Friday, May 12, 2006

Wong Cilik

Before any elections, the candidates usually go all out to woo the electorates with promises of beautiful dreams, nice slogans and in some cases offered monetary compensation for voting for them. Usually the candidates give wild offers that seemed unrealistic like free education, cheap medicine, social justice and food for the poor and many other creative programs. After the election and they return to power, not many efforts made to improve the well being of the people.

Indonesian has been the nation of coolies, “en natie van coolies”. In the past, Indonesian was the collies of the imperialistic colonial Dutch and currently, become the coolies of the rich conglomerates, the coolies of political parties and in short become a mere commodity. The poverty and other plagues besieged our nation has become the commodities to be exploited by the elites.

In the period of 1999 to 2004, we can witness how our political elites and parliamentarians elected chosen to unite and fight for the interest of their parties. Today, it is not much better. The parliamentarians are busy fighting for their personal agenda and sidelined major issues which required their attention. Take for example the cases of Exxon Mobil in Cepu, Freeport in Papua and Newmont in Sulawesi.

There are motions by some political parties like PDI-P and PAN to start motions against granting them the right to exploration and the parliamentarians initially sound critical as well. Few weeks later, the motions just evaporated as if there is no motion at all. The parliamentarians are too busy with their personal gains and could not care much about the affairs of the state.

Another development worth our attention is the gathering of 148 mayors from various municipals that are elected under the banner of PDI-P with Ms Megawati delivering the message. I don’t really know what Ms Megawati told them but as a common citizen, I saw this as an attempt to coordinate, align the directions of the mayors to that of the party.

The question is then whether they intend to carry the mandate of the people or help Ms Megawati to secure Presidency in the coming election. I strongly feel that parliamentarians and mayors elected should not see themselves more of party members but rather the representative of their electorates.

The people have suffered enough of injustice both socially and politically. They become poor because of the ignorance of their welfare by those who they elect. It is the most unfortunate for them. As a nation, we have long been oppressed. As a nation, we have revolted against many institutions to bring ourselves the rights, justice and equality. But as a nation, we always see ourselves trapped in the wheel of greed, bad governance and other maltreatment. The sacrifices of our brothers seemed to seem to be fruitless.

Reflection on the recycling activitiy

On last Sunday, I found myself working together with many people in Thomson to collect newspapers for recycling. Most of them are in their 50s or even older. How can it be fun at all? Upon my arrival at that area, I said to myself “Gosh, what on earth am I doing in the midst of them.”

Nonetheless, I tried to do what I am supposed to do. We were separated into groups to collect old newspapers, clothes and other electronics devices as we moved from blocks to blocks of HDB flats. It was not an easy task because there were so many newspapers to be moved from the residents’ doorstep to the void deck and later on, to the van.

After the activity was over and a truckload of newspaper was collected, we went for lunch. The lunch was cooked by some of the Tzu Chi members to be shared by all. It was a time for all of us to interact and knows more of each others more. We talked about how we felt, our tiredness to move the newspapers and most of all, the joy of being able to complete the activity successfully.

Only then I started to reflect about the whole thing. I realized that I was working with a group of old but young at heart people. They were older but more enthusiastic than me. And the fact that they were willing to sacrifice their Sunday morning for charity activity showed that their altruistic attitude to help the unfortunate people around them. They were happy, cheerful and energetic despite their age.

I think that unlike other organizations, Tzu Chi is helping people regardless of their race, religion and others. Neither does it require the participants nor the recipient of the fund raised to accept certain religion. During the entire activity, the theme of religion played a backseat. What all of us have in mind is just to help the less fortunate ones and to ease their burden.

Like the John Lennon’s song Imagine, I do hope that someday you will join us.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Pak Harto and Indonesia under his rule

Pak Harto is sick again and perhaps can die at any time. The ex strongman still draw a lot of attention from the mass media. He is one of the extraordinary leaders that have a large impact on the Indonesian society. I respect him. I admire him. Looking at him with his frail body chatting with Dr Mahatir Mohamad created a mixed feeling within me. Sympathetic on one hand and disappointment on the other.

He has brought so much from the Indonesian and taken a lot either. Indonesian mass media and general public are so frustrated with him that they lambasted Pak Harto with criticism and harsh comments yet forget to mention his achievements at the same time. I think this would be rather unfair to him, as he brought millions from poverty since he took over and Indonesia in post riot 1999 is in much better shape than in 1965.

During his tenure, Indonesia experienced remarkable economic growth. Although it is said that the growth only enjoyed by the privileged few, that development in fact feeds millions. Job opportunities are everywhere and the people in general need not worry whether there will be food to eat on the following day. Whatever the damage caused by corruption, collusion and nepotism, much of the country’s resources were devoted to investment in agricultural and infrastructures. The stable and relatively turbulence free environment made Indonesia a favorite destination among foreign investors.

In terms of education, the quality of education is still pathetic compared to neighboring countries, but if we are looking for the infrastructure and education opportunity, there is much breakthrough. Schools are being built in the inaccessible villages. When I went to a remote village 3 hours from Los Palos (Los Palos is 5 hours drive from Dilli), East Timor, I can still see the school buildings stand still to serve the needs of the people.

There is a big development in terms of health services. Infant mortality rate is down significantly. In villagers, the Posyandu and Puskesmas (health outposts) have successfully provided cheap medical services to the poor people. Mdm Suharto’s contribution and motivation in this area is significant. Nutritional needs and medicines are readily available at subsidized rates. There may be some abuses here and there, but then at the end of the day, the ordinary folks still able to enjoy proper healthcare.

His record on the political front is dismal. He used the Army and police force to keep peace and eliminate dissidents at the façade of national security and unity. This is good in the sense that there is stability, but it makes Indonesian become afraid to think, stop to challenge the institution and this lack of regeneration make the institution slipped into decay with no young people being prepared fro future leadership. Controlling the news and media through Department of Information, he silenced the opposition voices and closed down critical magazines.

Artificial ideas of Pancasila and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) become the raison d’étre to repress pluralism and engineer solid authoritarian regime. The rigid and fixed framework of Pak Harto’s Pancasila Democracy is one that cannot accommodate change and respond to the new challenge as people are clamoring for more say, seek greater human rights, accountability and guarantee to prosperity. Ultimately, the oppression of diversity for the sake of unity caused institutional failure and breakdown in the political machinery of the country.

These mixed, positive and negative development under Pak Harto administration is the thing that makes me wonder whether the media and the country has accorded to him the proper degree of respect and gratefulness. He may be the greatest corruptor of our age. He may be the general that outmaneuver the late President Sukarno. He may be the one that silenced many dissident voices. But at the same time, he is the leader who accompanied Indonesia on a long and treacherous journey towards development.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Not getting better

It is quite sad to know that the people of East Timor are getting further away from their dreams. When they elected to be independent from Indonesia, they were hoping for a better future. East Timor today is at a worse situation from the days prior to referendum. I say this not only from the fact of recent violence, but also look at the fact that East Timor is no longer receiving much help and attention from the people who supported its independence.

Recent violence that is downplayed by Foreign Minister Ramos Horta not merely shows the dissatisfied minority, but also the division between the various factions that made up of the government. The 600 ex militants that are recruited into the army are dismissed from their post and they expressed their unhappiness through staging demonstration. Within the existing army, the “Eastern” faction who are from the Eastern part of East Timor and contributed a lot to the past insurrection movement is unhappy with their “Western” counterpart because of their equal treatment within the military.

The standard of living of the people is not getting better either. There has not been any news about foreign companies making big investment in East Timor. Neither does there is any indication of building of new factories. According to my friends there, there are almost little or no developmental projects in the country. Corruption is still as rampant as before. Minister Ramos Horta once mentioned in an interview that “in the future we are going to have a lot of money” from the oil exploration, but the question is that is he certain that Australia is really making big concession for East Timor after “investing” so much in helping him to be independent country.

Most of the countries that is helping East Timor in the past is not driven by their desire to secure human rights and democracy and prosperity of the East Timorese, but rather their own self interest. Portugal, Australia and United Nation used to be at the front line condemning Indonesia’s past actions and seemed to appear always there for East Timorese. But now where are they? Australia is more concern about getting a better share of the Greater Sunrise Oil Fields. United Nation is more concern about supporting American’s international adventure and Portugal perhaps is more concern about their world cup success.

I have to admit that Indonesia has committed a lot of sins and should seek forgiveness because of that. Human rights abuse and bad governance seemed to be the problem during the harsh Indonesian period, but at least the East Timorese need not to be concern whether they have food on their table. During that time, the economic activity in Pante Makassar, Dili, Los Palos and other cities were much more bustling that today. I still remember when I was there and invited for a dinner at my friends’ houses. They eat mostly plain rice with steamed spinach and sambal. They used to be able to have meat in the past.

I think East Timorese still have to endure a long period of sufferings. Their leaders are busy to go before international forum to assure international community that they are capable of governing, their parliamentarians are busy quarrelling in the parliament with no concrete solutions produced, and their military is facing internal infighting for dominance. Who really care about them?

Perhaps until a certain time, the East Timorese will start to think whether they have taken the correct course of action. I believe that at one time in their life, they will think whether their struggle for independence is meaningful. They will start to ponder why it is getting more and more difficult to make a living and that the international community is no longer there to support them financially. Then they will reconsider the reunion with their old brother.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Obituary from home: Pramoedya Ananta Toer

The news of the death of great Indonesian writer seemed to be overshadowed by the workers’ mass rally on the following day. He used to pick up arms to fight for our independence. He used to use his ink to pen the injustice, the wrong things that we have committed as a nation. But instead of proper recognition, he was jailed, exiled until 1970s because the government then was too sensitive to his critiques. But strange as it is, most of his great literary works were written during his exile at Pulau Buru.

I have never read any single novels of his, but I got to know about Pak Pram through the interviews in the media and the ideas that he stand for in some books. “Hoakiaw” (means Chinese immigrant), and “Rasialisme Anti-Tionghoa dan Percobaan Menjawabnya” are only two of his works that served as a testament to his efforts to fight against the injustice and prejudice that the state imposed on the Chinese Indonesian. I have not read the book, but from the excerpt of the book that is discussed in the media, I am shocked at the complexity of his thoughts, his sympathy for the Chinese and in fact, because of that he was exiled.

He deserved to be called the great sastrawan (artist) of Indonesia. I believe that he deserve a place equal to that of the late Nurcholis Madjid or commonly known as Cak Nur. Both of them were the informal leaders of the society, unofficially looked up by the masses for advice, for information and enlightenment. Pak Pram is able to illustrate vividly the conditions faced by the people from time to time and in short, the journey of our big nation.

He had known no fear. Despite his exile and home arrest, they do not make him slown down, less critical and bow down before the government’s pressure. Instead he kept on writing as he once mention, “I write what I like to write.”

Pak Pram’s literary skill is undeniable. His skill is acknowledged by many foreigners. His works are published in more than 20 languages. He does not ask fro the state to recognize, give him award and live on government stipend. Many of his peers, like Mochtar Lubis, Taufik Ismail and Gunawan Mohamad recognized the superior quality of his works. The most important thing for him, as he said, is not whether the government will reward his work, but rather for his art works to gain acceptance and appreciation ffrom the Indonesian.

The death of Pak Pram is not a mere loss for the Indonesian society, but I believe that it is also a loss for the Chinese Indonesian. He spared a thought for the Chinese under the risk of being branded a communist. He did write an article to fight the racism because he thinks that it is the right thing to do.

Pak Pram, your may have passed away, but your works, ideas and contribution for the Chinese community shall never fade away.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Thinking about Singapore's general election

This is the first time in Singapore where the government is not brought back to power on the Nomination Day. This year the Opposition contested for more than 50% of the seats in the Parliament. I noticed that one of the main arguments that the Opposition raised is that the people should vote for them so as to deny the Government a clean sheet and unopposed in Parliament. Weird as it is, the Government responds by stressing the need of First World government, First World parliament and that the Opposition is not qualified enough. Then there comes a question, whether Singapore really needs Opposition?

The main argument for the need of Opposition is to serve as check and balance of power in the parliament, to control the government so as to work for the benefits of the People. In Singapore, the Government has been working hard to serve the people. Housing estate upgrades, affordable amenities, access to HDB, high standard of living and others benefits serve as a testament to the fact that the Government has been serving the people that voted for it. The lack of Opposition’s presence in the Parliament does not make the government out of control. In fact, the check and balances in within the Government itself is so stringent that the Government cannot act unconstitutionally.

Another argument for Opposition’s participation is the need for a diversity of view in the Parliament. Some may argued that one party may not be representative of what the people think and fulfill their needs. In contrast to that, the Member of Parliament actually serves their constituents rather than serve their affiliated political party. PAP is the umbrella of their existence, but the MPs are serving their electorates. The MPs meet the people regularly on their respective GRC to understand the problems faced by the people at the grassroots level. The MPs are not out of touch with the ground. Their regular presence at the Meet the People session is sufficient prove to show that the MPs are working for the people. If the MPs are not working for the people, I am skeptical that the people will vote for them in the elections.

Some people seemed to think that in order to prevent the emergence of authoritarian government who rule with a growing unrest of the ruled, there is a crying need for an effective institution in Parliament (means more opposition). Government without opposition may pose a threat to the Holy Doctrine of Democracy. This is true in many proven cases in Indonesia and Phillipines which saw the emergence of ex strongman Suharto and Ferdinand Marcos.

This is a valid concern indeed, but I am skeptical this is an issue in Singapore today. For the past few decades, PAP is the dominant force in the Parliament and in the country. There are many opportunities for its leaders to become dictators and autocrats, but past history showed that they are able to resist. Furthermore, the reason why the President of Singapore is appointed is to safeguard the constitution of the country. Presidency, besides the Legislative and Judiciary body, became the balancing force to prevent the emergence of dictators.

Despite that, I feel that there worries of foreign observers are justified. They concern about the lack of openness of the society due to the restriction in the freedom of expression and the control of media by the government. The use of defamation law has silenced many oppositions and bar them for elections.
But if we are to see Singapore today, do the people really give a damn about that? Does Singaporean really want a free speech and the excesses of Western ideals? I doubt so. I believe that what they want is a stable government, job security and material possessions. And the government that they voted for is able to fulfill their needs. The Government of Singapore until today has proven they are working for and representing the interest of the people. Isn’t that shows the concept of Democracy?

Singapore leaders are astute enough to stand still and not to embrace the Western Ideals in a wholesale manner. Otherwise, “there is a marketplace of ideas and there is chaos.”

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hoo haa of the Labour Law

Last month, when the government discussed about revising the Labor Law, many workers came to street and protest against it. They believed that the Law would be extremely unfavorable to them as the severance pay is significantly reduced and it will be easier for companies to fire workers. Another issue that is critical but not debated is the wages policy.

On one hand, the workers are clamoring for their rights, fighting for greater benefits and urging the government to offer them greater protection against unfair labor practices by the firms. On the other hand, the business community prefers a cheap labor and less stringent labor law which will offer them greater competitive advantage over foreign firms. The government, as the referee of the game stands at the center and its voice seemed to be divided.

President Yudhoyono mentioned that the business community should not merely consider workers as a mere factor of production. Business owners should be concern about the welfare of the workers. Perhaps what Mr President wanted is a business that treat the workers as integral part of the company, in short one big family akin to the old corporate America style. Old Corporate America, as championed by Hendry Ford, Rockefeller, Sam Walton, Andrew Carnegie and others adopted a paternalistic approach towards the workers. They believed that they have the obligation to take care of the workers. There was no strict Labor Law then but the Old American Fathers guided by their ethical values voluntarily provided benefits to their workers.

Vice President Yusuf Kalla is defending the need for the revision of the Labor Law. He believed that the world today is changing fast and faced with harsh competition from cheap labor countries, businesses in Indonesia is powerless to pose any competitions. Indonesia’s core competence in the past was the cheap labor cost and favorable labor law. Taking these elements away mean that there is no reason for the capitalists to invest in Indonesia.

I believe that it is rather myopic when Vice President would try to make the business environment more attractive through a more flexible Labor Law. The cost of doing business is not solely affected by wages, but also the electricity, the frequency of blackouts, petrol prices, transportation, red tape and other illegal fees that are required by corrupt officials. I feel these are the issues that need to be tackled at the same time.

There is once incident where the business community protested the rise in the price of electricity. They believed that the increase would cost them their competitiveness and hence, went to the Chamber of Commerce to write a petition to the government. At that point in time, Minister Fahmi Idris said that the rise in the electricity price and the burden upon the business sectors was not the problem of the government but rather, the business itself and that the business should think themselves of ways to minimize the impact. Does this statement portray a concern for conducive business environment?

Despite all of that, I agree that this is a delicate issue. There is no silver bullet for immediate solutions to all of the problems. But on the other hand, I think that there is no need to sacrifice the well being of our own people under the name of development.

The business of Hajj: a good source of dirty money

The Muslim around the world would go to Mecca and Medina for pilgrimage during the Hajj. The pilgrimage would bring them closer to their God and hopefully will turn that person into a better man. When they are in Mecca, they would pray and worship the God, walking around the Kabah, throwing stones to a well to denounce the evil and do some self reflection. This is impressive.

The cost of going there is not cheap. It is part of the tribulation to be willing to part with the material possessions and seek spiritual wealth. As such, they do not question the amount of money paid to the government agency, where the money goes and how transparent would it be used. Concentrate, close your eyes and ears. Don’t ask too much.

While the Muslim who go for Hajj get better off spiritually, the companies organizing it get richer financially. With the fixed quota of 200,000 Indonesian pilgrims annually, the captive monopoly market is very attractive. Poor service from the pre-departure accommodation at the Asrama Haji, the lodging and transport in Saudi Arabia and the quality of food become the norm. Garuda Indonesia even tried to maximize profit by increasing the flight capacity by adding more seas at the expense of the leg room.

The pilgrims are not encouraged to file complains, protest nor demonstrate. They are made to feel that this is part of the trial and tribulation that must be embraced with patience.

Another irony is the Dana Abadi Umat (DAU)scandal. The DAU collection is extremely efficient, from the regular payment of the pilgrims, the uncollected insurance paid by the pilgrims, the interest from the deposits paid and even the unused airline ticket in the case the pilgrims died at Saudi Arabia. The use and distribution of the fund, on the other hand, is far from being efficient and transparent. Billions of Rupiah collected since 1980s are gone and by 1999, there is only a paltry Rp 3 Million left.

It all boils down to one question, whether it is ethical to profit from one’s religious activity. The political leaders of the country, especially Minister of Religion and his Department, has shamelessly embezzle funds from the accounts. This is an extraordinary incident because it affects millions of Muslim worshippers. The minister, who is a Muslim and perhaps went to Mecca for Hajj, has shown little evidence of being a Muslim. Perhaps religion is just a wall to hide from the public scrutiny.

Islamic Defender Front (Front Pembela Islam – FPI) organized Muslim followers to wrech havoc at the office of Playboy Indonesia because they claimed that Playboy is the icon of pornography. While they make such claim, why cant they see an obviously more unethical stuff, which is the corruption within the Department of Religious Affairs. Do they mean that the act of producing suggestive magazine is less immoral that the blatant appropriation of worshippers and hence, God’s money.

I have shown the picture of one of the culprits in this malpractice. The media has brought up the issue of corruption and has a strong case against the ministers. I guess FPI should do something about them, perhaps “visiting” his house or the Departmental office itself rather than stoning the office of Playboy Indonesia.

Monday, April 24, 2006

What a day!

Today I have the privilege to be part of Tzu Ching’s activity to the SILRA Home. SILRA is the home for the old folks that are suffering from leprosy and being ostracized by their families. I took part in the short skid that portrayed the harsh reality of life, facing death pain and suffering and the best attitude to approach this. This is supposed to encourage, motivate the 阿公and 啊婆 there to take things to their stride. Although they cannot change tomorrow, cannot predict tomorrow, at least they can life today to the fullest and we are there to add color to their life.

What I am amazed is the fact that there are many people still has the passion to serve those in needs without asking for any rewards. There are many people from secondary schools, Junior college universities, those in the workforce and even the “almost senior citizen” come to participate without expecting any rewards. I think that to them, being able to help others itself is a reward to life. In university life, it is sad to say that most of the students take part in any community service only to fulfill their course requirements.

There is a course called Leadership and Teambuilding where we are given 14 weeks to engage in community activities, experience, evaluate and supposed to learn from what we have seen. We are expected to write our Learning Journal and make a final presentation where the professor will decide whether we have learn some meaningful stuff.

At the presentation’s question and answer sessions, many questions will be shot to inquire our depth and learning process. Some of the questions are indeed hard since different groups will try to prove that their project is the most meaningful one and hence, determine the highest grade. However at the end of the day, after the course itself, how many of us will really remember and learn to serve our community?

The most beautiful thing is that they do not go to SILRA to preach about Buddhism and expect the elderly to convert to any belief. Although Tzu Chi is under the umbrella of Buddhist society and most of the volunteers are Buddhist followers, they do have the tendency to operate under the banner of religion. Neither do they require the new followers to be immersed in Buddhism.

I was helping my friend to edit an article that is meant to be part of a newsletter. It mentioned about the emergency relief efforts undertaken by Tzu Chi followers in many parts of the world to support the reconstruction efforts. The disaster victims would be receiving daily necessities and psychological supports from the Tzu Chi volunteers. At the end of the day, they would get new house with a large courtyard. The houses that were built are much bigger than my own house in Jakarta. Impressive.

On one hand, the article is slightly self serving, to portray the greatness and glory of Tzu Chi, but the best part is they do not try to build halls for religious activities. Contrary to that, when I went to the briefing for the reconstruction projects in Aceh and Nias organized by some churches, it was obvious that part of the plan was to equipped the new villagers with halls that were meant to preach Christianity. Missionaries and pastors will be sent to spread the Gospel. What a stark contrast.

Another thing that I learn today is a short yet meaningful song. The title is 温暖满人间.




Hmm…I think I have learnt and experienced quite a lot on this day. Still, I have much to learn and I glad to discover that there are many others to learn from. Yeah!