Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Not happy Yan - Indonesians wait in line for their last cheap as chips refill

The new prices will take a bit of getting used to
Photo courtesy of The Economist

New posts this week: Australia's new asylum seeker policy, Wikipedia propaganda, fuel subsidy reality sinking in slowly

Selamat datang and welcome to the Indonesia Institute's blog. Please enjoy our new articles this week:

"Stop the refugees! Australian led call will impact ASEAN region," by Lauren Gumbs, November 2014.
Another policy aimed at strengthening border control is creating more misery for refugees in Indonesia.

"Why Indonesia shrugged off Indonesia's move to bar refugees," By Yohannes Sulaiman, November 2014.
Not so fast Yohannes, the ambassador was called in last Friday for a 'chat'.

"Parting the fuel divide," by Lauren Gumbs, November 2014.
Temporary pain for long term gain. But try telling that to the masses. Jokowi's popularity dips after instigating price increase of RP2,000.

"Time to demilitarise the Bahasa version of Wikipedia," By Warren Doull, November 2014.
 The biographies of former generals are decidedly rosy, but Warren smells a rat.

And in other news:

The Indonesia Institute's Senior Vice President, Mr Simon Leunig, recently met with DFAT Deputy Secretary, Mr Paul Grigson to talk about the Indo-Australia relationship and co-operation with the Indonesia Institute (II).

The following points were made by Mr Grigson:
  • He is interested and positive about the work of II .
  • Agreed to speak at a joint II – AIBC function in Perth at a future time..
  • Aware of visa issues such as difficulties to acquire study and holiday working visas..
  • Has an interest in facilitating research links where relationships can be enhanced.

The Indonesia Institute also congratulates Mathew Satchwell on his new post as President of the Australia Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA) - WA Chapter and farewells Natrisha Barnett who previously held the role. II has a close relationship with AIYA and plans to host joint events in the future. In the meantime, check out AIYA's screening of Jalanan by Daniel Ziv at AIYA's HQ in Perth. Get your tickets here.

And finally, Colin Singer, our Social and Political Director, attended the launch of the new SUR Journal. Read his comments here.

Extra reading:

The ABC's Dateline agenda set in the Indonesia news after airing a piece called 'Sex Mountain' (Gunung Kemukus). This ritual that sees strangers sleeping with each other for financial good luck was followed up in Tempo a couple of days later and has since created more Indonesian coverage. Officials were predictably evasive on the matter.

A Jakarta Post reader writes a letter explaining why he thinks the new asylum seeker policy is a good idea.

AIYA's founders comment in the Jakarta Post on the new policy whereby Australians no longer need a visa to enter Indonesia.

The Indonesian media have been crucial to democratisation, but during the 2014 elections the fourth estate showed a callous disregard for objectivity.

Journal launching and public seminar: Indonesian Foreign Policy Making, the Role of Civil Society Organisations in Mainstreaming Human Rights

I attended an interesting presentation at Universitas Parahyangan (UNPAR) in October. It was titled “SUR Journal Launching and Public Seminar: Indonesian Foreign Policy making, the role of civil Society Organisations (CSO) in mainstreaming Human Rights.

This was the launch of the 20th Edition, and this excellent  journal is produced in English, Portuguese and Spanish, available online or in print. It was jointly arranged by KONTRAS, CONECTAS (Brazil), Universitas Parahyangan (UNPAR), the Indonesian Institute of Sciences – Center For Political Studies (LIPI) also provided a speaker.

The general feeling was not optimistism but hope that Jokowi-Kalla will address human rights issues. Many of these organisations however, are not confident they will. They note that Jokowi has made no specific mention of Human Rights as a priority or a matter of concern.

The overarching shadow of Megawati and her composition of Jokowi’s cabinet further makes it unlikely. They noted that the Defense Minister, Gen Ryamizard Ryacudu, within Megawati’s inner circle has a record of serious human rights abuses especially in Aceh and East Timor.

They also talked about how Hendropriyono, the former ex head of Badan Intelligen Negara (BIN), and suspect in the death of the human rights activist Munir remains a key adviser, and his son-in-law is the new head of the Presidential Guard. Sjafrie, another suspected war criminal has been proposed as the new head of BIN.

The new government will apparently be much more nationalistic and it is likely that things like the Lombok Treaty will be re-assessed and maritime boundaries will be a key area of discontent and potentially prove unsettling and an area of conflict with Australia.

Colin Singer
Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee and Social and Political Director, Indonesia Institute

Stop the refugees! Australian led call will impact ASEAN region

By Lauren Gumbs

Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison recently announced a new and harsher policy aimed at stopping even more asylum seekers from reaching Australia, but it comes at the cost of setting diminished human rights precedents in the region.

Last year the catchphrase that won Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott the election was the polarising ‘stop the boats’.

Now it has evolved into ‘stop the refugees’.

Under new laws, those who registered for asylum after 1 July 2014 will no longer be eligible for resettlement in Australia.

Australia currently takes 400-600 refugees per year from Indonesia however the intake quota has been reduced to no more than 450.

At this rate it would take more than 6.5 years just to resettle the 3,000 children waiting in Indonesia, 1,000 of whom are unaccompanied minors.

The rationale of the policy is to preclude asylum seekers using Indonesia as a transit point and to concentrate resettlement efforts on those waiting in first contact countries.

The flow of people to Indonesia, and subsequent ‘burden’ on both Indonesia and Australia, would supposedly dry up and discourage people smugglers from trafficking vulnerable people to preferable transit countries for resettlement.

However the policy is hardly humanitarian and is leveled at refouling refugees, not assisting them to find a safe haven.

In an official press release, Minister Morrison was quoted as saying, “the Government does not support asylum seekers travelling illegally to transit countries in search of more favourable resettlement destinations.”

Yet there is no international refugee law that requires an asylum seeker to apply for asylum in a first point country and as it is the UNHCR that determines refugee status, Australia is clearly imposing its own domestic politics on the selection process.

In fact it is unconventional and unheard of in any other country to design a policy that asks asylum seekers to apply from a first contact country as a prerequisite to resettlement in Australia.

Nor do the majority of asylum seekers travel ‘illegally’ to transit countries.

Most enter transit countries with a visa and from there some travel ‘illegally’ to a destination country on a boat.

There are 10,500 UNHCR registered asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia and although Indonesia’s constitution recognises the right to seek asylum, it is not a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Refugees and offers no formal protections or Refugee Determination Process.

This means that in Indonesia asylum seekers have few rights or ways to make money and rely on under-resourced NGOs and a lone UNHCR processing centre in Jakarta that services the entire archipelago.

Minister Morrison said the new policy is designed to reduce the burden on Indonesia, but it predominantly supports Australia’s political interests – to pacify a new and untested government while engaging in covert refoulement.

Indonesia has argued that being responsible for thousands of refugees and dealing with Australia’s unilateral border control activities are the real burden.

By selecting only those refugees for resettlement that are residing in a country close to their home state, Australia is influencing the Refugee Determination Process to conform to its border controls and immigration policy.

In that sense it is not only acting unilaterally, but creating a regional precedent that sees refugees as a ‘burden’ and refoulment as an acceptable convention.

Under a humanitarian policy, if resettlement eligibility was annulled it would make more sense to increase the intake quota and to resettle already processed, ‘legitimate’ refugees.

It is a cruel blow to reduce the quota for those people who have resisted the temptation to jump on an old boat and travel the dangerous journey to Christmas island.

Their reward for doing the right thing see them languishing in the ‘queue’ - in reality an abstract notion to describe a state of perpetual suspension between statehood.

Suaka, the Indonesia Civil Society Network for Refugee Protection, said the new policy puts refugees in increasingly difficult conditions, especially as Indonesia does not have adequate legal guarantees to protect refugees. 

“This policy is clearly contrary to the international obligations of Australia as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and increases the uncertainty of the situation for refugees in transit in Indonesia,” Chair of Suaka, Febionesta, said.

“Australia has breached its commitment to the Regional Cooperation Framework under the Bali Process and ignored the recommendation of its own expert panel on asylum seekers.
“The policy will surely increase the number of those waiting in line for resettlement indefinitely, leaving them frustrated.”

Despite criticism from human rights groups and NGOs, the policy has not registered much interest in the Indonesian media.

The media have been preoccupied with increased fuel prices and new dynamics in domestic politics rather than the implications of another unilateral Australian decision on asylum seekers.

Indonesia might welcome the ‘sugar finally being taken off the table', but it is also concerned about another unilateral move by Australia to deal with a regional issue.

Indonesia should be concerned; even with the halting of boats to Australia, the UNHCR in Indonesia recorded 3,200 new asylum seeker registrations this year, 1,200 of which will never call Australia home.

As Indonesia has asserted time and time again, the situation requires bilateral and multi-lateral co-operation; asylum seekers will continue to flee as long as there is war and conflict and the queue will continue to form on another neighbours’ doorstep.

The Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, Mr Greg Moriarty, was called into the Indonesian Foreign Ministry last Friday and Asia-Pacific Division Director Yuri Thamrin conveyed Indonesia’s strong concern over Australia’s unilateral policy.

The Australian reported that Mr Thamrin called for Australia to return to dealing with asylum-seekers as a regional problem, through the multilateral Bali Process.

In 2011 Australia and Indonesia agreed to a treaty known as the Regional Co-operation Framework or Bali Process which outlines joint co-operation on people smugglers and asylum seekers.

This agreement has at its core, the assumption that both countries will share the burden of responsibility. 

Banning resettlement from Indonesia is contrary to the spirit and purpose of the Bali Process and it will only induce asylum seekers to use Malaysia or other ASEAN states.

If Australia had opened its doors wider it may have been able to encourage Indonesia to get on board and sign onto the refugee protocols, maybe even to open a processing centre so asylum seekers do not need to be intercepted and taken to Nauru or Manus Island to cost Australian taxpayers $1 billion a year or half a million dollars per asylum seeker.

Australia has been very effective in 'stopping the boats'.

Having achieved his electoral promise, Mr Abbott and his immigration minister could have offered help to countries such as Indonesia, by increasing its refugee intake from the current level of 13,750 to say, 20,000.

This would have been a smart political move, but more importantly it would have reinforced the view that those who seek asylum by going through the correct channels (as opposed to jumping on boats) will be treated promptly and humanely.

However instead of being a leader in human rights, and a good neighbour, Australia has taken a hard-line stance when it comes to immigration and by banning resettlement of mostly genuine refugees from Indonesia, undermines the opportunity to work constructively with Indonesia through a framework it already shares.

Lauren Gumbs is Director of Social Media at the Indonesia Institute. She holds a Master in Communications and is studying a Master of Human Rights at Curtin University.

Why Indonesia shrugged off Australia’s move to bar refugees

By Yohannes Sulaiman

There was a collective shrug in Indonesia over Australia’s decision to stop accepting refugees who are waiting in Indonesia to be resettled in Australia.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison announced on Tuesday that asylum seekers who registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Indonesia on and after July 1, 2014, would no longer be eligible for resettlement in Australia.

Morrison asserted that the Indonesian government was well-informed of this decision. But Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that she was still trying to figure out the implications of the new policy.

While the Australian media reacted strongly, putting the new policy on the front page, it attracted little media coverage in Indonesia.

Preoccupied with domestic concerns

Indonesian media showed little interest because they were preoccupied with rising fuel prices as a result of a government subsidy cut. This dominated the headlines in Indonesia.

A day before Morrison’s announcement, Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s administration announced that the government would increase the price of subsidised fuel the next day.

With the Indonesian media and population in general preoccupied with the politically sensitive issue of fuel prices, the last thing on their minds was Australia’s change in immigration policy.

Besides, immigration is not considered a big issue in Indonesia. Yes, the government is concerned about the influx of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in Indonesia, especially when they are perceived to be contributing to increasing crime rates.

But it is not seen as a serious national problem that would force the government to devote significant resources to a solution. 

After all, the Indonesian government’s resources are already stretched thin. They even faced problems dealing with illegal fishing.

Impact on Indonesia?

Still, the question remains: what are the implications of the new policy for Indonesia and refugees in general?

Morrison argued that the policy aims to prevent people smuggling. It is doubtful, however, that the policy would stem the number of Australia-bound asylum seekers passing through Indonesia by boat. 

While many refugees hoping to resettle in Australia register through the UNHCR office in Jakarta, a lot of others are intent on travelling to Australia by boat.

Therefore, the policy would do little to reduce the number of people who are already committed to attempting to get to Australia by boat, rather than wait for resettlement through the UNHCR in Indonesia.

The best way for to reduce the numbers of asylum seekers coming through Indonesia using boats is to prevent them from reaching Indonesia in the first place. 

But this is easier said than done. As mentioned above, Indonesia’s resources are already stretched so thin that it could not effectively police its own borders.

The vice-commander of the national police admitted that the Indonesian police force has only about 1000 patrol boats

That is just a drop in the ocean when one considers Indonesia’s 95,181-kilometre coastline. The police force also has other responsibilities than preventing asylum seekers from coming to Indonesia.

Indonesia’s obligation?

Finally, there is a question of why Indonesia has not ratified the UN Refugee Convention.
By ratifying the convention, Indonesia could expect international help in dealing with refugees. 

More importantly, Indonesia could also determine on its own the refugee status of asylum seekers, thus making the Jakarta office of the UNHCR redundant.

The most compelling reason not to ratify the convention is that Indonesia could, in turn, be swamped by refugees.

Even though Indonesia is the largest economy in southeast Asia, as a developing country it is still struggling to lift its population from poverty. The country’s GDP per capita in 2013 was US$3475, nearly 19 times less than Australia’s US$64,468.

By not signing this convention, Indonesia thus could buck-pass the refugee problems to someone else, such as Australia, that has a greater capacity to help. But Indonesia doesn’t seem to care if its neighbour wants to help out less.

Yohannes Sulaiman is a Lecturer in International Relations and Political Science at Indonesian Defense University. His article originally appeared 21 November in The Conversation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Parting the fuel divide

By Lauren Gumbs

Indonesia is going to save a massive A$9 billion in 2015, by increasing diesel and gasoline prices RP 2,000 per litre (18c).

That’s $9 billion that can be allocated to poverty alleviation, health and infrastructure out of around $22 billion that is spent on the subsidy each year.

It keeps petrol at half the market price, RP6,500 per litre (66c), and other types of fuel similarly low.

To an Australian who pays around $1.50 a litre, a fuel subsidy is a fiscal profligacy that could not be justified as it reduces the cost of living for the wealthy and middle class at the expense of the poor who are left without adequate spending on things like health and education.

While Australia has its share of dubious tax breaks and schemes that favour high income earners, it would be unimaginable to provide concessions for private vehicle owners, encouraging more cars on the road and perpetuating import and fossil fuel dependency.

Indonesia is actually an importer, not a producer, and the expense of subsidising fuel has left the country with an account deficit for the past two and a half years.

Many Indonesians are heavily invested in cheap fuel and fear not just inflation of the cost of living, but corruption; savings they might never see translated into economic outcomes.

Fuel subsidy is a popular program for obvious reasons – using a vehicle is cheap, using a generator is cheap, doing business is cheap - and this does trickle down to the cost of living, but it is also an unsustainable program that disproportionately benefits the well off.

The price of subsidised fuel is not a ‘true’ price, it distorts the cost of resources and contributes to over consumption without actually adding value to the economy.

Fuel subsidy, like electricity subsidies, is a luxury concession and far outweighs spending on health, education, defence, social security or the environment.

Even in 2011 it was reported that in Indonesia the top 40 percent of income earners make up 70% of gasoline consumption and in countries with fuel subsidies, on average, the top income earners consume six times as much fuel as the bottom quintile.

In addition, the top five percent of households consume 82 litres of subsidised gasoline per month, whereas the bottom five percent consume only 1.7 litres.

The World Bank reported that the top 50 percent urban rich represent 84 percent of consumption. The bottom 10 percent consume less than one percent.

Jokowi inherited a budget from his predecessor but has since acted on an election pledge to reduce the fuel subsidy, allocating RP443 trillion (AUD $41.8 billion) for 2015-2019. 

He did not need parliamentary approval this year but he will need the legislature to sign off on the budget next year, which dominated by his opposition, will pose a challenge. 

Jokowi was unable to convince former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) to reduce the amount before he left office to make room for Jokowi’s reform programs.

It was unlikely SBY would acquiesce his last budget to enable Jokowi’s reforms and shoulder the blame for price hikes, especially as he had been down that road before.

Over the past five years SBY spent RP 713 trillion (UD $67.3 billion) on fuel subsidies alone.

Yudhoyono increased fuel costs last year (some may remember lines extending kilometres from the local Pertamina as people rushed to fill up cars and containers after gasoline went from RP4,500 to RP6,500).

Increased fuel prices are predictably accompanied by fierce protests because many Indonesians believe the subsidies will not be properly re-distributed.

Fuel subsidies are a direct discount that can be felt in the wallet and benefits like infrastructure and poverty alleviation programs could be years into the future - if they ever materialise at all.

In a country facing endemic corruption in resource and service delivery, losing such a concrete concession program seems an unconscionable risk to many. 

The reality is that the ones who benefit the most from the subsidy are also those who can afford to absorb an increase, but because fuel subsidies look so much like a benefit, most people believe they are being short-changed. 

Students and workers have been particularly riled at the impost and staged protests around the country when Yudhoyono introduced cuts in his final term. They are vocal once again as President Jokowi introduces the new price increases. 

Yet such a move so early in the game could make him deeply unpopular and really create a frenzy – IMF mandated fuel subsidy cuts were part of Suharto’s final undoing, resulting in riots that eventually overthrew him.

Jokowi however, has stuck to a clear platform to address poverty and overhaul the economy and he is determined to phase out fuel subsidies across his four year term. 

He said he would tackle poverty, he said he would upgrade infrastructure, he said he would improve the economy and he has logically gone after the most obvious example of misplaced funds that will free up the budget to implement real, nation changing reform programs.

Jokowi now faces stiff resistance from those who have the most to lose from a redistribution of luxury concessions but also from those who believe it is cheap fuel that keeps the cost of living down.

The hard part is getting people to understand that fuel subsidies are not normal and are contributing to the wealth divide that drives the rich/poor polarity.

An increase in the price of fuel will have immediate effects, it will push the price of food and other commodities up, but this will level out as funds are redistributed. 

After all fuel subsidies made up 55 percent of total subsidies in 2011, a mind boggling amount that should be spent on pulling Indonesians out of poverty, and savings from cuts can be used to stall inflation in the aftermath of a fuel increase when there is some upheaval while the market settles.

But is Jokowi’s plan any different from Yudhoyono’s and will he have success in eroding fuel subsidy dependence? 

SBY was hesitant to take the plunge but in 2013 lawmakers voted in favour of a revised budget and, amid violent protests, fuel increased 33 percent.

SBY set aside $900 million for cash hand-outs to poor families but Jokowi said he will not do this because the money is spent frivolously on things like phones and phone credit rather than saved.

Instead he wants to encourage people to bank their money, so he will make funds available for withdrawal from banks using a welfare card.

Jokowi will use the $9 billion in savings to support farmers, fisherman and workers and to build roads and establish basic infrastructure like irrigation.

Not only will programs like this assist productivity, it will make transportation and doing business in Indonesia much more efficient – and society far more fair.

Spending money on programs that improve people’s quality of life and ability to become productive will allow for greater social mobility, a less prominent wealth divide and ultimately a stronger economy.

If Jokowi is to achieve a market based rate within four years, he will need to reduce dependency gradually, during low inflation periods, while at the same time making sure savings are distributed to transparent reform programs with tangible benefits.

If the Indonesian people can see what they are getting and where the money is going, Jokowi can rebuild public trust and administer a budget that adds value not just to the economy but to people’s lives.

Lauren Gumbs is a postgraduate Human Rights student and Director of Social Media at the Indonesia Institute.