Nation Gets a Pass on Economy but Poverty Weighs on Report Card
Nurfika Osman & Antara
Jakarta. Some good efforts, but could try harder. That was the report-card takeaway for the government as a number of prominent visiting academics voiced opinions on Indonesia’s progress on Wednesday.
In a lecture at the State Palace in front of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Boediono, David T. Ellwood, dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, praised the nation’s progress, but warned of the ongoing need to tackle poverty.
“Economic growth should be healthy and well spread, one that benefits all,” he said.
In his own speech at the event, Yudhoyono vowed “faster” action on reducing poverty by focusing on job creation. That would also lift the nation’s economic growth in general, he said.
At a book launch later in the day, Ellwood lauded Indonesia’s economic record, but said it faced great challenges in the future.
The book “Indonesia Determines its Fate; from Reformation to Institutional Transformation” is a the result of a joint research by the private Rajawali Foundation and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.
The center’s director, Anthony J. Saich, acknowledged Indonesia’s emergence as a true democracy with steady economy growth, but issued his own warning .
“Despite this impressive progress, we highlight a number of problems that are preventing Indonesia from achieving its full potential.
“In comparison with a number of its neighbors, Indonesia is falling behind in economic and social measures, with the result that the economy needs to grow more quickly,” he said.
The book argues that electoral reform is needed to cut the number of parties and curb systemic corruption.
Legal and judicial reforms are necessary, and measures should be devised to enlarge the middle class, including better credit access and bankruptcy protection.
Indonesia must also adopt international standards to attract foreign investment.
Speaking at the book launch, Jeffrey A. Winters, a professor of political and economy at Northwestern University in Chicago, said the book recognized important achievements, “but it is also sharp and brave in showing that some of the most important obstacles to prosperity have not yet been overcome.”
He continued: “The poor and weak submit to the country’s laws, while powerful elites and oligarchs use intimidation and money to do as they like.”
The Rajawali Foundation and Kennedy School have set up an Indonesia program with a grant of $20.5 million in a drive to accelerate democratic governance and aid institutional transformation in the country.
Eight government officials and a University of Indonesia economics lecturer will soon study at Harvard as part of the program, foundation president Fritz E. Simandjuntak told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday.