Indonesia, in need of a leader who brings in optimism and change

Rizal Ramli

IO – Optimism is something we all need, both in our personal lives and in State administration. Optimism is the hope that the future will be better. It must be admitted that President Widodo did generate amazing optimism in 2014. Imagine, a man from an ordinary family could rise to the position of Mayor, Governor, and even made it to President – a President with a simple style and appearance, especially since President Widodo promised to fight for the Development Trinity of Food, Energy, and Financial Sovereignty.

After four years, the optimism generated by Pak Widodo continues to fade, day by day. In fact, in many cases people feel that a better life eludes them even further. Economic growth went stagnant at 5%, people’s buying power declines, and the reduction of poverty is at its lowest level since reforms. Widodo has only reduced poverty for 450,000 people a year. Compare this to President Gus Dur, who succeeded in reducing poverty for 5.05 million people per annum, Habibie for 1.5 million people per annum, Mega for 570,000 people per annum, and SBY for 840,000 people per annum.

The low level of poverty eradication during Widodo’s era is caused by the fact that the lines of his economic policy have strayed from the ideals of the Development Trinity. This is most apparent from the fact that his import policies are lawless, and because he eliminated subsidies for 450 VA and 900 VA electricity. Furthermore, macro-economic risks have worsened within the past 2 years. Our trade balance deficit is USD -8.57 billion in 2018, and our current transaction deficit is USD -9.1 billion in Q4 of 2018. The 2018 current transaction deficit is the worst within the past 4.5 years.

Widodo’s failure to achieve food and financial sovereignty is caused by lack of consistency and coordination between the purpose, the strategies, the policies, and the personnel. Let alone achieving food sovereignty, we perform lawless food imports to the detriment of our own farmers. The aspiration for food independence is betrayed by such import policies and the appointment of shameless rent seekers as officials.

Let alone achieving financial sovereignty, our debts actually burgeoned at one of the highest yield rates throughout Asia-Pacific. The aspiration for financial independence is likewise betrayed by extravagant foreign loan policies and the appointment of financial officials who love to grant high yields, at 2%-3% higher than that of countries with lower ratings than Indonesia, such as the Philippines and Vietnam. Other than being a criminal offence, such actions are also made purely for personal glorification.

Widodo has succeeded in constructing many infrastructure projects. Some of these are actually beneficial for the people – they have strategic value, especially for reducing the development gap between Java Island and areas outside of Java. However, there are equally many with potential loss that the people must subsidize anyway, such as the Java Northern Coast (Pantai Utara Jawa – “Pantura”) toll road project (a loss of Rp 380 billion/year) and the Palembang monorail project (a loss of Rp 9 billion/month). Such cases are a stark example of “the people for infrastructure” instead of “infrastructure for the people”. This is what happens when planning is ineffective and powerless under “dawuh pandito ratu” (“what the king decrees, goes”).

Widodo’s speech in Sentul the other day merely repeated what other speeches said: a report of his many “achievements” supported with sloppy and doubtful credibility data. Like in the Presidential Candidate Debate II, many data items were random and inaccurate, and tended towards hoax. This is just Widodo’s bad habit of over-claiming his achievements, supported by his toady inner circles.

Widodo was also too smug and less than truthful when he claimed that “the Village Fund started from Jokowi”. This is patently, untrue, because the Village Fund is mandated by the Village Law of 2013, which allocates a specific fund for the care and development of villages at Rp 1 billion per village.

The Village Law was something generated by the efforts of village headman associations, especially Parade Nusantara with its General Chairman Sudir Santoso and Chairman of Consultation Council Dr. Rizal Ramli, since 2011. Discussions about this Law was much smoother with the assistance of Marwan Ja’far, the Chairman of the National Awakening Party (Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa – “PKB”) Faction; Ahmad Muqoam, the Head of the Special Committee from the United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan – “PPP”), and Chairman of the People’s House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – “DPR”) Marzuki Alie.

The law is felt to become more and more unfair every day – it is only strict and firm against the people who have different opinion from, and critical towards, those in power. Indonesia’s democratic index crashed from the 49th rank in 2014 to the 65th rank in 2018. State administration in daily life has become shallow: all issues are discussed within the frame for maintaining the interests of those in power, instead of the interest of the people and justice. Such antagonistic or unfair practices cause divisions among the people, who become more confrontative in turn.

After more than 4 years, Widodo is proven to have failed due to the lack of unity among his stated purposes, his strategies, his policies, and his personnel. Widodo’s speech in Sentul was less than honest, because it fails to acknowledge the failures that have occurred. If he were a real man, Widodo should have dared to apologize and change strategies. If he does that, then we can see renewed hope and optimism for our country. However, Widodo refused to do so, causing his failures to further incur pessimism and bury any hope. This is regrettable, because the core of leadership is to perform in such a way that generate hope and optimism among the people. Therefore, leaders must be able to reflect, introspect, and speak honestly to acknowledge their imperfections and failures and do something to correct them.