What are the thrust areas that we will see during your tenure in Singapore?
We are already two good neighbours who are making progress in many fields: political, security, economic, social, culture and so on. But there are still plenty of untapped opportunities. For example, I think we can enhance further people-to-people contacts. We tend to take it for granted, being so close, as next door neighbours, being able to visit anytime etc. Efforts that promote subjects of common interests and interaction between Indonesians and Singaporeans can enhance communication and understanding.
What is the current state of bilateral ties between Indonesia and Singapore?
Cooperation between Indonesia and Singapore is strong. Recently with the terrorist threats to Singapore from the island of Batam, we are working together on more preventive and law enforcement measures. We do not rest on such issues and are always on alert. We want to make sure visitors to Indonesia will be safe and enjoy the beauty of the country without being too unduly worried. I was pleased that the recent Batam and Bintan Familiarisation trip organised for ambassadors we invited from Jakarta and Singapore required no special security measures. They visited the industrial parks, played golf, enjoyed the beach and outdoor activities while their spouses explored nature, the mangrove forests with no problems at all.
As Indonesia’s first Permanent Representative, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to ASEAN, you bring valuable experience on intra-ASEAN relations. Tell us more about this role.
I always like to share the knowledge that I have and I have learnt how important it is to listen to everyone. As Indonesia’s Permanent Representative, I have always worked towards bringing member nations closer together by increasing interaction among the 10 countries. It is also important to raise the awareness of ASEAN as a COMMUNITY to the world and the population of all member countries. That is why in the past, whenever possible, I would give public talks or lectures in universities in Indonesia and countries such as Australia and the US as well publish articles in newspapers and journals. It’s my small contribution but I think it helps.
ASEAN is now becoming a community, and it is the responsibility of everyone to be active and participate in raising awareness of this community. There are many benefits, for example, ASEAN has made great strides working together in the area of security. In trade, ASEAN is the world’s most dynamic growth area outstripping Europe and the Americas. There are challenges too, but as long as we stick together, remain united and cohesive despite the periodic differences we might have, we can overcome difficult situations in the future.
Realising Indonesia’s potential and opportunities.
President Jokowi and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla are very aggressive in their agenda to improve infrastructure development. Much have been completed in the past one and a half years of their presidencies. Our approach is that in order to improve infrastructure facilities, we have to improve the ease of doing business in Indonesia. Indonesia has a lot of potential to offer. With the support of new infrastructure facilities, I think that will enable foreign investors to come and develop the Indonesian economy. Within the same context, the President has so far introduced 12 Economic Deregulation Packages so the ease of doing business will improve. One of the measures that is most welcomed by potential foreign investors, especially small- and medium-sized companies, is the latest review of the ‘negative list’ of industries that have restrictions for foreign business and investors. This will allow foreign direct investment into different sectors, which were previously closed only for domestic investments. This will broaden the sectors and the type of investors so small- and medium-sized companies can invest alongside big companies.
What is the potential for economic growth in ASEAN?
In ASEAN, the Indonesian market is the biggest. We have 260 million people and the middle class and purchasing power in the country is still increasing.
Within ASEAN, we have more than 600 million people, so globally investors can not only tap onto the Indonesian market but also the ASEAN market as a whole. A complementary partnership between Indonesia and Singapore will always be around. Singapore is now moving to a future economy but there are some industries that it is unable to take in. Having Indonesia as a partner will ensure a mutually beneficial cooperation that will help the bond between the two countries grow stronger. Two months ago, there was a flower festival in Tomohon, North Sulawesi and about 10 people from Singapore associations and importers visited it to see for themselves what are the opportunities. Later, I received a report that there are already some deals for deliverables from Indonesia starting next January. We are also promoting our creative industry and there are many things happening in that area. On top of that, we are looking to export our very famous coffee from Indonesia.
What do you do during your free time?
Playing golf, gives me some peace of mind and break from work. In Jakarta, I sometimes golf with my fellow ASEAN ambassadors for charity and networking. Unfortunately, in the past I did not spend as much time with my children because of work. For example, when I was in New York (1999 to 2003) at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia in New York by the time I reach home it was late and the children have fallen asleep. By the time I wake up next morning they already have gone to school. My advice to all parents, please learn from my experience and make as much time as you can for your children. You are going to miss them and all the opportunities to spend more time with your children*.
I was fortunate that I was born in Bali. I feel Balinese people have a special bond with nature – it is part of our cultural identity which is already very unique. Foreigners also find the island different as it exudes a special atmosphere and they feel different when they are there. This has contributed to the growth of tourism but we should not be complacent. I hope Bali can retain that feeling. For example, we have introduced rules to regulate the height of buildings (except for some hotels in Nusa Dua which were built before the introduction of the rule) – they cannot be higher than the height of the tallest coconut trees. The Balinese have a philosophy in life called tri hita karana meaning the “three causes of well-being.” They are to attain harmony among people, with nature (or environment) and with God.