Is the govt still committed to this country's reform?
Jakarta Post, 17 Oct 2005

Benget Simbolon Tnb.

Is the government still committed to this country's reform? Is the reform continuing on the right track? Or is it backtracking?
Such questions surfaced following the government's green-light to the Indonesian military (TNI) allowing the revival of its territorial function; regional commands notorious for their human rights abuses during the authoritarian administration of Soeharto.
TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto suggested reviving the commands after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono asked for the active participation of the military in fighting the terrorists, who, as we all know, recently launched a second bloody attack on Bali.
Terrorism is, of course, a pressing problem that must be tackled soon, especially if we consider the harm to the nation -- the hundreds of people killed during the past few years and the damage to the economy -- that acts of terror have wreaked.
But is reviving the territorial function the right step to fighting this urgent problem?
Many critics have expressed their fear that the revived military function would pave the way for increasing militarism, which sooner or later would hamper the process of democratic reform.
"Reviving the territorial command is the wrong medicine for the disease we're dealing with. The move is only a tool to revive militarism. We should oppose that kind of intention as early as possible," said former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid in a press conference recently.
Similar sentiments were shared by many other figures, including members of the House of Representatives (DPR) and the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), notably MPR Speaker Hidayat Nur Wahid.
Whatever the military put forward as its reasons, the public will only remember the old territorial command's record -- the many human rights abuses this institution carried out when it functioned as the oppressive political tool of the anti-democratic Soeharto.
Our leaders should realize that people expect the government to keep to the reform process, until it finally transforms Indonesia into an economically developed and democratic country.
Although the process has not yet produced satisfactory changes in many aspects of public life, it has put Indonesia on a new and positive track.
Reform is a future-oriented process that cannot and should not look to the past to handle current issues, especially when the circumstances have changed in the new Indonesia.
Once former president of the now-defunct Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, whose reform policies of Perestroika and Glasnost resonated across the world at the end of 1980s, said in one of his speeches that it would be naive to think that the problems plaguing mankind today could be solved with means and methods that were applied or seemed to work in the past.
Reviving the territorial function is an indication that the government is still looking to the past or, worse, that it is unwilling -- or unable -- to change the status quo.
It has also shown, soberingly, that there is still an intense fight going on between those trying to further reform and those -- mostly old political and military actors -- trying to return to the past, although their ideas are no longer effective in dealing with current problems.
The government should always be aware that a reform is a long-term investment, which requires pain and sacrifice along the way before goals are reached.
It should avoid the cheap temptations of short-term throwback solutions, which are really just disguised and misguided attempts at derailing the reform process.
Bowing to the ideas of the old guard goes against the spirit of reform, which requires innovative and progressive thinking to create better conditions in the future.
It also explains why reforms here tend to be slow and often peripheral, effecting little meaningful change.
All the bad old ways, such as the government's way of handling the poverty problem, officials' circuitous approach to doing their jobs and the rent-seeking mentality that has hampered a freeing up and rationalizing of the economy, are still there.
Due to the centralization -- rather than decentralization -- of economic data, for example, the government's policy to distribute cash to the poor following the fuel price hikes, has predictably turned into a fiasco.
While many ineligible people get the compensation, many eligible poor people have not received it, causing anger and frustration in regions across the country. What is even worse, many other truly poor people are not angered; they are so used to be ignored by official agencies that they resignedly accept their fate as their children go hungry.
With their rent-seeking mentality, supported by like-minded businessmen, politicians' penchant for "projects" -- unregulated schemes created by committees outside of formal government agencies -- has gone on undiminished. These projects, which are ostensibly about development, are actually about elites lining their own pockets to the detriment of the nation.
All of this confirms what most people already suspect; that the government is not being creative and not doing enough in furthering the reform process. As Gorbachev once said in another of his speeches on reform: "If what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, then you haven't done much today."

The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.
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