A Funny Nation
You can’t accurately describe Indonesia as a “funny” nation. For the moment we will just use “funny” as a translation of “lucu” in Bahasa Indonesia. This is the term that Deputy Mines and Energy Minister Widjajono Partowidagdo often used when talking about Indonesian behavior, especially when it comes to energy.
But while funny elsewhere makes one laugh, funny here leaves one to laugh at confusion, something that doesn’t make sense, or perhaps foolishness. The Americans have been voted the world’s “funniest nationality” – the “best at making people laugh” – in a global poll, which also names the Germans the “least funny” nationality and the British “not as funny as they think.”
Thirty-thousand people across 15 countries were asked to name both the “funniest” and “least funny” nationality in a poll conducted by Badoo.com, the world’s largest social network for meeting new people, with 119 million users worldwide.
The Americans were voted the funniest nationality, ahead of the Spanish – the funniest Europeans – in second, the Italians in third and the British in seventh.
Well, that’s what funny is in other parts of the world. Our good old deputy mines and energy minister, Widjajono Partowidagdo, said that Indonesia is a funny nation. Despite its wealth in natural resources, which could be used for domestic use and promoting welfare, almost all of the resources are exported. Coal is exported at cheap prices while expensive fuel oil is imported at high prices.
“Indonesia is a funny nation. Most of us are not rich people yet we like to use a lot of expensive fuel oil,” he said.
On another occasion, Widjajono said it’s also funny that many people drive premium cars such as the Toyota Alphard but fill their tanks with low-octane (premium) subsidized fuel. The rationale is if they can afford to buy Toyota Alphards, then they can buy unsubsidized gasoline. Besides, Toyota Alphards are supposed to run on at least 98 octane fuel.
Widjajono then came up with an idea to prevent the Toyota Alphards from guzzling subsidized premium fuel, which costs only Rp 4,500 a liter. He offered the nation a proposal to blend subsidized premium gas with non-subsidized Pertamax, which would be called premix RON 90 and sell for Rp 7,200 a liter, with aim of reducing the government fuel subsidies.
But alas, his proposal was turned down immediately by the legislators at the House of Representatives (DPR) and the state oil enterprise Pertamina on the grounds that his funny idea would be difficult to realize. Pertamina’s Vice President for Corporate Communications M. Harun laughed at the idea, saying that the price of premix can’t be Rp 7,200 which would be too high compared to the Rp 10,200 of higher octane and better quality Pertamax gasoline. Widjajono also said that it’s funny Indonesia is not investing much in developing renewable energy and instead spends so much subsidizing fuel.
“Brazil has been successful because the money is used for investmenting in renewable energy instead of subsidizing fuel. If we don’t have the brains, if we don’t have the ideas and if we don’t have the heart, we don’t have the morals. It’s funny that the culture here says it’s better to have lots of motor vehicles running on subsidized fuel,” he said.
On the policy front, it is also funny that Indonesia exports so much gas to support other countries, but imports so much fuel oil. “It’s an irony for the Indonesian people to bear the burden of expensive energy. Based on Law No. 22 from the year 2001, the government must give priority to energy resources for domestic use,” A. Qoyum Tjandranegara of the Oil and Gas Regulating Body (BPH Migas) said, adding that the government should have been using gas to meet all the nation’s energy needs from the beginning.
Widjajono contrasts with his superior, Mines and Energy Minister Jero Wacik, who is all smiles during talk-shows and discussions on energy. Wacik is more accommodating of differences, while Widjajono is always authoritative, cynical, challenging, and emotional when it comes to facing his opponents. Some even regard him as funny, as he rejects other opinions to defend his as the only one that’s right and as if he is the only person who can solve the nation’s energy problems.
But even Wacik can’t solve the problems either. Nobody can, not even the top leadership if the idea is that Indonesia is a funny nation. Indonesia should get rid of this silliness. The nation does not need funny people or mediocre minds. We need smart, intelligent, tough, consistent, and powerful leaders who won’t compromise.