Budapest/Jakarta. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has defended himself against accusations that he went overseas too frequently, saying that if anything he was very selective about choosing his international engagements.
In a statement in Budapest on Thursday, where he is on a state visit, Yudhoyono said that given Indonesia’s rising international profile and growing multilateral ties, he received invitations to more engagements overseas than his predecessors.
He cited the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which is now held twice a year from the previous schedule of once every three years.
He also said that Indonesia’s entry into the G-20, along with its long-held commitments to international forums such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, meant that he had to represent Indonesia on a growing number of fronts.
“If I attended all these meetings, I’d be out of the country even more than I am now,” Yudhoyono said.
“That’s why I restrict my overseas trips and instead send the vice president, the foreign minister or other ministers to represent me.”
He added that certain trips, such as his current series of state visits to Germany and Hungary, were very important and he could not pass up on them.
“So I don’t think it’s fair to say that I spend more time traveling abroad than any of my predecessors,” he said.
Speaking to Indonesian reporters in Budapest, the president stressed that “the number of international engagements I should be attending is far higher than the number that I can attend.”
“You should tell the Indonesian people that overseas trips are very important for Indonesia, especially considering our rising position in the world,” he said.
His remarks came on the heels of criticism by a senior official from the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) that the president’s frequent overseas visits were a waste of public money.
“The president goes on an overseas trip almost every two months,” Fadli Zon, the Gerindra deputy chairman, said in Jakarta on Thursday.
“When can he focus on managing domestic affairs? Yudhoyono should have gone to Papua when the eight soldiers and four civilians were killed.”
Yudhoyono and his entourage, which includes Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan and Industry Minister M.S. Hidayat, left the country on Sunday for the visit to Germany and Hungary, and are expected back today. Among other agenda items, Yudhoyono attended the opening of an international tourism exhibition in Berlin.
Fadli said he had to criticize Yudhoyono’s latest trip because Europe was experiencing a deep economic crisis. Amid the downturn, it would be hard to sell Indonesia’s tourism to Europeans, he argued, adding that this was evident in the fact that European tourist arrivals to Indonesia had dropped by 6 percent.
“Promoting tourism amid the crisis will not be effective,” he said.
“Yudhoyono should have been selective and limited his overseas trips. Last month he went to Nigeria when as a matter of fact the trade balance with Nigeria has been flat for the past 15 years.”
Fadli said that as the president neared the end of his presidential term, he should be focusing more on domestic affairs, of which there were many issues still requiring his attention.
“Overseas trips are mostly ceremonial and are just an effort to build reputation. He should conduct more impromptu visits and pay more attention to the people directly,” he said.