Speaking in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan on Friday, Manpower Minister M. Hanif Dhakiri said he will limit the foreign workforce hoping to enter Indonesia in order to give an advantage to the domestic workforce, who already represent 99.97% of workers. It was not revealed how further reducing the mere 65,000 foreign workers in the world’s 4th most populous country will help the average worker, but Dhakiri eagerly assured a bunch of Banjar coal-miners it would. Therefore, you had best advise your friends in Japan, the UK and New Zealand to give up their dreams of becoming coal miners in Borneo, because it just isn’t going to happen.
“I am preparing a related regulation regarding the limitation of foreign workers, which would involve restrictions on foreign worker placement in several companies in Indonesia,” the foreigner-bashing Mr. Dhakiri said, as quoted by Antara news agency.
According to the minister, foreign workers in domestic firms had to be “regulated and controlled” and “had to be official and legal”. One of the conditions in the proposed regulation, added Hanif, will require all foreign workers working in Indonesia to be able to speak the Indonesian language. This is now the third time he has announced this Bahasa Indonesia test, but he has yet to produce it. It was originally due to be released in February but no sign of this test has yet emerged and we are halfway through March. Hopefully Indonesian workers will not follow the incompetent and tardy work style of the Manpower Ministry himself; the benefits of this new ‘policy’ for the country are liable to be slim if all workers complete tasks several months behind schedule. Clearly, leading by example is not one of his strengths.
In all seriousness, the new administration of Joko Widodo has been making some very xenophobic noises, which seems to contradict their earlier promises to advance a pro-investment agenda. Protectionist impulses seem to be gaining the upper hand, and the new President’s team is increasingly giving the impression that their only economic plan for Indonesia is to be horrid to foreigners. There is actually a history of this with the PDI-P, Joko’s party, especially with regards to his patron, Party Chairperson, Megawati Soekarnoputri. During her term as President from 2001-2004, GDP growth in Indonesia barely crawled along and she was regarded as very hostile to business, preferring to dictate economic policy in a high-handed way. She is, of course, the daughter of Indonesia’s first President, a man whose final years in power were characterized by economic chaos and highly inflammatory anti-Western rhetoric. Encouraging protesters to throw rocks at Western embassies was one of his favored solutions to the country’s economic woes. He had driven out a lot of expats in the 1950s and the country simply did not have the technical know-how to run the country without them.
While Indonesia may not be as vulnerable to economic mayhem as it was in the early 1960s or late 1990s, it is becoming clear that the markets are not impressed. When Joko first won the elections 4 months ago, the rupiah was at 11,500 rupiah to the dollar and has now slid to 13.200 rupiah in a few short months. So far it is the worst performing currency in Asia of 2015 and it is at its lowest level since the economic melt-down of 1998. It is also worth noting that efforts at corruption eradication have taken severe setback as high-ranking police in Megawati’s inner circle have hounded the KPK (Anti-Corruption Commission) with dubious charges that they sat on for a decade. Every acting commissioner was charged after the KPK revealed that Budi Gunawan, a close personal friend of Mega, had an unexplained $5 million deposit in his child’s bank account. All of this creates an impression of severe dysfunction and corruption at the heart of Joko’s administration and it is hard to be sanguine about the coming months at this stage.