the West Java provincial police and prosecutors' office monitor Eep's ongoing legal case being handled by the Purwakarta regional police and the Subang regency prosecutor's office.

Eep, who was Subang regent from 2004 to 2008 and reelected on Oct. 26, was named a suspect just two weeks after being reelected in a corruption case worth Rp 1.5 billion centering on a 2004 regional police project to import cows.

Three hours after declaring him a suspect, the prosecutor's office named him a suspect in another corruption case that saddled the state with Rp 2 billion in losses from 2005 to 2008.

At the same time, five teachers from Subang filed a law suit with the state administrative court against Eep for allegedly hand picking school headmasters in 2007 without any transparency.

Responding to the protest, Governor Heryawan said he would swear in Eep, adding that he was obliged to by law.

He said the law stipulated that a regional leader-elect could still be sworn in as long as they had not been convicted for criminal charges by a definitive court.

In Nabire, Papua, hundreds of people Monday sealed off 20 regency administration offices in protest against the possible postponement of the regency election.

Among the sealed off offices were those of the local KPUD and Nabire regent. Other offices were forced to cease activities. The overall situation in the regency, however, remained conducive despite the protest.

Protest coordinator Frans Magai said the protest had been held in response to information the Nabire election scheduled for Dec. 18 would be postponed until 2010 despite campaign activities starting 10 days prior. "We demand confirmation that the election will go on as scheduled," Frans said Monday.

Frans said the nine pairs of candidates contesting the election would suffer unbearable financial losses were the vote to be canceled.

The election, he went on, had been initially scheduled for Oct. 22, then rescheduled for Nov. 22 and then again for Dec. 4 before finally being set for Dec. 18. "What is the guarantee that it will finally be carried out if it is postponed again," Frans said.

[Angel Flassy contributed to the story from Nabire.]

Only 10 parties will win seats in the 2009 elections - Survey

Detik.com - December 16, 2008

Novia Chandra Dewi, Jakarta – The 2009 legislative and presidential elections are within sight. Thirty eight national political parties are registered to contest to fight for the people's votes. But it is estimated that only 10 parties will end up with seats in Senayan (the House of Representatives).

"Based upon survey results eight political parties have a good chance of reaching the parliamentary threshold, the remainder meanwhile will become the object of a struggle by five long-term and new political parties", said National Survey Institute (LSN) executive director Umar S. Bakry in a press release received by Detik.com on December 16.

The eight parties are the Democrat Party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Golkar Party, the Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS), the Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra Party), the National Mandate Party (PAN), the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Awakening Party (PKB).

Meanwhile the five political parties that will be in a close contest to fight for the remaining seats will be the People's Conscience Party (Hanura Party), the Ulema National Awakening Party (PKNU), the Star Reform Party (PBR), the Crescent Star Party (PBB) and the Peace and Prosperity Party (PDS).

"Three political parties will easily exceed the parliamentary threshold, that is the PDI-P, the Democrat Party and Golkar. These three parties will presumably easily obtain a vote of more than 10 percent. And it is expected that that close competition will occur between the PDI-P and the Democrats to win the 2009 elections", explained Bakry.

The thing that is quite surprising is the PKS, Bakry explained, with initial predictions saying that the party will become a serious challenger to the Democrat Party, Golkar and the PDI-P. But in fact, the opposite will occur. "Pragmatic tendencies that have developed within the PKS of late appear to have become a boomerang for its ambitions to become a leading party", added Bakry.

There is a chance that the Gerindra Party will become the dark horse in the race. "If this party is able to build on its awesome advertising network on television, it is not impossible that it could become a threat to the big political parties. In any case it could well deflate the votes for the big parties", he said.

PAN, the PPP and the PKB meanwhile will remain middle-class parties. "Maintaining the same number of seats that they obtained in the 2004 elections will be a good achievement", said Bakry.

Aside from these 10 parties, the other participants will only be part of the sideshow in the 2009 elections. "Unless they make some kind of spectacular effort", he asserted. (ndr/gah)

[Translated by James Balowski.]

Backing presidential candidates, PBR ready to support Prabowo

Lampung Post - December 16, 2008

Jakarta (Dtc/Lampost) – The Star Reform Party (PBR) is continuing to select presidential candidates who are suitable for support at its convention. Although up until now the party's presidential candidate – in line with the PBR's convention – has been Rizal Ramli, this has still left open the possibility of them switching their support to the late President Suharto's former son-in-law Prabowo Subianto.

"Basically our party's mission is almost the same as Prabowo's mission. It is likely that we would support him providing that Prabowo is prepared to enter into and is agreeable with the central axis(1)", said PBR general chairperson Bursah Zarnubi in Jakarta on Tuesday December 15.

Zarnubi said that his party is ready to conduct political communication with the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra Party) built by Subianto. This is because struggling for the wishes of the common people in the agricultural and fisheries sector represents a special draw card possessed by Subianto(2). "I'm ready to conduct political communication with Prabowo", said Zarnubi.

The PBR's readiness to support Subianto began when the party's founder, Zainuddin M.Z., declared his support for the former commander of the army's elite Special Forces (Kopassus). Moreover the proselytizer with a million religious followers became an issue over rumors that had "jumped the fence" and joined the Gerindra Party, which is backing Subianto as their presidential candidate.

Later on however, the Gerindra party, through party general secretary Ahmad Muzani, clarified the issue and denied that Zainuddin had joined the party. At the time he said, Zainuddin was not registered either as a party member or as being on the party's management board.

Muzani did however admit that there was a closeness between Zainuddin and Subianto and that Zainuddin has claimed that he is ready to support Subianto as a presidential candidate in the 2009 elections. "Those were Pak Zainuddin's words, if Mas [brother] Prabowo becomes a presidential candidate, Zainuddin will backup and support Mas Prabowo", said Muzani.

Muzani explained that the closeness between Zainuddin and Subianto was forged a long time ago. The ties of friendship were formed when Subianto still held the rank of lieutenant colonel. Then during the Ramadan fasting month last September, Zainuddin as the chairperson of the Betawi Families Foundation together with Subianto visited slum areas in Jakarta. (nK-3)


1. On December 10 Muhammadiyah chairperson Din Syamsuddin called for the formation of a new strategic coalition of Islamic based political parties to win the 2009 legislative and presidential election, saying that the "central axis" is intended to "maintain the political representation of Islam" in Indonesia.

2. In addition to controlling the Energy Nusantara Group with assets of around US$1 billion, Subianto also heads a number of other social organisations such as the Indonesian Farmers Association (HKTI) and the Association of Indonesian Market Traders (APPI), to which he has contributed large sums of money and is counting on as a mass base of votes in next year's elections.

[Translated by James Balowski.]

 Armed forces/defense

Military, police stage national counterterrorism drills

Jakarta Post - December 22, 2008

Jakarta – Security forces stormed airports, glitzy hotels, passenger ships and the Indonesia Stock Exchange on Sunday during a massive national counterterrorism exercise.

The drill, the biggest and final in a series of joint exercises begun Friday, involved nearly 7,000 military and police personnel and emergency response workers – almost all dressed head to toe in black.

Sunday's drill was held in six areas across the country – Jakarta, Denpasar, Semarang, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and the Strait of Malacca – and involved simulated clashes with gunmen, attacks, hostage-takings and rescues.

The exercise came on the eve of Christmas, when churches become the rare target of assaults, and New Year celebrations.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently ordered the police and military to organize drills to demonstrate preparedness in the wake of last month's deadly attacks on Mumbai in India.

Heavily armed anti-terrorism police swarmed a five-star hotel in Jakarta where masked gunmen carried out a mock attack similar to those in Mumbai in which 172 people were killed.

A military helicopter hovered over the Borobudur Hotel as police slid down a rope to the roof before blasting through windows to rescue screaming hostages.

In another scene at a local airport, mock terrorists seized an airplane carrying the president, killing the pilot and dumping the body onto the tarmac. After a 90-minute standoff, security forces overpowered the militants, who were demanding a ransom.

Similar drills were held in Bali, where terrorist bombings in 2002 and 2005 killed more than 200 people, many of them foreign tourists.

Security forces also stormed a passenger ship in the Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, in a bid to free hundreds of people seized in another mock raid.

In Semarang, Central Java, seven mock terrorists occupied a state power plant (PLN) building and took employees hostage, threatening to bomb the office should authorities reject their demand for the release of their accomplices. After negotiations reached a deadlock, anti-terrorism squads stormed the building, killing five terrorists and capturing two others. In this simulated attack, one hostage was killed.

A mock hostage rescue was among similar drills at three locations in Surabaya – Juanda Airport, the Sheraton Hotel and the Shangri-La Hotel.

"The important thing we have to underline in this joint exercise is the coordination and cooperation between the police and the military," chief security minister Widodo Adisucipto said. "We will evaluate it to see what has to be improved."

The military said security forces took significant lessons from the recent terrorism attacks in Mumbai and would try their best to prevent any similar incidents in Indonesia.

It said the exercises also aimed to warn terrorists against targeting Indonesian cities and other locations, saying armed forces would be ready to take them on.

Indonesia was hit by a string of deadly suicide bombings targeting Westerners in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

However, experts say the risk of more large-scale attacks has diminished with the arrest of hundreds of suspects.

[Suherdjoko contributed to this story from Surabaya.]

Military court bill in stalemate

Jakarta Post - December 20, 2008

Irawaty Wardany, Jakarta – The amendment of the military tribunal law has hit a deadlock at the House of Representatives with the government adamant that civilian police cannot be authorized to investigate soldiers accused of nonmilitary crimes.

The deliberations of the draft bill to amend the 1997 law have been stuck on this issue for the past three months, lawmaker Andreas H. Paraira told a press conference Friday.

"The government is yet to accept that the investigation process (of military personnel) shall be done according to the general court system," said Andreas, who chairs a House special committee to deliberate the bill.

However, he added that the government – in this case the Defense Ministry – had agreed with the House that soldiers should be tried by public courts, not military tribunals, for criminal charges.

After three years of discussing the bill, the House and the government are still divided over which authorities should investigate military officers involved in nonmilitary offenses, Andreas said.

"We are still debating whether police or military police investigators should be granted the right to investigate criminal cases involving military personnel," said deputy head of the special committee for the amendment Azis Syamsuddin.

He confirmed that the government refused to allow police to investigate nonmilitary charges against soldiers. "We are facing difficulties with the government's stance, which does not seem to fully accept reforms in the military court system," said Aslaini Agus, another deputy head of the special committee.

She said that if the government agreed to allow public courts to try military personnel, it should also allow all mechanisms in the general court system to be applied for accused soldiers.

"That is where the core problem lies: The government agrees to let civilian courts deal with cases involving Army personnel but insists the investigation into them be handled by investigators from the military police," Aslaini said.

Doni Ardianto from the Democratic Education Association (P2D), speaking at the same press conference, said the amendment to the law was not only a matter of reforming the Indonesian Military (TNI) but also about giving greater protection to the rights of its personnel. "We have seen many cases handled by the military court that neglected the rights of TNI members," he said.

Examples of these violations were that military suspects did not have the right to inform their families about their arrest, or to appoint their own lawyers. "Most likely they will not be able to get these rights if they are tied to the military judicial system," Doni added.

Bhatara Ibnu Reza from human rights group Imparsial said that in investigating crimes based on the integrated criminal justice system, the civilian police, not the military police, should take charge.

"Putting the military police into this system will make it as though they have jurisdiction in the general court system, and this will lead to chaos in the implementation of the Criminal Code Procedures," he added.

 Economy & investment

Water quality tops complaints in consumer survey

Jakarta Post - December 22, 2008

Jakarta – A one-month survey by the Indonesian Consumer Foundation (YLKI) shows that dirty tap water and a "mysterious" tariff increase are the top complaints about tap water by consumers in Jakarta.

The YLKI, which conducted the survey along with the Tap Water Users Committee (KPAM) and the Jakarta Water Supply Regulatory Body from Nov. 17 to Dec. 10, revealed the survey results in two meetings with consumers.

The first meeting, on Thursday, was held for customers of PT Aetra Air Jakarta, which supplies tap water to the eastern part of Jakarta. The second meeting, for PT PAM Lyonnaise Jaya (Palyja) customers, was held on Saturday. Both companies are sub-contractors of the city water company, PAM Jaya.

"I never have a constant flow of tap water in my home, and when I do, it is usually dirty," Joko, an Aetra consumer from Tanah Tinggi in Central Jakarta, said at the first gathering.

"Aetra said we owed them Rp 676 million (US$67,600), but we have proof that we have always made our payments on time," Toto Suprapto, an Aetra consumer from the low-cost Pulo Gadung apartments said, showing the payment receipts.

"They cut off our water supply in the fasting month (September). They said that we had to pay for the arrears and the fines, when in fact we always paid them," he added.

Despite the poor service water prices in Jakarta, at an average of Rp 7,000 per cubic meter, are the highest in Indonesia, Irzal Z. Djamal, head of the Jakarta Water Supply Regulatory Body said during the first meeting.

Representatives from Aetra were present during the gathering but volunteered no comments.

Aetra's business services director, Rhamses Simanjuntak, said in a phone interview that one of the reasons why customers received low quality water was because they use water-pumps.

"Even the slightest crack could spoil the water's quality as water and other substances outside the distribution pipe might mix with the water from the pipe. Customers should not be using water pumps," he told The Jakarta Post.

Responding the customers' claims that they had to use water pumps because of poor water pressure, Rhamses said Aetra was trying their best to solve the problem.

"We are currently proposing our investment plan to PAM Jaya for rehabilitation on pipes and infrastructures to improve our services in the next five years," he said.

According to Rhamses, Aetra is planning to add a new booster pump in Cilincing, North Jakarta and to upgrade their booster pumps in Sungai Bambu and Sumur Batu in North and Central Jakarta. The project is due for completion in early 2009, according to Rhamses' estimation.

Booster pumps are used to increase pressure in water lines, or to pull water from a storage tank. Aetra invested Rp 5 billion for a booster pump in Cilincing, which can pump 700 liters of water per second. During the gathering for Palyja customers, YLKI head Indah Sukmaningsih said dirty water and lack of distribution were both "classic" problems.

"What we really need to focus on is the sudden change of criteria for the grouping of tap water consumers. The criteria change increases the tariff between 50 to 150 percent for each consumer," she said.

Water tariffs are categorized based on the condition of the buildings they supply. Low-cost apartment tenants, for example, pay much lower tariffs that those who live in luxury apartments. Many customers said water operators sometimes change their tariff category after they have their houses renovated.

Sofyan Hadi from KPAM said they are currently conducting research to find proof regarding the tariff changes.

"About three months ago they suddenly changed the criteria for Group 2 consumers from 36-square-meter buildings to 28-square- meters," he added.

He said they objected to the criteria change because it tripled the tariffs from Rp 1,050 to Rp 3,550 for former Group 2 consumers who are now categorized as Group 3A. Palyja did not inform customers about the change, he said.

"When we have gathered enough proof that they changed the criteria without informing the consumers and increased the tariffs for their own benefit, KPAM along with YLKI and other NGOs will file a class action lawsuit against Palyja as early as January 2009," Sofyan said.

Palyja representatives did not provide any comments during the gathering.

"There were six representatives from Palyja attending the gathering, but because of a policy between us and the regulatory body, we only served as observers," Palyja Corporate Communication Head, Meyritha Maryanie, told The Jakarta Post by phone.

"We will list all the complaints the regulatory body compiled in the gathering. They promised that they will submit all of them to us by Tuesday," she said.

Meyritha also denied that Palyja did not properly inform their consumers regarding the changes in group criteria.

"The criteria change was made based on a Memorandum of Understanding between Palyja, PAM Jaya and Aetra in 2005 but the implementation began during the third quarter of 2007," she said.

Meyritha said Palyja had informed their consumers by mail, but did so in several phases. In the first phase, they mailed 5,000 consumers and by 2008 had almost finished mailing consumers.

"It is impossible for us to visit our tens of thousands consumers one by one, so we choose to mail them instead," she said.

Palyja recently submitted a proposal to the city administration to increase water tariffs by an average 22.7 percent in 2009 to fund their Rp 200 million investment for the year. Palyja said.

Top business group meets to set course of economy

Jakarta Post - December 22, 2008

Mustaqim Adamrah, Jakarta – The nation's most powerful business lobby group, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), used its national meeting on Sunday to set out recommendations for the government's economic program in 2009.

While there is no serious indication yet that Kadin's support for the government is waning, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is unlikely to take any suggestions from the group lightly, especially ahead of next year's election.

Kadin, perceived by many as the "Kadin Party", played a crucial role in supporting Yudhoyono in the 2004 presidential election after the incumbent president Megawati Soekarnoputri was deemed "unfriendly" to the group.

During the meeting, attended by Yudhoyono and top economic ministers, Kadin chairman Mohamad Suleman Hidayat set out nine recommendations for the government for next year, designed particularly to limit the impact of the global economic downturn.

Among the recommendations are tax cuts, acceleration in the construction of infrastructure and aggressive fiscal expansion.

"There are a lot of things the government should work at next year. Protection for domestic businesses is necessary to cope with the global economic slowdown," said Hidayat, who will extend his term as Kadin chairman for another four years.

But it was not all one-sided, with Acting Coordinating Minister for the Economy Sri Mulyani Indrawati scolding her critics in Kadin, saying the lobby group asked too much from the government.

"Kadin should not complain all the time. They will miss some opportunities. In all this time, Kadin has said too much but listened too little," Mulyani said in her characteristically light tone.

"Sometimes what Kadin is asking is a bit confusing. They are requesting facilities similar to those of advanced economies which are currently being hit hard by the crisis. They should not worry so much."

During the meeting, the government pledged to expedite numerous infrastructure projects next year to help maintain economic growth and avoid massive unemployment.

According to Mulyani, the central government will finish channeling Rp 24 trillion (US$2.2 billion) in infrastructure funds to the regions to help maintain their growth.

The government also plans to spend a total of Rp 72 trillion on numerous infrastructure-related projects to be carried out by the central government.

The sum includes Rp 25.8 trillion from the Public Works Ministry, Rp 12.6 trillion from the Transportation Ministry, Rp 4.5 trillion from the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, Rp 3.5 trillion from the Trade Ministry, Rp 2.8 trillion from the Finance Ministry and Rp 2.2 trillion from the Religious Affairs Ministry.

The Public Works Ministry opened 2009 projects to public tender even before lawmakers had approved its budget.

During the meeting Yudhoyono repeated his call for businesses not to be too quick to dismiss workers as it would increase the country's already high level of unemployment.

"Businesses should not be too hasty to decide to lay off their workers before consulting with the central government, or with regional administrations," he said.

There are officially around 9.3 million unemployed people in Indonesia. As the country has no social security policy, the jobless figure could actually be as high as 40 million.

Indonesia financial minister sees slower GDP, inflation next year

Reuters - December 21, 2008

Jakarta – Indonesia's economic growth is set to slow to 4.5-5.5 percent in 2009 because of weak commodity prices, while easing inflation should allow to lift domestic spending with more rate cuts, the finance minister said on Sunday.

Indonesia's economy grew 6.3 percent in 2007, the fastest pace in a decade, on the back of a commodity boom. The government expects growth to be about 6 percent this year, the minimum seen necessary to make a dent in unemployment, currently around 10 percent.

The finance minister said that exports and investment growth would slow to single digits next year and interest rates should also fall further.

"Weakening growth will be accompanied with weakening inflation, which is probably good for us," Indrawati told members of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, adding that 2009 inflation should slow to 6-7 percent.

In a bid to cushion the impact of global economic crisis, Indonesia's central bank cut its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point to 9.25 percent on Dec. 4 and has reduced fuel prices twice to ease inflationary pressures.

Annual inflation slightly dipped in November to 11.7 percent percent from 11.8 percent in October and Indrawati said prices may drop month-on-month in December, bringing the annual rate to below 11 percent.

The challenge next year was to raise domestic spending power, the finance minister said, as exports of key Indonesian commodities such as palm oil, rubber and nickel slow.

She said domestic consumption should grow 5 percent next year helped by government spending programmes and with parliamentary and presidential elections in 2009.

A Reuters poll on Dec. 11 had forecast the economy would slow next year to a seven-year low of 4.8 percent before picking up to 5.6 percent in 2010.

As many as 700,000 jobs are under threat in Indonesia's manufacturing and commodities sectors next year because of the fall-out of a global financial crisis and credit crunch, according to the International Labour Organisation. (Reporting by Karima Anjani; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

Indonesian lawmakers pass new mining law

Associated Press - December 17, 2008

Niniek Karmini, Jakarta – Indonesian lawmakers passed a new mining law Tuesday that will give the mineral-rich nation greater control over its resources, though analysts warn it could deter investment by multinational corporations.

Indonesia has some of the most abundant reserves of coal, copper, gold, tin and nickel in the world and has lured mining giants like Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation, Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold and the Rio Tinto Group – most of whom arrived before the 1998 ouster of longtime dictator Suharto.

Critics say deals signed under the notoriously corrupt regime offered contracts to large foreign miners that lasted far too long, some running until 2041.

The new law, approved after three years of squabbling in parliament, will in some cases limit areas of exploration, a move intended to benefit small- and medium-sized firms.

It also requires companies to seek separate permits for each phase of mining activity, from seismic surveying and exploration to feasibility studies and construction – reversing the previous one-stop contract of work system.

The law has yet to be signed by the president, a formality that normally takes 30 days.

Newmont executives wanted to study the new law in detail before commenting, spokesman Omar Jabara said in a telephone interview.

Legislator Sonny Keraf said the new law "will serve the nation's best interests" by creating certainty and boosting mining revenues. But industry experts said it could end up chasing away large-scale investors, putting the future of the industry at stake.

Among other things, it requires investors to process all mining products into metal locally, whether by setting up their own smelters or by using others, something that would sharply increase operating costs.

"How are we going to attract big investors with regulations like this?" asked Priyo Pribadi Soemarno of the Indonesia Mining Association. "It's a very unfriendly law."

Newmont does not have a refinery for Indonesian operations. Jabara said that is one issue they have to resolve, possibly by contracting with a refinery in that country to process its ore.

Jeffrey Mulyono, a chairman of Indonesia's coal producers' association, agreed, saying he expected a sharp decline in investment, which hit $1.5 billion last year, up from $900 million in 2006.

"This could force some companies to pull out," he said, adding that dragged-out deliberations over the new law had already created uncertainty among miners, including British-Australia mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd., which abandoned its $4 billion investment plan earlier this year.

Under the new law, existing companies operating with a contract of work have one year to comply with the new system. They have five years to begin processing their mining products into metal domestically.

Industrial output may only grow 3.6 percent next year

Jakarta Post - December 16, 2008

Mustaqim Adamrah, Jakarta – The government forecasts that manufacturing sector output will only grow by 3.6 percent to 4.6 percent next year, lower than this year's revised growth target of 4.8 percent, says Industry Minister Fahmi Idris.

Speaking before members of the House of Representatives' Commission VI overseeing industry, trade, and state companies, on Monday, Fahmi said the global financial meltdown would negatively affect exports, loan disbursements and peoples' purchasing power.

"The national economy is trailing the global financial crisis, which also has affected the realization of investment (in the country)," he said. "This crisis will have a direct impact on the manufacturing sector," he added.

The crisis has apparently taken its toll earlier than expected, with the ministry having revised this year's output target downward from the initial 5 percent. Electronics, automotive, and machinery producers are the most likely to be hit hard by the slowdown.

Also, the crisis has prompted companies to temporarily discharge workers to cope with the global economic turndown. The Manpower and Transmigration Ministry has estimated that 40,486 industrial workers will be laid off next year, half of which would be permanently dismissed.

The Indonesian Rattan Furniture and Craft Producers Association (AMKRI) has estimated the industry may have to lay off some 35,000 workers by the end of this year, while 700 textile firms have temporarily dismissed 14,000 workers.

To help shield the manufacturing sector from the meltdown, the government has earmarked Rp 12.5 trillion (US$1.1 billion) in its 2009 state budget to support the sector. Around Rp 10 trillion will be spent on subsidizing value-added tax cuts and the remaining Rp 2.5 trillion will cover duty reductions.

In addition, Fahmi said the government would focus on how to improve the country's competitiveness and investment climate.

Fahmi said the government had issued, among other measures, a trade financing policy that would guarantee exporters from possible financing failures, along with income tax reductions for certain business sectors.

The Government will also eliminate export duties on crude palm oil, he added. "The government is also relaxing export market regulations to help boost exports," he said.

He said the government would by the end of this year issue a regulation requiring state-owned enterprises and central government and regional administrative units to spend their budgets on local products to support domestic industries.

 Analysis & opinion

Court reigns supreme

Jakarta Post Editorial - December 22, 2008

Indonesia has specifically stated that people's productive years are between the ages of 18 and 55, but there is little agreement on an appropriate retirement age.

Educators and scientists can work for paid employment until they are 60 years old, and police and military generals until 58. Judges will set a new record at 70, after the House of Representatives passed the bill on the Supreme Court last week. The retirement age for Supreme Court justices sparked a heated debate, with some groups accusing the highest judicial institution of seeking to prolong the term of then chief justice Bagir Manan.

The allegations proved baseless as Bagir eventually retired last month. Yet the controversy dragged on until the day the House approved the bill.

That the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) forced the House only to work more rather than to change the article on the retirement age is indicative that the debate missed the point anyway.

The issue of retirement age was blown out of proportion when the public overlooked the more pressing issue of reform, which has eluded the Supreme Court since the winds of change started blowing in 1998.

The newly passed bill keeps the Supreme Court unsupervised, dismissing a checks-and-balances mechanism in the judicial branch of power.

The Judicial Commission, which was originally established to prevent the Supreme Court from holding absolute power, is authorized only to conduct ethical investigations into judges, according to the bill.

This reduces the Constitution's mandate for the Judicial Commission to uphold the integrity and dignity of judges.

The bill says the Supreme Court holds the highest authority to supervise the judicial process at all court levels, putting the Judicial Commission at a lower position than the Supreme Court. This article goes against the wisdom of supervision, which should be conducted by an outside party.

Knowing that internal supervision is prone to collusion and corruption, the government plans to scrap the inspectorate general as a supervisory institution of the bureaucracy and introduce external supervision.

While the bureaucracy, which is regarded as a corruption-infested institution, is looking for change, the Supreme Court is resisting reform.

A blueprint of reform within the Supreme Court was introduced in October 2003 to build an accountable, transparent and competent judiciary. Many have expected the reform to put an end to the "judicial mafia" or judicial corruption, in which judges choose money over justice.

Former chief justice Bagir Manan repeatedly denied there was any mafia. But one of the serving Supreme Court justices, Artidjo Alkostar, says the mafia prevails, although it is not visible.

Bagir himself once faced allegations of accepting a bribe, when businessman Probosutedjo, who is a half-brother of former president Soeharto, confessed in 2005 to being asked for money to have the Bagir-led Supreme Court panel of justices acquit him. The businessman said he had handed over Rp 16 billion, Rp 5 billion of which was allocated for Bagir.

Corruption Eradication Commission investigators searched the office of the powerful Bagir, who was later found to be clean.

The Corruption Court finally sentenced five Supreme Court clerks, but dismissed any link between them and the panel of justices. The public had expected the convicts to bark back at the justices by appealing the verdict, but that never eventuated.

A lot has actually been done in line with the blueprint of judicial reform, which was drafted with full support from the multidonor Partnership of Governance Reform. The salary of judges of all levels has been significantly increased in a bid to prevent judges from being tempted by corruption, transparency in case-handling mechanisms has been implemented and the Judicial Commission has been involved in recruiting Supreme Court justices.

But the reform appears to stop at nonsubstantial issues. The blueprint's recommendation for improvement in the supervision mechanism of the Supreme Court has been stalled by the newly endorsed bill. The nonreformist bill is the work of the political elite in the executive and legislative branches of power, which should have encouraged and expressed their political will to realize the long-sought judicial reform.

At a time when the public's trust in the judiciary remains low, both the House and the government have colluded to send the efforts to reform the Supreme Court back to square one.

Fools' gold in Indonesia

Asia Times - December 18, 2008

Melody Kemp, Nusa Tenggara – In eastern Indonesia's litter of islands, the remote Lembata seems an unlikely site to for a public battle over mining, replete with paid assassins, black magic rituals and allegations of official bribery.

The bizarre confrontation is emblematic of Indonesia's ongoing mismatch between the desire to attract foreign investment, national regulations and the rights of people seemingly sentenced to environmental degradation in the name of economic development. It also indicates the enduring provincial influence of former president Suharto's close allies, despite the enactment of various decentralization reforms since his downfall in 1998.

When weighing the bullish claims against the independent geological evidence being made about Lembata's gold mining potential, there is reasonable cause to suspect that Indonesia's well-connected and colorful mining magnate, Jusuf Merukh, is bidding to attract foreign investment based on tenuous claims.

Critics and officials say his recent assertions that there are major gold deposits in the area are akin to those made during the 1997 Bre-X scandal, where a gold mine in Kalimantan in which Merukh had a stake was touted as potentially the world's largest, but after luring foreign investment from US mining giant Freeport McMoran, which was coaxed into taking an 85% stake in the venture, it came up dry.

The 70 million ounces reportedly found by geologists at the time is the same figure Merukh is now telling local journalists could be found in Lembata. Merukh's wholly owned companies, PT Pukuafu Indah and PT Merukh Copper, aim to mine lodes of gold from Lembata's rocks and sand in Indonesia's poor and dry eastern region. But the mining magnate's intention to start construction of processing plants in 2009 has raised a mounting outcry on the island.

In 2007, more than 400 people demonstrated against the mining project outside the area's provincial offices. Regular protests have also been staged this year and more are planned for 2009. "The bupati [or regent, the senior sub-provincial local government official] refused to meet with us. He doesn't want to hear our voices, but we will die before we allow Merukh to mine our island," said Hendrikus Hala, an elderly but still spry farmer.

"We have built a camp on the mountain and someone is there all the time with a mobile phone. If they come we will stop them. No one gets in without our agreement," Ahmad Nuturamun, a farmer from the area said, an overly large black Stetson shading his eyes.

Merukh has so far remained undaunted by the local resistance. In November, he reportedly sent a letter to the local regent and the head of the local Legislative Council requesting that 75,300 hectares be set aside for mines in a joint venture partnership between himself and 10 Chinese mining groups led by state-owned Yunnan Copper Group Ltd. A memorandum of understanding for the deal is scheduled to be signed with China's ambassador to Indonesia.

Yunnan Copper is at present embroiled in a major corruption scandal, whereby the company's former chief executive officer, Zou Shaolu, and two of his aides were arrested by the Yunnan Communist Party's disciplinary agency and will soon face a public trial for allegedly accepting 35 million yuan (US$5 million) in bribes related to various dealings. There is no evidence that any of these allegations relate to the Lembata deal, but the scandal has raised questions about the Chinese company's viability.

If Merukh presses ahead and the local government refuses to acknowledge the protesters' demands, some fear the situation could escalate towards violence. Villages are already invoking their deceased ancestors to protect them from the mine, reviving traditional rituals and ceremonies – where chickens' throats have been cut and old weapons stripped of rust – not performed for years. Island communities are seemingly unified in their opposition, even if they are not directly threatened. "We cannot eat gold," many villagers said in Lembata.

The local government, meanwhile, is doggedly in favor of the mine. Lembata is a parched island, and like many of its neighbors has little opportunity for more than subsistence livelihoods. Its major sources of income are copra, candle nut, cashews, seaweed and clams. So the promise of a windfall from mining has been hard for local officials to resist. Strangely, though, the local government has dismissed alternative development plans put forward by the communities, which include tourism and agricultural projects.

Indonesia is top heavy with a burdensome bureaucracy: each district replicates all national departments. Many are starved of operational funds, so a large mine offers hope of much-needed income. However, that impulse is checked by national regulations related to environmental protection and community consultation, which must be enacted before any mining activity goes ahead.

Golden claims

While Merukh insists that below Lembata's stony soil lies "the third-largest source of gold after Chile and Russia", those claims are not borne out by independent geological reports, which claim that, while significant, the lodes are mostly uneconomic.

Indonesian Department of Energy and Mineral Resources geologist Rudi Gunradi reported in 2007 that there were gold deposits around Balauring on the northwest coast, which he described as thin-soiled, fragile and unsuitable for agriculture. But he recommended that the deposits would be of benefit only to small- scale outfits, not the major operation promoted by Merukh.

Gundari's reports build on corporate history. At Merukh's proposed site, an Australian subsidiary of PT Nusa Lontar dug up to 350 200-meter bores and another 15 500-meter bores with results revealing a mere 2 grams per ton, a far cry from Merukh's more glowing reports for the same area. The results were poor enough to convince the foreign company to let its lease go as the global prices for minerals did not warrant the investment.

Another Australian mining company followed up on some initially promising findings in 1997, but later reported that the traces of copper and gold were insignificant and like the many other outfits that preceded it left the site. A senior spokesman for Newmont Mining Corporation, the world's largest gold producer, said categorically that Newmont would not be drawn into working in Lembata, despite having been in partnership with Merukh in the troubled but successful Batu Hijau mine on the eastern island of Sumbawa.

Merukh could not be reached for this article. In an interview with The South China Morning Post in 2007, Merukh reported that "most of the workers and middle managers [in Batu Hijau] were hired from the local community. Now they drive Mercedes, not horse carts... and when I visit they say 'Our king is coming'."

That did not stop the Sumbawa mine from closing down when simmering community unrest over environmental destruction, unmet compensation demands and social issues eventually erupted, with local people burning down areas of the mining camp

It's still unclear if the Lembata project has substantial foreign backing. Critics note that all of the companies Merukh lists as potential partners are banks or processors rather than operational mining companies, except for Yunnan Copper. Chinese miners have in recent years earned a bad reputation in Indonesia due to their lack of due diligence over environmental matters.

Indonesia's Investor Daily magazine reported in August that Merukh claimed to have the support from German processing giants Kupferprodudke, Nordeusche Affinerie, IKB Deutsche Industriebank along with Asian companies Agape Mining Singapore, which supplies tools and drilling equipment, and Asian Mining Management in Hong Kong. Other foreign companies associated with Merukh Copper or PT Putuafu in the past are Germany's ThyssenKrupp Fordertechnik, Kupfer Produkte and Poland's KGHM Polska Miedz.

Nordeutsche Affinerie subsequently said in an interview that it had terminated its relationship with Merukh over a year ago. Deutsche Industriebank failed to respond to requests to confirm or deny willingness to invest with Merukh. The German bank is not a signatory to the so-called Equator Principle, and thus not bound by strictures that limit funding for environmentally and socially sensitive projects.

Former environment minister Sonny Keraf is from Lambata and was born in Lamalera, one of the world's few surviving traditional whaling villagers and a source of potential tourist income. "Lembata is a small island. A mine would not only cause a lot of damage to the environment, but to the lives of the people. Mining as it is practiced in Indonesia has no benefit for the people. It's all bad," he said.

Asked whether environmental impact studies (AMDAL), which are required by national regulations, had been carried out in Lembata, he said: "No. I have sent many requests to the current minister to

ensure that an AMDAL is done. But sometimes the committee members try to follow the wishes of the investor and are not always objective."

"The investors promise good things for the people, housing wealth and other good things. But usually this does not happen," he said. "I know there is still a big question about whether there are minerals in Lembata. I think he [Merukh] says this just to get investment."

Other officials share a similar sentiment. Sembiring, the recently retired head of the Department of Minerals in Bandung, said: "There are no proven minerals in Lembata. But there are rumors of bribery." "Mr Merukh has a bad reputation in mining circles, so I do not care what he says. The mine will not go ahead. I give you a guarantee. There will be no mine. The people have the last say

and if they do agree there will be no mine. There is no contract of work [COW]. It would have to be issued by the national government to the investor. I know a COW has not been issued, nor will it be. Merukh is not being honest if he says it is going ahead."

Controversial tactics

Such hard commentary is rare about a man who was a close associate of former authoritarian leader Suharto and thought to have been a deliberate destabilizing influence on the major opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), led by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri. Merukh had insisted in the past that more than 300 members of the PDI-P were communists, a heavy allegation in light of the anti-communist purges that left hundreds of thousands dead in the late 1960s.

Merukh insists that opposition to his proposed mining venture in Lembata has been manipulated by unnamed "US mining interests" or Catholic clergy afraid that the shower of wealth on the local population will undermine their power base. According to an interview he gave to Indonesia's Investor Daily, Merukh wants to excavate "at least 75% of the island's mass, maybe all of it", to find the gold, and in his words, "shift the domination of US mining".

If he has his way, the project would require relocating around 60,000 of the island's residents to nearby Flores island, where he promises to build apartments and schools for the community. When asked recently by a non-governmental activist, who requested anonymity, Merukh was neither clear about how he would procure the proposed site on Flores, which, like land on Lembata, is owned by traditional clans under nationally recognized ownership rules, nor what he proposed relocated fishermen and farmers would do for their livelihoods there.

Farmers in Lembata said in mid-October this year that they had not yet been approached by any company representatives requesting to buy their land. To transport the mined gold, Murkah plans to build a dedicated port in a six-hectare shallow area right next to a Japanese pearl farm. The pristine reef, which has a depth of 1.5 meters for over 500 meters, would need to be blasted to make a channel deep enough to carry deep-hulled ships.

His plans also include building a large international airport on the site of a Japanese-built World War II airstrip in Lembata. The runway would terminate at the base of Ile Api, the island's impressive guardian volcano, which is still active and emits a steady plume of white steam. Baru Tara, a volcanic island only 50 kilometers to the north, has recorded recent eruptions and the whole area is prone to continual tectonic burbling.

A traditional leader known locally as a kepala adat signaled that he wanted to speak at a village meeting at a church outside of Lembata's capital of Lewoleba. His face was framed by a wide- brimmed canvas hat and his trousers hung loose on his skinny frame. The old man's voice was weak in the large village space, but his message was strong. "Our ancestors have taken care of this land for us for thousands of years. We have all those things we need to live a peaceful life. Until the end of time we will defend our land."

Women in their bunched hand-woven sarongs, dyed in indigo and burgundy, murmured and nodded in agreement while a visiting priest from Indonesia's main island of Java gave a sermon that sounded as though it was written by a conservation foundation.

Bapak Abu, who hails from the hilly Balauring area believed to be the first area set for exploitation, has consistently opposed the mine. He and his family have become powerful symbols of local resistance. "Our mother Earth can only give birth to one world. We have to take care of it for our children and grandchildren." he said.

"When I went to talk to the bupati, he threatened me, saying that the company would bring in US troops to force us to agree. But I said that I am protected by Allah, the ancestors and Mother Nature. Even if they call 10,000 American soldiers I cannot agree. Even if they offer me three million dollars I will not agree." Another activist on the island related incidents of apparent official intimidation, including being followed, receiving death threats on their cell phones and having rocks thrown though their home windows.

Bapak Abu handed me an envelope stuffed full of 1 million rupiah (US$120) bank notes, a considerable sum by local standards. He said it was given to him as a gift from the bupati and that he was told it would be followed by 10 million rupiah more if he agreed to the mine. Lembata's bupati, Andreas Duli Manuk, did not respond to repeated calls and interviews for this article.

Several weeks earlier, two young would-be assassins had confessed their mission to kill Bapak Abu over his resistance to the mine. Their fee, they said, was a paltry 250,000 rupiah each. "I do not know who asked them to kill me, nor do I care," Bapak Abu said, his somnolent face grizzled and lined. "The police called me to sign a report, but I wouldn't do it. The report was too political."

He said the regional army, divisional police and intelligence agencies were all involved with threats and intimidation to people opposed to the mine, and that a neighbor who refused to sign his land over was recently found dead in his bed.

"He would not sign. They called him to Lewoleba. We thought he was asleep, but he did not get up to eat. He had a broken jaw and neck. We don't know what happened."

Ritual opposition

The only local legislative member opposed to the mine is Alwi Murih. He presented many probing questions about the project: "How can they build a mine if they haven't talked to any of the people about land? What is the deal between the regent and Merukh? Why is he pushing so hard for something the people just don't want?"

Ibu Anastasia Gea Atawolo, 51, is among the disaffected locals. Her serious face was lined and anxiety crossed her eyes like cobwebs. In a patriarchal culture, she is the sole woman village head and her Lamadale village is one of those slated to become a hole in the ground if the mine goes through.

She sat and watched as dignified old men and women danced in lock step, their arms linked tightly as they called on their ancestors to protect their land. Gradually the drumming speeded up and the dust rose around their feet. The crowd fell silent watching them.

Ibu Anasatasi pointed to her smooth-skinned 81-year-old mother. "She has lived here all her life. She cannot move. She does not want to move. She, like all of us, wants to be buried here. This is where we belong." She gestured towards the dancers. "They are concentrating the energy of five villages to preserve our life and the old ways."

"We have no future anywhere else. Five villages have joined with us in going to see the bupati, but he refused to argue with us. He would not even come out to meet us. He hid inside.

"The usual thing is for the government to come and talk to us: tell us what is happening and seek our participation, to negotiate and see what impact it would have on our lives. We are told instead that they will start to mine in 2009, some say as early as December this year. But we have not been asked or consulted. We have seen no offers for land, but we would not sell," she said.

Some hope for a democratic resolution to the conflict. Bediona Philippus is running to replace Andreas Duli Manuk as Lembata's regent at the 2009 regional elections. A university-educated man who has worked for major donor-funded projects in Jakarta, Philippus is serious about his island's future and now heads the local NGO forum.

"Merukh invited me to visit Sumbawa to see the mine, but I was convinced that he would orchestrate an accident, so I didn't go."

Philippus agrees that outside geological reports conflict with Merukh's claims. "But the bupati has passed three decrees which pave the way for exploration, so the process is unstoppable. He is really pushing. We don't know why. But if they go ahead, there will be war."

A marine park is being planned for the same area, which has some of Indonesia's last remaining intact coral reefs and pristine marine resources, believed to be some of the best scuba diving in the world. The location and proposed extent of the mine would make it difficult if not impossible to build containment walls to prevent the tailings from polluting the clear blue waters.

The seas here are also globally important breeding grounds for migratory whales: if the mine used submarine tailings disposal, as some suspect, the noise and debris could spell an end to whales visiting in the area and to the culture of traditional whaling in Lamalera.

It seems unlikely that the local officials who ardently support the mine are unaware of the geological reports contesting the existence of deep gold stores. Merukh, who is bidding to bring in international investors to finance the project, has so far chosen to ignore the widespread skepticism and resistance.

It is still possible that Merukh, who is now in his seventies, will be curbed through a combination of grassroots resistance and the global economic downturn, which has hit global commodity prices hard, though gold prices remain buoyant. It's also possible the situation spirals towards violence, as in former controversial ventures.

To the isolated people of Lembata, the world outside of their island is of little consequence. They are so poor that they are essentially external to the global economic crisis and are at risk of losing their modest traditional livelihoods. As NGO coordinator and electoral hopeful Philippus said: "The people are more afraid of adat [tradition] than they are of guns."

[Melody Kemp lived in Indonesia for 11 years. She now lives in Laos, from where she writes on geographical issues.]

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