JAKARTA: Singapore-Indonesia ties need to be continuously strengthened in every aspect, including politics, the economy and security, said Indonesian Vice President Ma'ruf Amin.
In an exclusive interview with CNA last Thursday (Nov 28), he said potentially destabilising issues in one country, such as terrorism and a weak economy, will end up affecting the other party.
"As nearest countries, one country will feel the effect most when another has difficulties, disasters, instability," Mr Amin said in his first international interview after being inaugurated in October.
He said Singapore and Indonesia have to help each other to maintain stability in the region.
"(We) need to continuously strengthen the relationship in every aspect - politics, economy and security," he added.
Singapore has been Indonesia’s largest investor since 2014.
The 76-year-old vice president, who is a senior Muslim cleric, believes Singapore companies can invest more in Indonesia. For instance, there could be increased economic cooperation in a special area comprising Singapore, Batam and Bintan, he said.
Indonesia is planning to build the country’s longest sea bridge connecting the islands of Batam and Bintan, which are located near Singapore.
The construction of the 7km bridge will begin in 2020, in a bid to improve business and tourism between Singapore and Indonesia. The project will cost about 4 trillion rupiah (US$284 million).
HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT
There is also a potential for more education cooperation, Mr Amin added.
“We’ve seen that education in Singapore is, of course, more advanced. We want that (in Indonesia too), whether it's formal education or vocational education.
"We are developing human resources, which is why the cooperation between Indonesia and Singapore, especially in vocational education, is something really needed,” he said.
He hopes that Singapore can provide vocational training to Indonesians who are not pursuing tertiary education so to enable them to become productive workers.
“Singapore has all these strengths and can work together with Indonesia.”
Both sides have previously agreed to explore further collaboration in vocational education.
The Indonesian government led by President Joko Widodo has made human resource development one of its top priorities in this new term of government. The other priority areas include infrastructure development, simplifying regulations, reforming the bureaucracy and transforming the economy.
Indonesia was ranked 87 out of 157 countries in last year's World Bank’s human capital index, which looks at youth mortality, schooling and health. Singapore was ranked first.
“This is one of our national priorities, developing human resources.
"Education is very important, so that our graduates, whether secondary or tertiary, are competent and ready to be used (by companies),” said Mr Amin.
When asked for more concrete details on how Singapore can work with Indonesia in the education sector, the vice president said: “There are several options. It can be the teachers (being sent from Singapore), it can also be our children being sent to Singapore."
"Or maybe Singapore can build schools here under various conditions which will have to be agreed on,” he added.
Last week, Mr Widodo admitted at a CEO Forum in Jakarta that developing human resources is the most difficult job.
There are now around 220,000 schools across the archipelago with 45 million students, according to government data.
Another important area both countries need to tackle jointly is the environment, Mr Amin said.
For years, Indonesia has been struggling with seasonal land and forest fires, which have resulted in haze choking the region.
“Not too long ago Singapore also helped us tackle the forest fires. This is also important because the impact will be felt by Singapore,” Mr Amin noted.
Even though this year’s fires were not as bad as the ones in 2015 when a 2.6 million hectares of land were burnt and the haze reached as far as Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, the issue has continued to be a problem for the region.
The national disaster agency said last September that 99 per cent of the land and forest fires were man-made, believed to be deliberately started to clear land for agriculture.
Mr Amin said the government is trying to prevent the same from happening again next year.
For a start, it is focusing on preventive measures and roping in relevant groups and companies to work together with the government.
“We work together with them to prevent, to anticipate the likelihood of fires happening again. We are strengthening preventive measures.”
The vice president emphasised that the region needs to take care of the environment together. “If we are not the ones who take care of these (issues), who else will?" he said.
Mr Amin said it is important to take care of the forests, maintain peace in the region and develop human capital.
"We want Indonesia to advance, and of course Singapore will be more advanced, both moving forward.”