Never a Dull Moment on Jokowi’s Policy Trail

JANUARY 02, 2015

Jakarta. In the just over two months that he has been president, Joko Widodo has earned both plaudits and criticism for some of his policies, most of them a complete 180 on his predecessor’s take on the same issue.

One of his most attention-grabbing moves was to order the sinking of foreign fishing vessels caught poaching inside Indonesia’s maritime borders.

Since then, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti has enrolled the Navy to round up 19 boats and sink five of them.

The policy has drawn praise, with observers saying the administration needs to get touch on fish poaching if it is to turn Indonesia into a global maritime fulcrum as Joko envisions.

“It’s necessary to sink those illegal vessels,” says Hikmahanto Juwana, an international law expert at the University of Indonesia.

Under the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration, he says, “fish poaching as a problem was hardly looked into by the government.”

“There are many boats that continue to poach our sea resources, and we’ve done little about the problem,” he says. “So now, by sinking these boats, our government wants to convey its stance that Indonesia will never compromise with any foreign boats that steal our fish.”

Hikmahanto says the sinking of the vessels will not damage relations with the countries where the boats are registered, because Indonesia’s response is targeted toward an illegal act being committed in its own waters.

“We are dealing with illegal fishing boats that violate our maritime territory, not the countries where those boats come from,” he says.

He adds, though, that over the next few years, the government will need to make its policy clear to other countries to prevent unwanted diplomatic rows.

“What’s being done now must be continued. We cannot be discriminatory in selecting the boats,” Hikmahanto says.

“In addition, it is best for the Foreign Ministry to inform other countries around the world that we have this policy in place so there won’t be any misunderstanding. Ideally, these other countries must start prohibiting their fishermen from poaching in Indonesian waters.”

A less flashy though far more impactful policy move under Joko has been the raising of subsidized fuel prices as part of an effort to trim the burgeoning subsidy and allocate the savings to more productive programs.

The hike, Joko calculated, would save the state around Rp 100 trillion ($8.04 billion).

On Nov. 18, less than a month since his inauguration on Oct. 20, Joko duly raised the pump price of the widely used Premium brand of low-octane gasoline, from Rp 5,500 per liter to Rp 8,500 per liter. The price of subsidized diesel sold under the Solar brand also went up, from Rp 5,500 per liter to Rp 7,500 per liter.

But on Wednesday, the government announced that there would be another price adjustment — downward this time, in light of the falling price of crude oil.

As of the first day of 2015, Premium has been tamped down to Rp 7,600 per liter, and Solar to Rp 7,250 per liter.

The move seems to have vindicated critics of the initial hike, who said at the time that there was no urgent need to raise pump prices just them with the world oil price on a decline since June this year.

Another controversial issue in the past couple of months has been Joko’s insistence on not just maintaining by actively implementing the death penalty, which was rarely employed during Yudhoyono’s second term as president.

Joko previously claimed that five death row inmates who had exhausted all avenues of appeal would be put to death in December. The Attorney General’s Office, which is responsible for arranging executions, later said that only two of those inmates would face the firing squad that month.

The AGO typically carries out executions in secret and down not announce whether they have been carried out until well after the fact.

As of Thursday, there was no word yet on whether the two executions, set to take place in Batam, Riau Islands, and Cilacap, Central Java, had been carried out.

Rights activists have accused Joko of reneging on campaign promises to champion human rights.

“Joko has [...] violated the spirit of human rights in our country,” says Hendardi, from the Setara Institute, a rights and democracy advocacy group. “Joko shouldn’t continue this policy. It is against global opinion.

“The government will be better off reviewing capital punishment for drug convicts,” he adds.

“It is useless and wouldn’t serve any deterrent effect for drug dealers. There are no statistics showing that capital punishment discourages drug dealing,” Hendardi says.

Haris Azhar, the coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), says Joko has “no understanding on human rights.”