Sometimes reading or watching the local news here makes me (jm) sad. There are just so many problems in this country, and unfortunately the enormous number of poor people here end up suffering. And it’s not even clear how the government could begin to make things better. I mean, how do you provide trash removal so people don’t dump everything in the rivers when half the roads are unmarked, barely passable due to potholes, and underwater for much of the time? Here’s just a few things that have happened lately.
1. This morning it was announced there will be a 40% rise in fuel costs next year due to worldwide price increases, and the government is already pleading with people not to stockpile. Of course it is the people at the bottom who will pay the price and may not be able to buy much-needed fuel.
2. At the ASEAN conference, the association signed a free-trade agreement with China. Now as a whole, this will be good for both sides, as it will open things up and make it easier for nations to trade. However, Indonesian workers are rightfully worried that this will mean the end of their jobs. They cannot compete in sectors such as electronics and textiles, where the Chinese have cheaper and even more abundant labor resources.
3. There was a major earthquake in Nabire on the island of Papua, followed by another aftershock today, which has killed many people and left behind devastation. Nobody’s fault, but the region is quite prone to natural disasters.
4. The separatists in Aceh are acting up again, despite the new President’s recent visit and promise of some kind of special autonomy for the region.
5. During the past month, almost every time I’ve watched the Indonesian news, I’ve seen Indonesians being deported from Malaysia and also East Timor. Thousands of Indonesians enter Malaysia illegally seeking work which they cannot find at home. And although they are indeed illegal, it is still sad to see these people being shipped out, back to unemployment either in their rural towns or in Jakarta.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some good things too! There are signs that the economy is picking up, the rupiah is getting stronger (it was Rp.9800= $1 when we arrived and is now Rp.9000= $1), and they are finally starting to build a monorail system which may help ease traffic concerns (if it actually does ever get finished!). Hopefully the trade agreement will open up new job opportunities for displaced Indonesian workers in more productive industries and also allow Indonesia to profit more from its natural resources. Reformasi (reform) after Soeharto is an ongoing process, and one which was never expected to be quick or easy. But with luck and good government decisions (hopefully!) things will improve in the near future.