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A Quick Fix

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The penchant for quick fixes in this country is quite remarkable. Nothing ever seems to be a problem but everything can be arranged (‘bisa diatur’). Hence while the rest of the world has long been busy writing its history and preparing itself for the impending end of the millennium and the apocalypse that might go with it, here things plod along with the complacency of the innocent and the arrogance of one confident of his ability overcome any adversity.

The penchant for quick fixes in this country is quite remarkable. Nothing ever seems to be a problem but everything can be arranged (‘bisa diatur’). Hence while the rest of the world has long been busy writing its history and preparing itself for the impending end of the millennium and the apocalypse that might go with it, here things plod along with the complacency of the innocent and the arrogance of one confident of his ability overcome any adversity.

And if something does need fixing, then a new regulation will be issued forthwith without much fuss or prior discussions, and most likely, on the eleventh hour. If the regulation doesn’t work, then it is simply postponed or revoked, whichever is the most convenient. It is as if deep down, nothing is ever really a problem, but merely a slight inconvenience that could easily be remedied.

Take for example the recent deregulation measures. These were designed with a view to reduce the cost of doing business and increase efficiency and competitiveness of domestic producers by reducing the amount of taxes and import tariffs businesses have to fork out. Not only do these measures should have been implemented a long way back (or some of the taxes shouldn’t have been there to begin with), but the assumption that these new regulations are the panacea needed to make the country ready to face Afta and free trade is both naïve and unrealistic. Unsound business practices, corrupt mentalities of government officials, poor product quality and bad distribution, these are some of the reasons that make locally-made goods uncompetitive, and unfortunately they are not problems that can be fixed overnight.

Or the new regulation on the banning of new loans for land acquisition and land development as a way of curbing profit-seeking developers and preventing the bottom from falling out of the property market. This measure to ensure the less well-off will not be deprived of a chance to own a bit of space, (loans are allowed for cheap public housing) is about as effective as a band-aid to cure cancer. Land issues are fundamental problems which should have been addressed with more thought and seriousness a long time ago as they directly affect the distribution of wealth and welfare of the people not to mention the cause of much social unrests.

If anything, the government should have long made it a priority to ensure that original landowners get adequate compensation by developers wanting to profit by developing and reselling the land. After all the boom in the property market itself started off with the idea that land acquired on the cheap is a future goldmine that is worth investing in.

It is therefore, rather strange to put the onus on the banks (which incidentally are very liquid at the moment and badly need to invest in something) to police land purchases (which incidentally is very profitable especially in this side of the java island). Moreover, if there are some unscrupulous developers who say that they are building fifty-square meter rabbit hutches for the economically-challenged but actually end up building five-hundred square meter palaces, will it be on the bank’s head to bring the developer to justice or will the bank itself be penalized.

There are many examples of regulations and measures being imposed which prove to be inapplicable simply because they have no bearing on reality: remember the traffic regulation that caused uproar? And the proposed mining regulation for foreign companies that ended up being dropped like a hot potato. And whatever happened to the broadcasting bill? It was supposed to have been passed months ago but now some are saying that a few things should still be tinkered with here and there.

Government policies and regulations should not be unfathomable mysteries or little surprises devised so as to be seen to be doing something constructive when the need arises, as the chance for them to be off the mark, untimely, ineffective and superficial, is a lot greater. Ideally they should grow out of strategic planning within the framework of the greater vision of where the country is going, and not hostage to the whims and fancy of individuals blinkered to their own inadequacies and lack of insight.

Before passing regulations, it is actually a good idea to get as many people involved in their drawing up as possible if only to get a general feel of what will be accepted or not, and what will be applicable or not. The government’s refusal to go beyond the superficial and dig deep to the fundamentals is a disease which may be benign when kept on home grounds but could be fatal once the country has to face international scrutiny.

The people here are good natured enough to be led to believe that the vehicle they’re being driven in is a luxury car which, like the national philosophy, is unique and distinctly Indonesian. However, one can be sure that other less sensitive and sharp-eyed outsiders are only too happy to point out that not only is the vehicle a rickety old cart, but it also has a wheel missing.

Desi Anwar 10th July 1997

(The Indonesian Observer)

 

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