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A long way to go – The Edge Review

Train station in Jakarta. Indonesia's government is keen to upgrade the country's transport infrastructure (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – “Please come and invest in Indonesia. Because where we see challenges, I see opportunity. And if you have any problem, call me.” President Joko Widodo’s plea from the podium to World Economic Forum delegates meeting in Jakarta this week was typical of the personal style that the homespun politician crafted first as mayor of his hometown Solo and later governor of Jakarta. His message was intended to show that he is in for the long haul when it comes to overcoming obstacles to investment.

Eating wild – The Edge Review

Bendita Ramos surveys her damaged corn crop (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

In Indonesia, missteps mar president’s first months in office – Los Angeles Times/RTÉ World Report

Joko Widodo signs guitar at event organised by supporters in south Jakarta in July (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.”

#wheresjokowi? – The Edge Review

Indonesia President Joko Widodo poses with supporters at Salihara, south Jakarta , before election result announcement in July  2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

Myanmar launches new export strategy – Nikkei Asian Review

MGMA head Myint Soe speaking in Yangon on March 24 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

Time to follow the money – The Edge Review

Student protestor in Yangon, seeking reform of Myanmar's education system (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

A tough act to follow – The Edge Review/RTÉ World Report

A father and son look for seashells along Dili Harbor. (Simon Roughneen)

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.”

Conflict prevention group plays key role in tiny southeast Asian nation – The Christian Science Monitor

Cornelio Gama, aka 'L7. in conversation in Dili (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

Ambition in a bottle – The Edge Review

Inside Be'e Mor's factory in Dili (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.