Saturday, October 23, 2010
Indonesia’s Lost Opportunity
I was recently interviewing Dr. Ian Bremmer, an American political scientist and author of the book “The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War between States and Corporations,” on how he thinks Indonesia is doing at the moment. It’s true that the country has been getting a lot of favorable attention lately, but I wondered whether this is due to Indonesia’s sterling performance or simply by default, because almost everywhere else is faring badly.
His answer was both.
With most developed countries still reeling from the effects of the financial crisis, and some of Indonesia’s neighbors looking shaky politically, it makes sense that our relatively stable democracy and growing economy appeal to investors.
The unassuming wallflower is suddenly the belle of the ball because all the pretty girls have either left the room or collapsed on the dance floor.
As a matter of fact, Indonesia looks a better bet than some of the other emerging markets that are currently the darlings of investors.
Brazil, for instance, will soon have a change of leadership that may see President Lula da Silva replaced by someone far less charismatic.
India is big but so are its problems. It also lacks good infrastructure.
Russia doesn’t really have much to offer investors other than stuff it can dig out of the ground.
China is even bigger, but is not a very sporting player and likes to make up its own rules of the game, making the country a difficult partner to work with.
Indonesia, however, has plenty to offer.
First, democracy and political stability, a rare thing in this part of the world.
It also offers a big population and good demographics, not aging but entering their productive years.
There is also a long list of investment opportunities ready for the picking.
Moreover, we are a member of the G-20 and could be the much-needed bridge between the group’s increasingly rancorous members.
In the midst of the current global financial uncertainty, the Indonesian stock market has been bullish and the rupiah strong while the central bank remains cautious about the risk of volatility that comes with rapid capital inflows.
And there is certainly no lack of choice for would-be foreign investors, whether they want metals and other commodities, property or consumer goods.
All we need to do is create better infrastructure, improve the business climate, tackle corruption and cut down on the bureaucratic red tape. Do that and we’re well on our way to creating Indonesia Inc.
Now is the window of opportunity, the golden moment to transform ourselves and to finally shine on the world stage.
So, what is holding Indonesia back ? Most likely it’s stage fright.
The knowledge that she is an understudy being offered the part only because the leading lady got the flu while she is far from ready.
We have had a whole decade in which to transform ourselves.
Consider what could have been achieved in those years in terms of building infrastructure, cleaning up the bureaucracy and setting up a strong, transparent and accountable government.
If only we had used our time well.
Instead, we have wound up with countless useless political parties, decentralization that does more harm than good to the integrity and plurality of the nation, and a legislature that is more of a hindrance than a solution.
Our democracy has succeeded in voting in a bunch of representatives who represent their own interests above all else.
It has also led to the election of a president who, even after six years on the job, still doesn’t understand that the country’s problems are a lot more important than his own personal grievances, a president who cares too much about how the public perceives him and not enough about the suffering felt by his people.
More than 10 years on and our basic education system is still a shambles, half of the population is unskilled, ignorant and unenlightened; the majority of the people are still poor in body, mind and spirit.
Meanwhile, those running the country, the lawmakers, the law enforcers and the executive, run around in circles bickering over power and benefits, wasting taxpayers’ money and coming up with laws more suitable for the Dark Ages than the 21st century.
A decade of democracy and the ghosts of the past still move among us, eating away at the faded dreams of reform.
I fear that instead of looking at the future and its possibilities, we will stay focused on what’s behind us and cling to the certainty we once knew.
And before we know it, Suharto, the man whom the nation once forced down in disgrace and swore to put on trial for his crimes and atrocities, will be dug up, polished, resurrected and declared a national hero.
By Desi Anwar senior anchor at Metro TV.