Thursday, May 30, 2024 | 18:59 WIB

A brief note from Haikou

Jakarta, IO – Haikou is the capital of Hainan Province, an island off southern China with a tropical climate, but otherwise like most islands. When I arrived here at the end of March, the weather was similar to that of Bekasi or Jakarta: hot and sunny. I asked my friend who welcomed me at the hotel where I stayed if Haikou, and Hainan as a whole, experienced winter. Of course, the response was “yes.” However, unlike other parts of China, where winter is marked by snowfall, Hainan only experiences moderately low temperatures, approximately 10–15 degrees Celsius. For those who are used to temperatures ranging from 30-34 degrees Celsius, this is enough to make us shiver. 

I went to Haikou to accept an invitation from the China Institute for Reform and Development, or CIRD, a private think tank. The host, as usual, provided round-trip plane tickets and accommodations. And, as is frequently the case in my personal experience, I figured I would be staying in a temporary motel while the event was held elsewhere. I was wrong. The 3rd Training Seminar on Blue Economy Development Capability-Building under the Framework of RCEP, to which I was invited, had both the training event location and participant and speaker accommodations in the same complex. 

Apparently, the accommodation is still part of the office complex of the non-profit institution. For an NGO, it occupies quite a spacious land area consisting of two buildings: one with 7 floors and the other with 11 floors, with a total number of rooms of more than 200. The accommodation, the CIRD International Center for Academic Exchanges, is categorized as a four-star hotel, with another 5-story building located right next to the hotel building. The 5-story building serves as the offices of CIRCUMCISED, along with all its affiliated institutions, such as the China Institute for Trade Ports with Chinese Characteristics and the Judicial Research Center for Hainan Free Trade Port. Between the two buildings, there is a two-story building designated for classroom spaces with seating arrangements as in cinemas. 

Siswanto Rusdi
Siswanto Rusdi, Director of National Maritime Institute (NAMARIN), an independent maritime think tank in Jakarta

In line with the event’s main subject of the blue economy, I presented the government’s and all stakeholders’ efforts to digitize ports. From the topic’s perspective, digitalization (across all fields, not only the port sector) can be categorized as a blue economy activity because it minimizes the use of resources such as paper and petrol. Given the port sector’s historically high usage of paper and fuel, shifting to a paperless and fuel-free system will undoubtedly have a significant impact on company finances. 

So far, port digitization in Indonesia is based on two platforms: the Indonesia National Single Window (INSW) and Inaportnet. The former falls under the auspices of the Ministry of Finance, while the latter is under the Ministry of Transportation. In theory, INSW is responsible for import and export documentation, whereas Inaportnet is in charge of technical issues in shipping. Ironically, despite having their own roles, both overlap in their authority. Consider this situation: both INSW and Inaportnet request a bill of lading. Not that it’s forbidden. But different institutions asking for similar information may become a little too annoying. The platform users may wonder why the systems request similar information multiple times. 

Redundancy, duplication, lack of integration, and several other issues continue to impede the progress of port digitization in Indonesia. I suspect this occurs because the government, as the initiator of both platforms, has yet to properly understand the maritime business process and model. They involve consultants with multiple views and inputs, yet sectoral egos are still prominent when it comes to decision-making. 

Port digitization in Indonesia is indeed carried out by the government. Unfortunately, developers tend to set themselves up as bureaucrats rather than as users. As a result, the previously-outlined situation develops. In other cases, the business world would initiate and execute digitalization, with the government, typically customs offices, merely participating. 

This policy allows the government to not spend any funds on developing a system with clearly considerable investment value. Although I do not know the exact figures for INSW and Inaportnet, billions, if not trillions, of dollars have undoubtedly been invested in their development. And how about the results? One of them would be manual operations that continue to use physical documents, as in paper usage, particularly for bills of lading (B/L). 

It is difficult to track port digitalization in Indonesia. If the launch of the Indonesia National Single Window (INSW), which has been running since 2007, is taken as a benchmark, it means we have been digitizing ports for fourteen years. 

In comparison to our neighboring country, Singapore, their equivalent to the INSW platform, Tradenet, launched in 2000, which clearly puts our country as a teen in this matter. But using this condition as an excuse? I don’t know. 

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The trip to Haikou was not just for giving lectures. I was taken to inspect the new ferry port, Xinhai Port, which occupies about 56 hectares, while the terminal building covers around 83,200 square meters. This is the first time I have seen such a huge ferry terminal, most likely called a crossing, in our country. This extensive facility serves the traffic between Hainan Island and mainland China, with Zhanjiang City, Guangdong Province, being the nearest mainland area to this island. The terminal is capable of handling 3.2 million vehicles and 35 million passengers. Not sure if these figures are per year or per month. And the port’s digitalization status? Don’t ask. This is an extremely advanced, modern facility. 

To some extent, the crossings in our country have also improved, both tangibly and intangibly, thanks to online ticket sales. However, similar to the journey of INSW/Inaportnet, it is still in its early stages, with many shortcomings.