KAITEHU – “Two hours walk, it grows there,” Bendita Ramos said, pointing back over her shoulder and beyond her pink-painted 2 room house toward mist-shrouded hills behind. She was talking about bitter bean, a poisonous legume growing wild in the Timorese countryside. The bean needs arduous and careful preparation before it can be eaten as a supplement to a corn and rice-dominated diet. “We have to boil it 7 or 8 times, and change the water each time,” Ramos said.
JAKARTA – Since taking office in October, Joko Widodo’s promises of reform have faltered in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. Widodo’s supporters say he has had to balance the demands of powerful politicians who backed his candidacy, particularly former President Megawati Sukarnoputri and wealthy businessman Surya Paloh, one of whose allies Widodo appointed as attorney general. Abdee Negara, a popular Indonesian guitarist who campaigned for Widodo, said, “He has a baby-step approach to getting things done. There is a lot of politics between the president and his parties.” Still, Negara said, “I was glad I was part of the wind of change.”
JAKARTA – Widodo has come under fire in social media for aspects of his presidency so far, with critics and supporters alike lambasting his perceived indecision after Indonesia’s unloved national police filed charges against leaders of the country’s popular Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which had branded Widodo’s nominee for new police chief a corruption suspect. Widodo’s electoral success had partly been down to his own clean image and his anti-graft rhetoric, so it is little wonder, perhaps, that Widodo has kept his own fingers off the “send” button as millions of Indonesians weigh in, often using hashtags such as #SaveKPK and #Shameonyoujokowi.
YANGON – Aung Soe, deputy director general of the commerce ministry’s trade promotion department, told the Nikkei Asian Review that “we are still mainly exporting primary products, but we hope this is the beginning of an increase in productivity and competitiveness.” But billions of dollars worth of logs, gems and opium have been smuggled out of Myanmar in recent decades, distorting one of the world’s poorest economies but guaranteeing huge wealth for connected elites. Meanwhile, owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, the majority of the country’s businesses, have typically found it difficult to get bank loans due to stringent borrowing requirements, denying them vital funds to grow their businesses or to finance exports.
YANGON – In Myanmar, about 1.1 million kids start school each year in Myanmar, but of these only about 10 per cent finish high school, mostly those from cities and better-off families. Only one third of children from rural poor households manage to finish middle school. Such attrition makes it hard for companies who need educated, trained staff. “Businesses say that the second-biggest constraint to working in Myanmar is human resources,” said Christopher Spohr, an Asian Development Bank researcher.
JAKARTA – Indonesia’s police and anti-graft agency, known as the KPK, have been ordered by the President to end their latest feud. The damage may have been done, however, with the KPK needing police backup to carry out its work. “We need investigators from the police, but police and KPK have a bad relationship,” Budi said.
DILI – Gusmao’s administration was tarnished with corruption allegations against two of his highest-profile ministers. And despite eye-popping growth, oil and gas extraction have not generated jobs for the hundreds of thousands of Timorese who eke out a living as subsistence farmers or are jobless. Moreover, the oil and gas revenue that comprises around three-quarters of GDP will run out in around a decade, meaning there is an urgent need to develop other sectors of the economy. But Araujo does not have long to implement his policies, as elections are due in 2017. Tourism and agriculture will be two priority areas, he said: “At least we could set some foundation for the next government to follow on these.”
DILI – Cornelio Gama, aka “Elle Sette” (L7), a former member of parliament in East Timor and leader of a murky clandestine group called Sagrada Familia, had just come home from a peacemaking mission at the University of Dili in the country’s capital. “There is a dispute between the rector and the students,” he says, “so I went there to try and resolve.” Peacemaker for a morning, Gama and his brother Paulino, better known as “Mauk Moruk,” are in fact at odds with the East Timor government, which they see as illegitimate.
DILI – Bendita Fraga, a 40-year-old housewife living on a farm near Dili, said that electrification had allowed her family access to new sources of clean groundwater. Pooling with neighbours, the farmers in the village bought an electric pump to extract water from a newly drilled 12-metre well. “With the pump, we can drink cleaner water and grow more crops with the extra water,” Fraga said. That would have been impossible before the government’s recent expansion of the power supply, which now covers around 60 per cent of the population.
DILI – Gusmao’s continuing presence in government means that new PM Araujo, who spent recent years as an adviser to various Timorese ministries, could find himself overshadowed. “That could be the impression from outside, but everybody in the government agrees with the concept of teamwork, and so far he [Gusmao] has been a very good team player,” Araujo said when asked if Gusmao’s presence in government might be a distraction.