Indonesia’s Incoherent Administration

In November 2014, a mere 2 months ago, Indonesia’s new president Jokowi laid out his vision for Indonesia at a press conference held immediately after his first ever Cabinet meeting. At the conference he said some sensible, forward-looking stuff. He said that his priority for Indonesia was attracting more foreign investment, which would help to rebuild and expand Indonesia’s crumbling infrastructure. He told journalists that he was encouraging his cabinet ministers to “think big” and hoped that they would clear the way for new projects rather than tying them up with bureaucratic red tape. He even encouraged governors from all 34 provinces to open a “one stop shop” for business investors, making the process of investing in the country much less burdensome. So far, so good, right?

Fast forward two months, however, and what has come of these bold new plans? What we have is Manpower boasting about their plans to stop foreign labour from “swamping and overwhelming Indonesia”. Their notion of “think big” is to dust off a widely discredited 2003 plan to make all foreign workers in Indonesia pass a TOIFL test, requiring “mastery of Indonesian”, before they will be given a legal work visa (KITAS). Rather than making it easily for investors to start new projects, Manpower has announced a huge new hoop for prospective workers to jump through.

This Bahasa Indonesia fluency requirement completely contradicts the pro-investment vision laid out by Jokowi. It appears that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing in the Jokowi administration and departments are free to announce xenophobic new regulations which violate the spirit of Jokowi’s professed vision. This kind of shambolic, ad-hoc, contradictory decision-making is exactly what has scared investors off Indonesia in the past. Like it or not, English, not Indonesian, is the language of international business, and making preposterous pronouncements that expatriates should swat up on the use of the passive voice in Bahasa Indonesia are so much nationalistic mumbo jumbo.

If Jokowi is serious about developing Indonesia as an open society, he needs to get rid of these proposed regulations as quickly as possible. They just reinforce the impression that Indonesia is rigid, intolerant and xenophobic. This requirement can only damage Indonesia’s reputation in business circles and amount to nothing more than another pointless hurdle for economic development in the country.

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