Sustaining Maritime Vision for Indonesia

Two candidates for the 2019 presidential election in Indonesia have announced scores of plans to win votes; but maritime issues do not find much reference in the campaigns. President Joko Widodo or ‘Jokowi’, the current President is canvassing for his reelection but has said nothing whether the vision of global maritime axis (GMA) or the global maritime fulcrum (GMF) will be carried forward or not. It is useful to mention that GMF was launched by Jokowi when he was running for the 2014 presidential election against Prabowo Subianto Djojohadikusumo, a retired Liuetenant General and former commandant of the Indonesian Army’s Special Force (Kopassus). It was said that one of the winning factor for Jokowi was GMF since Prabowo’s maritime orientation was weak and he did not take advice of professionals on key domestic maritime problems like ailing shipping business, underpaid seafarer, etc. On the contrary, Jokowi was advised by top maritime professions ranging from shipping executive, port expert and others. These professionals turned Jokowi into a ‘maritime man’ with the GMA / GMF as his vision. They also rebranded the “nusantara pendulum”, a ready-to-implement plan prepared during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration to become the navigational highway or tol laut in local parlance.

It is unclear whether maritime professionals are still supporting President Jokowi’s campaign team for the forthcoming presidential election; some may have left the team even as early as Jokowi presidency started in 2014 partly due to disappointment over the implementation of the maritime vision of which they were the backbone. For instance, tol laut, a regular shipping service deployed to remote destinations across the nation was believed to have deviated from its initial design and as disclosed by one of the prominent economist who was a part of the campaign team, it was basically plotted as a subsidy-free program. In fact, since its launching in 2015, tol laut has absorbed Rp300 billion of subsidy annually.

Indonesia is world’s biggest archipelagic state and the national leaders are expected to exhibit strong maritime commitment. In the past, President Soekarno, Soeharto, Habibie, Wahid, and Yudhoyono had displayed unique acumen to understand matters maritime. However the only weakness was that they did not execute what they planned. On the other hand, Jokowi has executed the formers’ plans though he has to borrow money for that. In this respect, he has signed a loan agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to construct the first phase of the Patimban port development project. Its investment cost is Rp 17.16 trillion of which Rp 14.17 trillion was borrowed from the organization. This is the biggest G-to-G loan for developing maritime infrastructure for Indonesia.

Coming back to the 2019 elections, what maritime issues can Jokowi or Prabowo flag? Perhaps, it is a useful idea to set up a new post in the 2019-2024 ministerial cabinet - the Ministry of Shipping. Why should it be given a new identity when the sector is already handled by the ministry of transportation through its Directorate General of Sea Transportation. When Jokowi announced his cabinet line-up, domestic maritime community expected him to appoint a minister with maritime portfolio. Instead, President established the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, a non-portfolio post, which has no executing power and all decisions remain with the ministries under its supervision. This means his maritime vision is carried out by the existing agencies.

India is a good example on how to manage maritime affairs. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the country is now trying to re-establish itself as a maritime power. A number of ports are under development under the Sagarmala project. As a neighbour, Indonesia has strong maritime relation with India and their leaders have announced joint vision for Indo-Pacific which was signed in May 2018. In this context, an Indonesian delegation of executives from Teluk Bayur port, West Sumatra, and Padang Municipality visited Chennai recently to forge direct shipping service. It seems that there will be more Indonesian delegations to India to explore maritime business opportunity in the near future.

At another level, Indonesia can learn from Vietnam in organizing its shipping sector as the existing system has not been optimally performing. According to the available data from the Ministry of Finance, the current account deficit was worth US$ 17.29 billion in 2017, of which US$7.86 billion was through seaborne trade. Nearly 90 per cent of this business activity is controled by foreign shipping companies and the balance ten percent is in the hands of local firms. Meanwhile, in terms of logistical indicator, Indonesia is ranked at 46 and its LPI score is 3.15.

So, the next Indonesian president, whoever he is, is expected to embrace maritime awareness where the establishment of the Ministry of Shipping is a way to materialize it.

Mr Siswanto Rusdi is Director National Maritime Institute, Jakarta, Indonesia.

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