Indonesia, Interrupted

This week we learned that the country had sufficient funds in 2009 to make remarkable improvements that would markedly advance the quality of people’s lives and draw increased levels of foreign investment. The cash was part of the president’s stimulus package to boost the national economy during the economic downturn that was prevalent during the first half of the year.

So what sparkling new infrastructure have we to look forward to? What use has been made of the money? The answer to both questions is an incredible: Nothing. So complex and overbearing is the administration of this country that we cannot even spend the money we have. Some US$6 billion in funds allocated for last year is still sitting in government accounts.

And multilateral loans various ministries obtained to cover deficit spending remain mostly unused, leaving an absurd situation whereby the government is making large interest payments on money that is not being used.

Bali, as Indonesia’s international beacon, is struggling under its buckling infrastructure: our airport cannot cope with the high number of foreign tourist arrivals, which is forecast to exceed 2 million in 2010; our roads in the crowded south are chronically clogged and we have no public transportation system to speak of – although a busway modelled on Jakarta’s was announced this week; on many nights there is no electricity, because of a state power company that is flailing and in disarray.

Other major concerns on this island is the persistent poverty in places like arid Karangasem in the east, where it seems not even its own government is doing anything much to alleviate locals’ suffering.

This Bali snapshot can be mirrored right across the country, from Flores to Papua – currently revisiting a revolt over perceived injustices, including wealth flights to Jakarta – and to Ambon and Padang. The nation is crying out for development, advancement, progress. But even with a monetary transfusion, the bureaucracy is too tangled and meshed to allow for any kind of entry to the country’s starved veins.

As President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono moves past his second administration’s first 100 days in power, his reform agenda must include not only the vital task of battling endemic corruption and wiping out what he calls the “judicial mafia,” but setting a clear course for development by completely overhauling the terminally bloated and ineffective civil service. He says he recognises this. Now he must act on his assessment.

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