US’ training aid to Bakamla: How far can it go?

The US has finally delivered on its commitment to fully support Indonesia’s Maritime Security Board or Badan Keamanan Laut (Bakamla). In a recent virtual ceremony, the US Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim officiated the construction of Bakamla campus in Batam Island and committed to spend US$3.5 million. It will be furnished with classrooms, barracks, and launching pad. The project was initiated by former head of Bakamla Vice Admiral Achmad Taufiqoerrochman in 2019. At that time, he proposed the training center to be developed in Serang, Banten province; but his replacement, Vice Admiral Aan Kurnia, moved the campus’ site to the Island.

Despite its potential to improve Indonesia’s maritime law condition by educating all-new officers for Bakamla, the Center faces intrinsic problems arising from existing domestic maritime legal architecture in order to meet such a mission. If it fails, the existence of the training institution will be only deepening the country’s multi-actor maritime law enforcement condition that is supposed to be simplified by the establishment of the board. The deficit, at certain degree, can be perceived as a confirmation of the prevailing speculation saying that the grant is a part of US’ China containment measure in South China Sea in which Bakamla has been easily persuaded to support Uncle Sam in the two powers rivalry at the spot.

Bakamla is a newcomer in Indonesia’s maritime legal architecture. Six years ago, the Board’s profile among local maritime law enforcement institutions is still in the making. So far, Marine Police and Sea and Coast Guard unit of the Ministry of Transport have negative sentiment against Bakamla. This is because the Board has publicly stated that the two agencies will be dismantled and transferred to it. On the other hand, the ministry’s unit, locally known Kesatuan Penjagaan Laut dan Pantai (KPLP), and Marine Police are full-fledged institutions whose legal basis are more solid and their traditions are much longer than the Board. Their resentment is grossly understandable.

Meanwhile, Bakamla came into force by the enactment of the Law No. 32/2014 on maritime affairs in 2014. This is a generic regulation for an important agency with massive tasks and responsibility. Only one provision dedicated to the board, i.e. chapter 58. It will carry out Coast Guard tasks like law enforcement at sea, maritime search and rescue operations and others. Afterwards, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo issued a Presidential Regulation No. 178/2014 that is said by legal experts as a non-proper basis for Bakamla to be effective in the field. Instead, the government should issue a Government Regulation (PP). In other words, Bakamla is not primus inter pares.

The officials of all the Indonesian maritime law agencies, including Bakamla, hail from various educational backgrounds; from social sciences up to engineering. After being recruited by their respective offices they have to attend a training stint organized by the internal training unit covering all aspects of their organization. Training on maritime law is conducted afterwards but it is very rudimentary. Within the context, Bakamla’s dedicated maritime law enforcement training center is much appreciated.

But, several problems have to be pondered by the US government before going forward with its training assistance. Unable to understand them, the training center will be considered as the US intervention in local legal system by domestic public.

There are scores of grey areas that need serious attention by the related parties involved in the preparation of the facility; both the US government and Bakamla. Firstly, the curricula of the training. Since Batam training center is the first model in Indonesia’s maritime law education, the issue is very important. Which curricula will be implemented, the US or local one? If the earlier, media say that US Coast Guard (USCG) is counterpart of Bakamla and it will be consequently in charge of the training; therefore it will refer to those taught to USCG officers. The problem is that the materials and philosophical system behind them are totally different than that of Bakamla’s employees. Even their tactical understandings are incompatible. USCG is a military branch within the US Armed Forces while Bakamla is purely civilian.

So, will the curricula adopt Bakamla’s philosphy? Not at all. The agency just has no such experience and foundations. Since the beginning of its presence, including when it was still a coordinating entity named Bakorkamla or Badan Koordinasi Keamanan Laut, the employees are a mix of civil servants, policemen and navy men seconded to it. There is no formal training for them except that prepared by their respective institutions.

Secondly, the judicial system. In US, the Coast Guard has authority as the main party in bringing all cases that take place in the maritime realm of the country. It has own attorney to do the job. His/her tasks are relatively easy to accomplish since the State’s judicial system has almost everything related to maritime law: penal code, jurisprudence. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s judicial system only knows its National Police as the only party that bring any legal case, including maritime-related one, to the court. Bakamla has no such power. That is why when it seized Iranian and Panamian tankers, MT Horse and MT Freya respectively, the board was only able to grab the vessels and then handed them over to the harbor master office of Batam for trial. Additionally, Indonesia has abundant legal provisions scattered in many laws of which only limited attorney and judges really understand them and used in their ruling.

Thirdly, the instructors. Who are going to teach at the training center? USCG officers or domestic instructors? Of course, it will be a mix of them. But, Indonesia has few experts to do the teaching and therefore will definitely depend on the overseas instructors. Accordingly, as soon as the training center is completed, there will be many foreigners coming to Batam as instructors. This inflow will be perceived negatively by the locals and will be not be good for the US-backed facility.

Mr Siswanto Rusdi is Director of National Maritime Institute (NAMARIN), Jakarta, Indonesia.

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