31 December 2007

Some Positive Thoughts for the New Year

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.
- Robert F. Kennedy (1925 - 1968)

Action makes more fortunes than caution.
- Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715 - 1747)

There is no education like adversity.
- Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881)

A relaxed attitude lengthens a man's life.
- Proverbs 14:30

Do not be afraid to take a big step if one is required. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps.
- David Lloyd George (1863 - 1945)

No one ever hurt their eyesight by looking at the bright side of life.
- Anonymous

With malice toward none, with charity for all.
- Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)

One man with courage makes a majority.
- Andrew Jackson (1767 - 1845)

By his deeds we know a man.
- African Proverb

Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.
- William Jennings Bryan

Some men see things as they are and say 'Why?'
I dream things that never were, and say, 'Why not?'
- George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way.
- Booker T. Washington (1856 - 1915)

Fear is never a reason for quitting: it is only an excuse.
- Norman Vincent Peale

Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.
- John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963)

Knowledge is power.
- Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)

Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.
- George Washington (1732 - 1799)

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.
- Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826)

Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809 - 1894)

You will give yourself peace of mind if you do every act of your life as if it were your last.
- Marcus Aurelius (121 - 180 AD)

A Happy New Year!

To all my readers, all be it a few dedicated souls, I wish you a happy new year!

This evening is usually a time for reflection on the year just past and resolution for the year ahead...I trust the year just past was a good one and the resolutions for the year ahead make it an even better year than this one.

Be safe and well in this festive season!

Peace to all!!!

27 December 2007


A personal musing about life, my life to be precise, and the challenges of living abroad.

I have been living on and off in Indonesia for almost 15 years now. More on than off but still a relatively long time.

Home. I consider Indonesia to be home in the sense I have more roots here than in the land of my birth, Australia. My family lives in Australia but I have family in Indonesia too. So, Indonesia is where I consider to be home. People often ask me how often I go home. The answer is simple, I go home every single day. Or another classic is where are you from? The answer to this is simple too, I live in Bekasi (a satellite city of Jakarta). Yet, I will always be a foreigner no matter what.

I speak the language with the accent of a local, I am as familiar with culture and customs in Indonesia as some, possibly most, locals. But, I will never be local which is fair enough. That said it does get a little boring always being either the tourist or the expat because I am neither. I am definitely not a tourist and I am even more definitely not an expat.

I work for a local company on a local wage and without any of the perks enjoyed by expats. I rent a house at my own expense, I have no car and my company does not supply one or cover taxi costs, I do not even get return airfares at the end of each year of service. I am not doing it tough but I sometimes wish people could appreciate the fact that I am not here for the money.

If I was here for the money I would be even more twisted and bitter than I am now :) and would have surely moved back to my own country many years ago and to never return to these tropical shores.

Over time it is the little things that I notice more and more. People wanting to talk to me or say stuff to me just because I am not Indonesian. Security guards who completely ignore Indonesians but cannot help themselves when I go past...it is not stuff like 'good morning' or 'how are you?' but stuff like 'where are you going?, what for?, what do you want to do?, do you want to buy a watch?, or the age old classic "Hey Mister, money!"'...I am sure you get the picture. I am happy to be civil but most often I just want to be treated like everyone else. I guess I stick out so that is never going to happen, is it?

Speaking of the land in which I was born and raised...I miss certain things, obviously not enough to return on a permanent basis, but I miss them all the same. For example, the cold. I would love to just be able to go outside in one of my Nan's hand-knitted jumpers (a sweater to all you non-English speakers of English) or walk down the street without being noticed or relatively good and accessible public transport.

To be clear, this is not a whinge and it certainly is not a complaint, but rather a series of musings about how things work for me at the moment. But when it is all said and done, life goes on! And as Ned is alleged to have said, "such is life!".

26 December 2007

Law in Action

A solicitor in NSW found guilty of a fraud totalling AUD 95,000 has won a stay against the Law Society of NSW. The stay prevents the Law Society from cancelling his practice certificate even though he has been jailed for two years. This means that he can continue to practice law until the appeal is heard and decided.

The story is not so simple as fraud, trial, conviction, and sentence. There are a number of interesting elements such as alleged blackmail and the complainant being forthright in proclaiming that both he and the solicitor involved 'hate each other's guts'. Despite the conviction and the sentence the solicitor has been granted bail as new evidence has come to light. This new evidence, at least in the opinion of a Judge of the Supreme Court, gives rise to a good prospects that the solicitor will succeed in any new trial.

This is law in action. It is not over until the fat lady sings - for want of a better cliche.

Industrial Action & the Qantas Response

Keeping on the theme about the right to protest and to strike (just one of many forms of protest and demonstration). A news bite from Australia has Qantas, the national flag carrier, lining up engineers that it has retrenched over the past couple of years, some as recently as last year, with outrageous salary proposals in order to break a strike.

So, I guess even in some of the world's oldest surviving parliamentary democracies the right to strike and to protest remains...just the means that businesses employ to get around the inconvenience becomes a little more devious and in some cases silly because the potential outlay here on rehiring retrenched engineers who might not even get to work is going to be huge. If I was a shareholder I would want the Board explaining the numbers to me on this one.

The Right to Protest

Some would have us believe that there is no right to protest when that protest negatively impacts on others or the economy and sites an example of 25 farmers holding up traffic, preventing people from getting to the office on time, preventing deliveries, and a hole range of other negative impacts. The author of this editorial piece then goes on to say that all people have a right to protest but protests must be democratic and be made through democratic channels like the courts and the media, which is equated to using your right properly.

I would agree that it is difficult to calculate the economic costs of protesting and particularly the protests that have racked Indonesia since the fall of the dictatorial regime of the former President Soeharto. But rather than blame the protesters it might be prudent to look at why after ten years of "reformasi" protesting and street demonstrations are still the method of choice to voice one's grievances. The courts have not been providing equal justice and news media is often guilty of pandering to interest groups and businesses.

If protesters believed that they would get either a fair hearing in court or equal play in the media then perhaps the demonstrations that so pointedly grate on the author of the editorial piece then he might have a valid point, but the less fortunate and poor do not have the same opportunities and access and to suggest that in Indonesia's democracy they do is profoundly misrepresenting the truth of practice.

But this debate is more along the lines of the community against the individual. Simply, what is of the greater immediate good of the community outweighs the needs and rights of the individual. I was surprised that the piece did not degenerate into an Eastern values system being undermined by the misguided democratic ideals of the West.

The author goes on to state that in most other more developed countries the courts and media are the proper channels for airing grievances. This is to suggest that more democratically developed nations than Indonesia do not have any protests or street demonstrations and this too is simply not the case.

In most cases in Indonesia protesters and demonstrators must obtain a permit from the police to hold a demonstration that will impede a public thoroughfare, and most do! Holding a demonstration or a protest is hardly taking the law into your own hands. yet, to suggest that the most appropriate means to air your grievances is by writing and publishing your point of view in the mass media seems to suggest that the mass media dictates public policy.

So, hypothetically the 25 farmers need not have protested but rather written to a publication such as Suara Pembaruan or Globe Asia and the government would have then taken note of the farmer's grievances and altered public policy on agrarian reform. This is not a criticism of the articles or news printed in either of these publications but rather a question as to whether the publishing of a grievance in a newspaper or business oriented magazine will garner the attention of the government and inspire them into action to rectify the farmer's grievances.

To take this argument to its logical extension. A group of laborers unhappy with their mass retrenchment decide to exercise their right to voice their grievance. They enter into bipartite and tripartite negotiations, but to no avail. They take their grievance to Court get satisfaction but the Company threatens to tie the case up in litigation and does so. They appeal to a higher Court and get satisfaction but the Company still refuses to abide by the earlier decision just affirmed. Ultimately, they have not received satisfaction or more aptly in this case justice. So, they write a letter to a newspaper and have their grievance recorded in the pages of that newspaper.

The question is; will this inspire the Company to do the right thing? It does not. Now what? The courts and the media have failed them in this perfect little democratic model. They protest, they demonstrate, and they make it know to all through the inconvenience of a traffic jam and delayed deliveries that democracy is not working for them.

These labourers are not taking the law into their own hands but rather they are fighting for an equal future, their rights to participate in a democracy, and their right to be heard. Sorry, for the inconvenience but it is a right worth fighting for!

Oh, to live in such a perfect democratic world.

Readers (if I have any)...Feel free to comment on this one and to criticize (constructively of course) if I am missing the point of the editorial piece (I will try and scan it and upload it in my Blog within the bounds of copyright of course) or my musing a just too left of mainstream. I guess having just watched the 'Bastard Boys' on Australia Network, I am missing my union and labor roots!

The editorial to which I refer is in the January 2008 edition of Globe Asia and is entitled "Outlook" (page 12). Unfortunately, buying the magazine which I did does not get you access to the online version so I cannot link the article for your viewing pleasure.

25 December 2007

Indonesia's Man of the Year

Jimly Asshiddiqie...

An interesting choice to say the least but not surprising when the givers of this award, Globe Asia, characterize the recipient as Indonesia's most powerful judge and the leaving of a legacy that will influence and impact on coming generations of Indonesians! I am sure there will be some arguments concerning the characterization as Indonesia's most powerful judge but nonetheless it is impossible to downplay the role the Constitutional Court has had over the past four years.

The influence will be longer lasting than the debate about who is the most powerful judge in the country. The legacy will be mixed and to suggest it will be anything else but is to misrepresent what the Constitutional Court has achieved. Many of its decisions are inconsistent, and the principles that it evokes often counter to the Constitution itself, particularly in respect of legal standing.

The Constitutional Court is often lauded for being above politics and religion and race and all those other nasties that Indonesians dread, but some decisions arguably suggest otherwise. The decision in the terrorism case is a case in point. The Constitutional Court rejected partisan politics and decided on the principles contained in the Constitution, of that there is no criticism or debate, retroactive application of criminal laws in Indonesian is clearly in breach of the Constitution.

But the Constitutional Court then bowed to political pressures by stating that the decision comes into effect on the date it was handed down. This had the ludicrous outcome that people were convicted under an unconstitutional law but their convictions remain valid. The fact that the Bali Bombers would have been released was an unpleasant outcome to be sure, and the rush by the then Megawati government for convictions should see both her and her government held accountable for the error. So, you now have a situation where you have individuals under the sentence of death based on convictions garnered under a law that was unconstitutional at the time.

The argument as to whether Amrozi, Samudera, and Ghufron deserve to die for their crimes is a different argument. Personally, I would rather they did not get their wish to be martyrs but rather rotted in jail for the rest of their natural lives.

Another notable decision was the Constitutional Court's decision to invalidate Article 50 of Law No. 24 of 2003 on the Constitutional Court. It is an interesting proposition that the Constitutional Court can invalidate parts of its own constituting document in order to expand its own power and influence. In effect the Constitutional Court ruled that parliament got it wrong in drafting and enacting the legislation.

Yet, the parliamentary record is clear that legislators intended to restrict the jurisdiction of the Court to constitutional issues going forward. The Constitutional Court was not happy with this and invited a contentious case to be presented and then somewhat cynically dismissed the merits of the case but used it to repeal Article 50.

This, however, fits in with the Asshiddiqie constitutional philosophy that the Constitution cannot be interpreted on the words alone but it must be interpreted based on the 'spirit' of the document. This is wholly subjective and means that the words of the Constitution can be ignored where it does not fit the spirit that the justices want to evoke.

Yet, it must be said that under the stewardship of Asshiddiqie the Constitutional Court has served it up to all comers and annoyed just about everyone. This must be interpreted as the Court must be getting some things right. The decision on whether the former members of the PKI and their families were allowed to vote or be elected at general elections is a good one; they are and they deserve that right to be respected.

The decision that legal aid can be provided by people other than advocates was destined to annoy advocates, and it did. It is only fair to give credit where credit is due. In this case credit is due and it is given.

This piece though was written in terms of whether the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court is worthy of the title of man of the year...I am not choosing or presenting this honour; so, to each their own!


There are many among us who would never believe that a democratic government would act in such a way as to kidnap their own citizens and interrogate them for hours and use other illegal tactics to coerce them into becoming an informant. But then there are the conspiracy theorists, cynics, and other more knowledgeable souls who are not only not surprised but have been saying the government is regularly violating national and international laws in the so-called war on terror.

In an interesting development in Australia, the Secretary of the Attorney General's Department has filed a complaint to the Judicial Commission of NSW to investigate a Judge, Michael Adams of the NSW Supreme Court, who ruled evidence obtained by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) inadmissible on the grounds that it was obtained unlawfully.

The complaint seems to stem from the judge's characterization of the officers involved as providing testimony that was unconvincing and untruthful. It appears the Head of ASIO feels that his fellas did not get a chance to address the criminal conduct they have allegedly committed. But, to the contrary, they have and the judge found it to be unconvincing and at times untruthful.

It will be interesting to see where this goes as there has been a change of government and it is not clear whether the new government and the new Attorney General will continue to pursue this. In any event the Judicial Commission will investigate but it cannot discipline judicial officers. The complaint seems destined to have the opposite effect to what is intended as if it proceeds it is likely to shine the light even more brightly on the actions of those in Australia's security and intelligence services and the methods employed by them and the impact this has on the civil rights of ordinary Australians.

Shine that light into the dark abyss that the war on terror has become...a good fight is a clean fight!

The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost

I read a lot of poetry in preference to books, may be because it is quicker and I am just lazy, then again it is really because I just enjoy poetry!

Robert Frost is one of my favourite poets and 'The Road Not Taken' is one of my favourite poems. So, here it is...I hope it does something for you as it has for me!

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

American Gangster

American Gangster is definitely not a Christmas movie but worth the time needed to watch it!

The plot is an interesting one, particularly for those that are not familiar with the African-American mobsters of the 1960s and 1970s. This is a time when political correctness had not really kicked in and these gangsters were black gangsters. However, based on a true story, and as with most films it probably has a few dramatic embellishments, yet it does convey a message. The message might not always be the one we hope for as the film does provide an element of glamour to the bad guy. So, perhaps some impressionable minds might turn to crime. But generally the film is about the corruption driven by greed and the scourge of drugs.

It really does plot good against evil. The good guy being Ritchie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe, against the cold, calculating and deadly evil Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington. With the ultimate outcome never in doubt for any history buff familiar with the story, it is still possible to feel empathy for the bad guy even when you do not want to or know that it is misplaced. The reality is that Frank Lucas may in fact be a self-made man but he was so on the misery and suffering of those people that consumed his product, heroin.

But, there is more to this film in that it highlights the absolute brazen nature of the crimes being committed alongside the creativity and genius being employed to pull them off. Frank Lucas created a business model that cut out the middle man in the supply and distribution routes increasing profits. Yet, it was the importing of the heroin in the coffins of US soldiers being repatriated from Vietnam. Uncle Sam may not have realized it at the time but is was the middle man in a transportation sense from the Southeast Asian based-supplier to the chop factories in the US.

The film highlights the almost wild west nature of the late 60s and early 70s where lawlessness abounds with police on the take and criminals seeking celebrity and what's more getting it.

Crime may pay over the short term but the long term is never so secure.

Regional Elections in Sulawesi

The Supreme Court (SC) of Indonesia is doing its bit to ensure uncertainty remains after the recent election in South Sulawesi to choose a Regional Head. The incumbent Governor lost a close election by less than 0.8% of the primary vote. To be sure in any democracy this would be close enough to demand a recount. If the election commission would not provide a recount then the candidates have recourse to the SC to have any objections to the election result judicially determined.

The incumbent Governor did just that but I am sure he was not expecting the gift that the SC gave him in a 3 - 2 split decision. The decision is bizarre as it appears to extend considerably further than the current regulatory powers provided to the SC to decide cases such as this. The Law on Regional Government (Law No. 32/2004) in Articles 104(1) and (2) and 106(2) grants the SC the power to order new elections under very limited circumstances such as where votes cannot be counted or vote boxes are treated in an irregular manner inconsistent with prevailing regulations, as well as a number of other counting problems such as rioting supporters.

The SC has issued a Regulation (No. 6 of 2006) only grants the SC the power to cancel the announced results by the election commission and announce the correct count as determined by the SC. In none of the Regulations is there a power for the SC to annul results and demand a new election take place. In effect the SC decision does just that. The SC in essence has held that the vote in four districts (Bone, Gowa, Tana Toraja, and Bantaeng) were invalid and the election must be held again.

This is the really bizarre part as the wording of the decisions suggests that the local election commission will have to re-hold the election from scratch. Stupidity at its best as it goes on to state that the election commission has three to six months to get this done. Unfortunately, the incumbent Governor's term expires on 20 January 2008. But the real stupidity is that re-holding the election in effect should invalidate the whole election as if the process was to start from scratch then new candidates could theoretically be nominated. The big winner here is Golkar as it in effect gives their candidate, the incumbent Governor, a second bite of the apple.

The decision clearly appears to extend beyond the authority of the SC in this instance. A recount should have been ordered and the candidates accept the results of the recount. The necessity to hold the election in these four districts is unproved by the applicant and in reality this is not what the incumbent Governor asked for. The application was for a recount.

Democracy works in strange ways. The issue is not whether the incumbent has a right to object to the count, he does in this instance, but rather the mechanism for satisfying the right to object. The SC seems to be saying it objects too to the limitations on its authority so it is going to ignore them and issues decisions as it sees fit.

No wonder people continue to question the independence of the courts and the legal certainty that they do not regularly provide. Yet, the case is not over as the election commission can appeal this decision and conceivably have the decision overturned on judicial review.

Give Democracy A Chance

The elections in Thailand seem set to end 15 months of army rule. The coup was bloodless and generally pretty orderly but the elections are nothing short of a slap in the face to the Generals that led it and perhaps in a sense to the King who OK-ed it. The Thais hold their King in great reverence so it will probably not be a big part of the news but it should not be forgotten that the King could of ended the coup but he did not.

Nevertheless, once the inevitable recriminations start it is worth remembering that the former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was having some serious questions asked of him in regards to his leadership and lingering corruption issues. However, that aside it is the party, People's Power Party (PPP) with the closest affiliation to the disbanded party, Thai Rak Thai, that he led that has claimed the largest number of seats.

John Lennon might have sung about giving peace a chance, but it is equally true for democracy. Give democracy a chance and people will take it. Democracy is never going to be perfect but it sure beats the yoke of dictatorship, authoritarian, and military rule.

The former PM has been living in exile and even if he was to return there remain outstanding corruption charges against him that still need to be resolved. However, he has been busy in exile playing golf all over the world with rounds reported in Bali among other places. But even more so the billionaire has invested in England with the purchase of the Manchester City Football Club.

So, the question is does he really need to return to Thailand and aside from clearing his name of the corruption charges does he need to? His investments and the relaxation he seems to have found on the golf course is hardly the behaviour of a billionaire business mogul plotting his eventual return to a political career.

I guess time will tell on this one...

Viva Democracy!!!

The Milk & Cookies are out!

The milk & cookies are out and awaiting Santa's imminent arrival...So I thought I might jot a few posts as I await a glimpse of the big fella, but if he does not arrive in time I will just go to bed and see what he delivered later in the morning...

Australian milk and Anzac cookies no less (probably the wrong time of the year for Anzac cookies but if Santa is on a diet, I will eat them myself)!

24 December 2007

Happy Holidays

To all my loyal readers, few as you are, and to anyone else that happens by...

Happy Holidays to all!

It is the season to reflect on the year just past and the year ahead...I hope that the year ahead is at least as good as the last and wherever possible better...

Years fly by and it is hard to believe that 2008 will soon be upon us...so make the most of your time here on this earth of ours, live life to the fullest, and have no regrets!

Cheers to all!

21 December 2007

Weddings - Inviting Your Friends and Enemies

Weddings in Indonesia tend to be a lavish affair and the more lavishness the greater the expense. The idea of just inviting your close family and friends just does not seem to work even where the bride and groom might just have such an intention. Once the parents get involved it is time to say hello to invitees you have never met before in your life and probably will never meet again!

I am sure someone somewhere has empirical research to confirm the following insights. It seems that a big wedding is par for the course because traditionally you invited all your neighbors in the Kampong and this could run into 30 or 50 people or so. But, alas as the the Kampong grew so did the size of the weddings. When your Kampong is the sprawling rambling metropolis of Jakarta and its somewhere up to 15 million inhabitants, it is not rocket science to see what is going to happen here.

But that is never enough to explain how it works here. One must look at ego and competition to get a real picture of what goes into planning a wedding in Jakarta. Simply, the more people you get to turn out for the big show is indicative of not only your wealth but also your reputation and status within the circles which you mix. Perhaps not you, as in the bride and groom, but you as in the parents of the bride and groom. As for any good party, 'the more the merrier'. This is the ego factor.

The competition factor is the need to stage a wedding that is so big that it is not just a society event but it is the event. This will ensure that whoever follows you must be committed to going the distance and doing it bigger and better or concede defeat and stage a smaller-scale event. This means that the number of invitees can move into the thousands. Even if I knew a thousand people I am sure I would not remember their names. This means that it is not only your friends get invites but also your enemies get them too. This is to ensure that no offence is made to anyone, this is cultural and not some sage advice about keeping your friends close and your enemies even closer.

Indonesians are no different to any other inhabitant of this ever-warming planet of ours, they love a good competition.

I went to a wedding earlier tonight, it was a lavish affair, but for me the amusement always comes from the 'awe' factor. That is the who's who of the community is there. As a journalist there is always the temptation to talk shop and secure interviews for the following day or the next week or to confirm that information gained from sources is on the money or just idle gossip. But the beauty of the no expenses spared reception is that Indonesians really do know how to lay out a good spread - the entrees, the mains, and the desserts were reason enough to put shop talk on hold!

To be sure this is not a criticism of the practice of big weddings. It is rather an attempt to show the rationale. The wedding reception I went to this evening was a great event and a good opportunity to catch up with people I have not seen since the last wedding we were both at or at least people I have not seen in a long time. These musings do not really do justice to the grandness of the event - it really is a case of seeing is believing.

I think it is time a cost - benefit analysis was done on weddings to determine what sort of return you get on the outlay.

Peace, Love, and Tolerance

Religious intolerance has reared its ugly head in West Java with the continuing attacks on the Ahmadiyah sect. This attack destroyed a Mosque and houses by burning them to the ground. The Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) has declared the sect heretical and issued a fatwa or edict stating that fact.

I have posted earlier on this issue.

Yet, despite pleas by the Vice President it seems that people just do not get it!

The Indonesian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Perhaps this was, in hindsight, a mistake that slipped through the heretical net during the post-Soeharto euphoria of greater democratic and social freedoms. But mistake or otherwise it is in the Constitution and it is high time the police stepped up to the plate and acted in the manner they must. The right to practice one's faith is protected and therefore must be free form attack by others.

The MUI must also make it explicitly clear in its fatwas that even though the Ahmadiyah sect has been declared heretical, people cannot take the law into their own hands and hand out justice as they deem necessary.

If Indonesia is the law state and a state based on order and where human life is valued, it is time to prove it. The legal framework can deal with heretical sects and does not require the vigilante justice that we are seeing now. Even so, this particular issue needs to be characterized as a public law and order issue and not a religious one.

The Constitution appears to provide a blanket right to freedom of religion. Islam is not the only religion that has issues regarding sects or the development of different faiths from a common faith. It was not so long ago that the current pope suggested that Protestant churches were not real churches.

This is a chance for Indonesia to show how much it has matured and how much it values the greater democratic freedoms its citizens enjoy since the fall of Soeharto - Take It!


Indonesia has designated 2008 as the "Visit Indonesia Year" with good reason as 2008 will be the 100th anniversary of the founding of 'Boedi Oetomo' in 1908. Boedi Oetomo was Indonesia's first concerted effort, and a first tentative step towards independence. Independence was finally achieved in 1945.
The Boedi Oetomo group and movement is identified as the moment of the indigenous population of the Dutch East Indies awakening. It is this national awakening that is to be traded on in the 2008 visit Indonesia campaign. There is much to see and do in Indonesia, of that there is no doubt, but with so much invested in this campaign you would think that a little more care would be taken.

There would have been no need to attach an expatriate native English speaker to the campaign just to prove read the advertising and campaign materials as there are many capable Indonesians who possess a technical appreciation of English far superior to some native English speakers I know. Unfortunately, it seems that none of those speakers are employed by the Department of Culture and Tourism. I am sure the Department could of found a native speaker to do the job for next to nothing or they could have called up one of the myriad private English language schools that dot the landscape of Jakarta such as English First.

Instead the slogan has become "Visit Indonesia 2008 celebrating 100 years of nation's awakening"...ummmmmmmmmmmm!

News reports suggest that the Department has recognized the grammatical error and is endeavouring to fix it. This is not going to be cheap as the government has already painted plenty of planes owned by the national flag carrier, Garuda, with the not so grammatically correct slogan. In addition to pulling down billboards and recalling other promotional material the costs of the campaign seem set to spiral upwards.

I think everyone should visit Indonesia, it is a wonderfully diverse place with much to offer new and seasoned travellers alike, irrespective of age. Simply, Indonesia caters to all tastes and budgets. Give it a shot you are unlikely to regret spending some of your hard earned cash here. Yet, I hope that if you do take the plunge and come to Indonesia you go to places other than Bali. Bali is nice and I love to go there myself but Indonesia is so much more than Bali - there are 17,000+ islands to choose from! But Bali always reminds me of one of my favorite tales...I once asked a friend when I was back in Australia for a visit whether or not they had ever been to Indonesia. The answer was, "No, but I have been to Bali!" I smile as I think about it now some ten years or so after it happened.

The error has probably been spotted by many but particular notice was taken after an article (commentary and analysis) was published in The Financial Times by John Aglionby
But the moral of this story and the lesson to all - proofread your work before you hand it in or publish it! (The photo is courtesy of AFP)

12 December 2007

Scrap Rubbers at any Cost

Hot off the press is a story in today's Kompas newspaper that Customs Officials have detained a container load of used condoms imported from Germany. The reasons for holding the imports are pretty clear, being used condoms they pose a potential health hazard unless of course each one has already been individually tested prior to export and then their subsequent import to Indonesia. This did not happen so the risk of disease either through contact or airborne pathogens remains real.

It just goes to show that some people will go to any length to make a buck or two. Interestingly, the Bill of Lading suggests that the scrap rubber in the form of rubbers is in fact new waste. This is interesting because the definition of new waste seems to be 'newly used' waste rather than the offcuts and other unsuitable for sale condoms. There are more than 25,000 kilograms of them sitting in this container at the Tanjung Priok port. It is unlikely that Customs was contemplating the import of used condoms when it was permitted for scrap rubber to be imported.

Anyway, a decision is pending.

10 December 2007

Dissolving State Institutions - KPK

The recent selection process to choose the five new commissioners of the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi / KPK) has concluded with the choosing of the Chairperson. The Chairperson was a controversial choice even as a member of the commission let alone as its Chairperson. The general reaction from the community has been negative. Even with calls to have the KPK disbanded and remembered only in the annals of history.

Yet, even with the controversy which has been as much conjecture and rumor as substantiated factual evidence. The reality is that if the evidence is available then it should be made public and the persons it involves called to account. The bickering over the process being political is naive at best. Another unfortunate reality for those so bitterly complaining about the individuals chosen must remember that it is their representatives, those very people elected by them, who are tasked with appointing five of the more than 1000 applicants to the KPK.

Even of the performance of the new KPK is bad then there is quite obviously a degree of accountability that must be assumed by the Commission III of the House of Representatives as it was this Commission that was tasked with vetting the applicants through interviews as well as a fit and proper test. The hope is that this KPK will do better than the last KPK, but this is an eternal hope of humanity that the next generation is and does better than the generation previous. If it is not then we go back to the drawing board and see how we can do things differently in an attempt to get them right.

Nevertheless, this begs the question: Is the solution to all of Indonesia's myriad problems as simple as disbanding an institution if it does not work as it is supposed to or does not provide the result that it should or does not achieve as much as it might? Because if this is the case then the House of Representatives must be disbanded because of the slow pace at which it passes legislation, the courts must be disbanded because they work too slowly and do not always satisfy the communities expectations, the police force and the public prosecution service must be disbanded because they do not achieve outcomes as they are expected to. While we are disbanding things all NGOs are to be disbanded as well because they too have failed in their primary mission of advocating for the little person and making our lives better.

Disbanding the organization is not the way to go...making organizations more effective in accomplishing their respective tasks is the key. There is a need for greater institutional support, public - private partnerships, and a greater role for civil society. If over time these things are allowed to evolve then the outcomes we all so badly want to see will come to fruition in our lifetimes.

Disbanding the KPK is not the answer...the answer is in selecting the right candidates for the job. If the House cannot do the job then the selection process needs to be looked at in terms of how it can be improved.

There is also a need for qualified candidates with corruption fighting credentials to toss their collective hats into the ring and face the selection music. Standing on the outside looking in makes it easy to criticise hiding behind the cover of oversight. If you see it as being broken then you need to have the courage of your convictions to step in and fix it, or at least try. Yet, it is easier to stand on the outside because one is not constrained by the bureaucracy or the law but can make broad ranging statements appealing to the intense emotions that corruption cases generate. It is an unfortunate consequence that the law sometimes provides a legally correct outcome but does not provide the justice that the community craves or perhaps even deserves.

There is no greater calling than public service. The idea of giving back to a community that has given us so much is an honorable pursuit. This reminds me of Robert F. Kennedy who said "each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope...". If each of us was to send forth a tiny ripple of hope our world would be a much greater place for our efforts. So, perhaps it is time that we collectively ask in the words of George Bernard Shaw "Some men see things as they are and say 'Why?' I dream things that never were and say, 'Why not?'"

06 December 2007

Tragedy and Loss...

Today is not a good day! One of my dogs, Chockie, died suddenly this morning...Some of you might be inclined to think, "Snap out of it! It was just a dog!", how little do you understand the concept of a dog being a person's best friend! Those of you who have owned a pet and loved it like you love a family member will understand my loss and grief. The loss is raw and it is tragic because it was so sudden but it is also so new. This is probably the best time for me to write.

It is easy to say that she had a good life and the like but when it is all said and done she was but eight years old...that equates to 56 dog years but as far as I am concerned it was still way too early! The Zen Buddhism, fatalistic view of 'shit happens' does not quite fit the bill. I am probably more fatalistic about the life and death of people than I am of my own dog.

Chock had been a part of our family for eight years...it is strange how you recall the first couple of days after we 'found' her as a puppy. There was an intent that she would be an 'outside' dog but persistent crying and barking got her inside and she had been spoiled ever since.

Dogs truly are a person's best friend. They are loyal and they listen no matter what your complaint and they take it all in their stride. They snuggle up when your down and they make you laugh when you are sad. To lose that kind of companionship and friendship is the hardest part, it is the toughest.

Our dogs have been a part of our family and they are our children. If you can imagine the loss of a child then you can imagine the loss that we feel right at this moment.

I am sure over time I will remember the good times and they will overwhelm the grief and sadness that I feel today. The tears that I shed today will one day, I hope, be replaced with smiles as I recall the fun and games that we played, but that day is not today.

Perhaps life goes on but today I just want to be sad and to grieve the loss of a trusted and true friend and family member.

I miss you already Chock...safe journey to that big old puppy dog heaven in the sky!