Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Education budget to rise by 20 percent

Tuesday, July 10, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government will allocate Rp 48 trillion (some US$5.3 billion) to the education sector in 2008, a 20 percent increase over the figure for this year.

Bambang Djasminto, the Finance Ministry's director of the treasury, told representatives of the Indonesian Teachers' Association (PGRI) on Monday that the planned increase was in line with the government's determination to gradually raise the education budget to eventually account for 20 percent of overall public spending.

However, he acknowledged that the planned increase, still subject to approval from the House of Representatives, would only bring the proportion to just over 12 percent of total state spending.

About 1,500 members of the PGRI's East Java branch visited the House of Representatives, the Education Ministry and the Finance Ministry on Monday to urge the implementation of the constitutional requirement that 20 percent of the national budget be devoted to education.

Bambang said that the education budget for next year, unlike under the current and previous national budgets, would be exclusive of teachers' salaries and in-service training costs.

He pointed out that the budget allocation for education had increased each year from Rp 15.8 trillion in 2002 to Rp 20.54 trillion in 2003, Rp 27.1 trillion in 2005, and Rp 40 trillion in 2007.

East Java teachers' leader Djamaluddin said at the Finance Ministry that besides demanding the 20 percent share of the budget, the PGRI wanted the government to issue a decree to improve the working conditions of teachers.

The PGRI also urged the government to pay meals and special professional allowances to teachers so as to differentiate them from other civil servants. (02)

Bisi targeting 50 percent profit increase

Monday, July 09, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Kediri

Publicly listed agribusiness company PT Bisi International is aiming to raise its net profit to Rp 91 billion in 2007, up 50 percent from Rp 60.7 billion last year, by researching better seeds and improving cooperation with farmers.

"We're optimistic that the company can raise its sales by about 35 percent because farmers are starting to get interested in our products," Bisi president Junaidi Sungkono told reporters during a company visit to Kediri and Mojokerto in East Java last week.

Bisi International, which grows and markets corn, rice and vegetable seeds, earned Rp 573.7 billion from sales last year.

The company recorded a 45 percent rise in its net profit and a 48 percent rise in sales in the first five months of this year alone.

Junaidi said that since the company was established in 1983, it had produced and sold 92 superior varieties of corn, vegetables and fruits seeds. But the company distributed only 70 varieties these days, he added.

The sale of corn seeds amounted to 42 percent of company profits, while rice and vegetables seeds contributed 21 percent and pesticides and chemical fertilizers 32 percent.

Junaidi added that Bisi allocated more than Rp 10 billion each year to researching new seed varieties. The firm currently has the capacity to produce 15,000 tons of field crop seeds and 4,000 tons of fruit and vegetables seeds each year.

The company has built 11 experimental farms in North Sumatra, Lampung, West Java, Central Java, East Java and West Nusa Tenggara to test new seed varieties.

"At every site, we're conducting research and development to produce superior seed varieties with high yields, resistance to plant diseases and easily adaptability to all sorts of land and climate conditions," said Bisi vice president Thomas Effendy.

To support its ongoing research and development, the company has also built a biotechnology research laboratory in Sumber Agung village, Kediri Regency, East Java.

The number of farmers working to grow the company's hybrid rice and corn has reached more than 45,000, on more than 15,000 hectares of land. In 2002, just 15,000 farmers used 4,900 hectares to test the crops. Most of the farmers live in areas close to the company's main facilities in East Java and Lampung.

Junaidi said Bisi had also acquired majority shares in two companies to improve its profitability.

Last December, Bisi International purchased a 54.2 percent stake in PT Tanindo Subur Prima for Rp 50.3 billion and a 99.99 percent stake in PT Multi Sarana Indotani at Rp 11.9 billion.

Multi Sarana, established in 2005 in Mojokerto, East Java, is a pesticide formulation plant that produces more than 30 kinds of fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide, and fungicide.

With the production capacity of 14,000 tons of herbicide per year and 1,500 tons each of granular, liquid and powdered insecticides per year, Multi Sarana controls an 8 percent share of the national pesticide market and 3 percent of the specialty fertilizer market.

Tanindo Subur Prima is responsible for distributing all of Bisi's products under the "Cap Kapal Terbang" brand. (02)

Govt told to promote aviation industry mergers

Wednesday, July 04, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

With safety concerns now haunting the nation's aviation sector, which could in the end have a serious impact on tourism, the government should consider a drastic restructuring of the industry by promoting mergers so as to improve safety standards, a forum was told Tuesday.

Aviation observer Dudi Sudibyo told the forum, which was organized by the Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies Association (ASITA), that Indonesia must learn from other countries in restricting the number of major airlines, but expanding the number of commuter airlines, in order to improve service quality.

The forum was held in light of a likely ban by the European Union on Indonesian airlines flying to Europe. The European Commission (EC) is now studying the issue and will announce its decision July 6.

"We need only a few major airlines, but more commuter flights linking the whole country.

"China used to have a lot of major airlines, but after a series of crashes in the 1990s, they reduced the number of airline companies to three, and now they are among the best in the world," Dudi said.

He added that Indonesia might need only five major airlines, pointing out that China's three major airlines carried up to 250 million passengers a year.

Indonesia's 25 airlines, by comparison, could carry only about six million passengers a year.

Indonesia's aviation industry has come under the spotlight lately with the EC not only planning to ban all Indonesian airlines from flying to Europe, but also to warn its citizens not to use Indonesian airlines, even within Indonesian territory.

"Although we our suspicious about the decision, we should also consider our safety standards. We should fully comply with international standards before complaining," said Dudi.

The recent regulation ranking airlines into three categories should also be replaced with tighter criteria next year, he added.

And the best way to restructure the industry would be to promote mergers among domestic airlines. State-owned airlines Garuda and Merpati, for instance, would be ideal merger partners, he added.

Herna Danuningrat, chairperson of ASITA's Jakarta branch, said that the proposed ban would, if it came to pass, badly affect the tourism sector. She urged the government to act quickly to limit the damage that had already been caused.

"The entire tourism industry will be affected, especially second-tier tourist destinations in eastern Indonesia, such as Maluku, Sulawesi, Papua, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara and South Kalimantan, where foreign airlines have no direct access," she said.

Darma Trisnawinata, an executive of Panorama Tours DMC, said that since the shock announcement of the proposed ban last Thursday, his company was already facing difficulties with hundreds of its European customers now in Padang, West Sumatra.

They had planned to visit a number of destinations within Indonesia, including Java, Sulawesi, Bali and Lombok.

Darma said his company was would not cancel the tour. It, would instead fly the tourists to Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia-based budget carrier Air Asia, from where they would take flights back to Indonesia to continue their trips.

"We will cover the additional expense this time, but we won't be able to do it the next time. We know they won't be happy because, even if they agree to our plan, they'll have a longer journey and will have to get on-arrival visas twice." (02)

KPK members should be publicly accountable

Monday, July 02, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The legal commission of the House of Representatives should set a clear selection criteria for the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) membership and members of the commission should be made accountable to the public, the Indonesian Corruption Watch Team said.

A selection committee formed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will soon shortlist 10 candidates for KPK and from there the House's Commission III will select five people via a "fit and proper test" to make up the next anticorruption commission.

But the Indonesian Corruption Watch's coordinator Teten Masduki said the House must be open to a revision of the "fit and proper test" criteria in order to gain public trust and to illustrate the government's commitment to reduce corruption nationally.

"The committee should play a strategic role in the selection process to ensure the quality of candidates," Teten said.

"The anxiety toward the House's position is understandable.

"However the selection committee should come out with really good candidates (then) the final House selection will not really matter," he said.

Teten said the committee should also meet with members of Commission III to set a united and comprehensive selection criteria for KPK members.

"This is important to ensure public trust toward the (anticorruption) commission (is built)," he said.

"Corruption in Indonesia is massive and complicated and this heavy task should be carried out by those who are trusted by the public."

Mas Achmad Santosa, a member of the selection committee, said the public should not doubt the independency and accountability of the committee's selection results as they had involved non-committee experts and the public.

"I don't see (any chance) of the selection process being influenced by the government or even by the House because we will use the principle of one-man one-vote," Santosa said.

"The committee members are also public figures with good track records and I'm sure that they have the vision for zero corruption.

"Besides, we will also have a selection process which involves experts from outside the committee," he said.

On May 16, President Yudhoyono established a 15-member committee to select candidates for the 2007-2011 KPK membership.

The selection process is set to run from June 14 until the end of November.

Santosa said the process would include an administrative selection, a written test, a psychology test and track record investigation.

"I think the election process will reduce subjectivity," he said.

Both Santosa and Teten agreed the next KPK membership should not worry about the bulk of tasks stipulated in the 2002 law on the KPK.

They said the KPK should focus on "institutional building and law enforcement" to ensure the recovery of state losses.

Santosa said after a commission for corruption eradication was established in Nigeria in 2002, US$5 billion of state assets had been recovered.

But Indonesia's KPK had recovered just Rp 50.4 billion (US$5.5 million), they said.

Asset recovery, or lack of, was related to budget allocation for law enforcement activities, Tenten said.

"And this sits at just 11 percent of the total Rp 500 billion budget of the KPK," he said.

"The next KPK should focus on cases that involve big businesses, politicians and government officials." (02)

'Govt must purge separatism'

Sunday, July 01, 2007
Wahyoe Boedidharma, The Jakarta Post, Malang, Jakarta

The Indonesian government should take harsh action against all separatist movements after a group of people tried to wave the South Maluku Republic (RMS) flag in front of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the Maluku provincial capital of Ambon on Friday, said Islamic leader Din Syamsuddin.

RMS is a separatist movement with Christianity as its base.

In the Republic of Indonesia it is a criminal offense to show support for any separatist movement. It is also a criminal offense to raise or wave in public a separatist flag -- even in a private home.

Chairman of the Muhammadiyah Islamic organization, Din Syamsuddin, said the RMS flag-waving incident was particularly pathetic because it took place during a presidential visit.

"The government must take harsh actions against all separatist movements including RMS," Din said.

"The government seems half-hearted about crushing RMS as it has allowed it to continue, disguised under other names."

"If the government maintains this approach, the separatist movement will continue to flourish and finally destroy our national unity."

Din was in Malang to attend graduation day at the Malang Muhammadiyah University.

He said the government's approach toward obvious separatism was still weak but did not say the government's intermediary process was weak.

"There is no other way to purge separatist movements other than by taking legal action against them," he said.

In Jakarta, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Marshall Djoko Suyanto said the need for greater security arrangements during the presidential visit had been underestimated.

"We carried out an immediate evaluation Friday and we found carelessness as well as lack of anticipation or planned initiatives from security forces," Djoko said.

He was accompanied by National Police chief Gen. Sutanto at a press conference covering the incident and said TNI and the police would carry out a thorough evaluation on the security system to ensure local administration officials had fully prepared for the visit.

"We will scrutinize whether there has been coordination between local administration, police and TNI, how many personnel are being deployed and whether they had followed the standard procedure for a presidential visit," Djoko said.

"This incident embarrassed the President especially as there were many foreign envoys present at the ceremony.

"It shouldn't have happened at all."

Djoko said although the separatists were unarmed, they were carrying symbols of separatism.

Sutanto said police had arrested 31 suspects and confiscated a flag and some documents.

"We are also carrying out an internal evaluation with those directly responsible for security arrangements and those found guilty would be punished," he said.

"There is a standard procedure for every VIP visit.

"This accident would not have happened if officers followed the procedure."

With regard to the police force's intelligence operation and its ability to identify and prevent such incidents, Sutanto said security forces were made aware of the possibility of a demonstration but they had underestimated those involved.

"They did all they could; however, the protesters posed as dancers," Sutanto said.

"It is true that they were careless, but I don't think that they were not working at all."

TNI's chief spokesman Rear Marshall Sagom Tamboen said he dismissed allegations TNI intelligence was getting weak.

"We cannot see the function of the military intelligence as separated from other intelligence agencies," Sagom said.

"The public just has to be patient and wait for an evaluation before passing judgment." (02)

RI asks Australia to extradite BLBI fugitives in hiding

Saturday, June 30, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia's Attorney General's Office is waiting for the Australian government to process the extradition of two Bank Indonesia Liquidity Support (BLBI) debtors believed to be hiding in Australia.

"We have formally asked (Australia) to help through diplomatic channels," Indonesia's Deputy Attorney General Muchtar Arifin said Friday.

"We have met all requirements for extradition, but maybe they are still processing the papers."

As chairman of an Indonesian corruption hunting team formed by the AGO, Muchtar said the Australian government had taken the necessary steps to "prevent the fugitives hiding assets in Australia before their extradition took place".

During a hearing with the law commission of the House of Representatives on Thursday, Indonesia's Attorney General Hendarman Supandji said the government "had requested the extradition of the two fugitives Eko Edi Putranto and Andrian Kiki Iriawan in December 2006".

Muchtar said, "Anything is possible, but we have established continuing coordination to assure that they (Australian government) will take all preventive measures possible".

"Up until now we have had a good relationship.

"We hope that the process will be immediate, but we have to understand that it could take time," he said.

The corruption hunting team had also started to track the movement of all BLBI debtors' assets in Hong Kong, Switzerland, Singapore and the Philippines.

Switzerland's attorney general had frozen several accounts, including a US$9.9 million account belonging to Irawan Salim.

Hendarman said the AGO would prioritize the three largest outstanding BLBI cases.

There are currently nine outstanding cases but it is not clear where the two cases attached to Australia sit in terms of priority.

Hendarman refused to disclose details of the three largest cases but promised to reveal more to the public before the AGO's anniversary on July 22.

The AGO has formed a special team of 35 attorneys to investigate corruption cases involving BLBI funds debtors.

The team, which is directly led by Muchtar, is made up of two smaller teams, one for execution and one for examination.

BLBI funds were established by then-president Soeharto when the Asian financial crisis hit Indonesia in mid 1997.

The funds were aimed to keep unhealthy local banks afloat in the wake of the massive withdrawal of foreign capital from the country.

During that crisis, the government disbursed some Rp 145 trillion (US$16 billion) to 48 banks.

However, many debtors abused the program and stole money.

Data from the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) shows until the end of 2006 that of the 65 people being questioned by the AGO for the BLBI case, 16 had been brought to court, but only one had gone to prison.

Two further suspects were convicted, but their sentence was suspended. Nine have fled the country. (02)

Strong but democratic government needed, say experts

Friday, June 29, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government must improve its capacity to serve the people and enforce a just rule of law in the face of increasing pressure from the private sector, civil society and the international community to undertake further reform, experts say.

"A strong state is necessary, but a strong and democratic state. This is a state that involves citizens in the decision-making, empowers political life and ensures equity in the delivery of social policies. This is a state that balances decentralization with a national commitment to pursue social welfare," said Hans Antl”v, an adviser for the USAID-funded Local Governance Support Program.

Speaking at a seminar on social policy and decentralization Thursday, Antl”v said that although a decade of democratization in Indonesia had led to the basic protection of freedom of expression and association, as well as a separation of powers, part of the country's public administration remained unresponsive to the public and continued to use their power to further their own interests.

Antl”v said the picture of Indonesia's democratization was not totally pessimistic, especially at the local level, where attempts were being made to enlarge and deepen democracy.

These attempts were being spearheaded by NGO activists, newly emerging social movements, community-based social action groups, as well as by some government officials, he said.

He cited as an example the progress made in Padang Pariaman regency in West Sumatra, where government officials, health sector specialists and civil society organizations are collaborating to establish a community health insurance program.

The insurance program was introduced by the central government through a minimum service standard on health financing for the poor, which mandates that coverage be extended to 100 percent of the population, but only a few local administrations can achieve this standard.

The Padang Pariaman regency administration has developed procedures and policies to implement the minimum standard on providing coverage for the poorest people. The insurance premium for the poor will be paid from the local budget and the administration has committed to developing a special budget for the insurance program to ensure coverage in the future.

Antl”v said that Sinjai regency and Binjai municipality in North Sumatra, and Parepare municipality and Gowa regency in South Sulawesi have been developing similar programs in the past two years.

Hasbullah Thabrany, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Indonesia, said that although reform in the health sector had started with the implementation of the first step of universal coverage by national health insurance under the 2004 law on the National Social Security System, health services were still treated by the government as "a market commodity that can be traded".

Thabrany said that facing the problem of healthcare in Indonesia, the government needed to use a combination of subsidies form the state budget for the poor, while the more affluent could pay for health insurance themselves.

The executive director of Prakarsa, Binny Buchori, told The Jakarta Post that the spirit of privatization that came along with globalization had blurred the state's obligation to provide basic and essential services for people.

The belief that the state should not confine itself to ensuring efficiency in a free market has led to the worsening of public services, she said.

"What we need is social welfare, and not only to overcome poverty. This means that the state has to fulfill its obligation to provide better public services. It is true that inefficiency in public services has long existed, but leaving the services to the private sector is not the answer. The state should take the responsibility, with greater room for public participation." (02)

Experts urge govt to counter allegations of carbon flux

Thursday, June 28, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Experts recommended Wednesday that the country respond to the international community's allegations that Indonesia is the world's third largest carbon dioxide emitter due to the burning of peatland areas.

A recent calculation of emissions by the Netherlands-based Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics has placed Indonesia behind only the United States and China. Indonesia has jumped to third place from 21st position in 2005.

"I don't know how they came to this conclusion. We have to be suspicious because we are suspected now. We have never calculated our own carbon emissions before," Bambang Setiadi, deputy head of research, science and technology development at the Research and Technology Ministry, told a seminar.

At the seminar, attended by peatland experts from universities, government organizations and NGOs, it is expected that strategies to advise policymakers in Indonesia and Malaysia on the restoration, rehabilitation and sustainable utilization of peatlands will be devised.

Bambang said Indonesia needs to prepare solid grounds on which to counter the new statistics, especially at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Bali in December this year.

Contradicting Bambang's presentation, Herwin Simbolon, a forest ecologist from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said LIPI had been conducting research on peatland in Central Kalimantan for a decade, and calculated that the international count on the country's carbon flux was likely accurate.

"We may be debating methodology, but the most important thing is to look for the ways of solving the problem and not just prepare for defending ourselves in the international forum," he added.

Tropical peatland covers approximately 45 million hectares, 12 percent of global peatland. Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam contain nearly 70 percent of this resource. Indonesia, with 22 million ha, has around one half of all tropical peat.

Peatland in Southeast Asia is recognized as an important reservoir of biodiversity. It exhibits a range of important ecological and natural resource functions, including carbon storage.

Data from LIPI show that the carbon flux in Central Kalimantan has sharply increased since the conversion of one million ha of peatland into rice fields from 1995 to 1997, and especially with the construction of large canals throughout the area.

The project was part of former president Soeharto's plan to convert 1.4 million ha of peatland in the province into agricultural land. The project was later abandoned.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a decree on March 16 this year to expedite the rehabilitation of the converted peatland in Central Kalimantan. The project has been allocated around Rp 9 trillion (US$989 million) from the state budget.

Central Kalimantan Governor Agustin Teras Narang, who also spoke at the seminar, said the rehabilitation might not fully restore the self-regulatory mechanisms of water absorption on the peatland.

"This means that we have to close some canals that have caused the peatland to lose its natural function of absorbing water. This has caused floods in the rainy season and droughts in the dry season," Narang said. (02)