JAKARTA – As pastoral work goes, there must be few tasks as grueling, or as raw, as seeing a condemned man through his final hours before execution. But when Father Charles Burrows, an Irish missionary in Indonesia, chatted and prayed with 42-year-old Brazilian Roderigo Gularte late into April 28, no matter what he counseled, the condemned man — a schizophrenic with bipolar disorder — seemingly understood nothing of what was about to happen. “I was joking with him, saying that ‘I am 72; I will be up there with you soon enough,’” recalled the Dublin-born Burrows, who was speaking by telephone from Cilacap on the southern coast of Java. “Only when they bound him in chains did he ask, ‘Father, am I being executed?’” said the priest, who explained that Gularte heard voices telling him he would be okay.
JAKARTA – With restrictions on small retailers now in place, a wider ban is now being pushed by two of the four Islamic parties represented in Indonesia’s parliament, the United Development Party (known by its Indonesian initials as the PPP) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). The proposed law seeks to ban the production, distribution, sale and consumption of beverages containing more than 1% alcohol. Offenders found distributing or producing alcohol could face between two and 10 years in prison, or a fine of up to 1 billion rupiah ($77,205). Anyone caught drinking alcohol could face a prison term of between three months and two years.
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.
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.”