JAKARTA: Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said he wants to deepen ties and increase cooperation across sectors with Singapore - his country's biggest investor - in an exclusive interview with CNA on Tuesday (Aug 6).
“I think moving forward, we will continue to work with Singapore and especially in Batam, Bintan, and Karimun areas. I think we have a lot of cooperation there, whether in the digital sector, the economy, in the tourism sector, industrial sector. I think we will have a lot of cooperation in those areas,” said the former mayor of Solo, more commonly known by the moniker “Jokowi”.
Indonesia currently has plans to build its longest sea bridge, connecting the islands of Batam and Bintan which are located near Singapore. The bridge will span seven kilometres with construction expected to begin in 2020.
Once completed, having the sea bridge could ease travel and boost business between the two countries.
Mr Widodo is also looking to work together with Singapore on human capital development, another one of his key visions for next five years.
In 2016, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mr Widodo officially opened Kendal Industrial Park in Semarang, Central Java. The 2,700-hectare park, which is also known as Park by the Bay, is a joint development between Singapore’s Sembcorp Development and Indonesia’s industrial estate developer PT Jababeka.
The estate currently houses the Polytechnic of Furniture and Wood Processing Industry to meet the needs of industrial workers and make the furniture industry more competitive.
Mr Widodo believes Indonesia can benefit from working together with Singapore in other industries as well.
“I think we should not only focus on wood but there are many other industries as well. Digital economy, perhaps the creative industry, I think there are so many industries that we can work on together in an effort to develop human capital,” he said, while adding that he is ready to work together across all sectors, whether it means sending Indonesian workers and students to Singapore or whether Singapore builds training centres in Indonesia.
6% GROWTH TARGET FOR INDONESIA
Mr Widodo’s plans to deepen ties with Singapore come amid hopes for Indonesia’s economic growth to surpass six per cent at the end of his second term in 2024.
He said that Indonesia was in a good position compared to other countries, taking into consideration a sluggish global economy that is unsupportive.
“What is most important is the trust of the market, investor confidence towards Indonesia is getting better therefore we expect that in this second term, our economy will grow better, higher, and impact the welfare of the people of Indonesia,” he said.
Indonesia’s economy grew about five per cent in recent years, short of the seven per cent targeted by Mr Widodo ahead of his first term.
Mr Widodo said that he would like economic growth to be as high as possible and that Indonesia is still in the process of improving ease of business. Along with simplifying the procedure for business licenses, he also wants to open foreign investment to Indonesia as wide as possible.
"If this is successful, I am sure economic growth in Indonesia will be better and we hope it will be able to surpass six per cent," he said.
Luring investment is one of Mr Widodo’s visions for his second term.
Addressing a packed auditorium in Sentul, West Java, in July, he told the crowd that Indonesia must not be “allergic to investment” because investment was the key to opening jobs.
Mr Widodo was outlining his vision for a second term in office after officially being named president-elect. He beat rival and former general Prabowo Subianto in a bitter and divisive election this year, securing 55.5 per cent of the total votes.
In a strongly worded speech, he said barriers to investment must be removed and that he was keeping a stern eye on the process, threatening to “clobber” anyone who stood in the way of progress.
And Mr Widodo appears to be executing his tough stance. Indonesia on Sunday experienced a massive power outage which left Jakarta and several cities in mainland Java in the dark for at least nine hours due to technical issues. State power company PLN suffered over US$6 million in losses.
Most of the capital’s 10 million people were affected, prompting the use of generators in offices, malls and apartments, while Indonesians took to social media to vent their frustrations.
On Monday, Mr Widodo visited the state electricity firm on Monday to better understand what caused the outage. He criticised the company and said to management: "Things that can cause this big an event should not happen again in the future."
Speaking to CNA on Tuesday, he admitted that while management at the state-run firm needed to be improved, investors need not worry about the blackout. “Most importantly we have enough electricity and if there are problems we can solve them,” he said.
With the dry season set to peak this month, it is not just the economy that the President has to worry about. Six provinces in Indonesia, including three close to Singapore, have declared a state of emergency to battle the annual smog from land and forest fires.
Jambi, Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, South and Central Kalimantan have been hit by the fires.
On Wednesday, Mr Widodo told military and police officials to sack firefighting personnel if they were unable to resolve the issue.
Speaking at a national coordinating meeting to tackle forest fires, he asked all relevant stakeholders to collaborate in helping to overcome the still occurring forest and land fires, and promised government funds for high-tech equipment like drones to help extinguish the flames.
Satellites on Tuesday morning detected 433 hot spots across the country, with Riau province recording the largest number at 132, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (BNPB).
Indonesian authorities have sent nearly 5,700 firefighting teams to extinguish the flames in the various provinces; 33 helicopters have also been deployed, along with two aircraft to seed clouds to induce rainfall.
Neighbours like Singapore and Malaysia are affected by the annual haze and Indonesia has recorded the highest number of hot spots this year at 975 so far, since the disastrous fires in 2015.
Mr Widodo told CNA that the situation is under control and that while the number of hotspots have increased compared to 2018, Indonesia wants it to decrease as much as possible. Law enforcement would be uncompromising in the matter.
“Compare the number of hotspots this year to 2015, it has dropped down by 81 per cent. But the hotspots this year have indeed increased compared to 2018 so this morning, I invited the police, the military ranks, the governor, the regents and mayors to work together so that the fires must be reduced in all areas as much as possible,” he said.
MAN OF THE PEOPLE
Having won the majority of votes in two elections to secure two terms, “Jokowi” has always presented himself as a man of the people. He has held a wide support base since his days as mayor of Solo, prior to becoming President for the first time in 2014.
On Tuesday afternoon prior to the interview, CNA accompanied Mr Widodo on one of his signature spontaneous walkabouts, or "blusukan", which allows him to witness situations at a grassroots level and interact with people.
Dressed in a white shirt, black pants and black sports shoes, Mr Widodo received a rockstar's welcome and was mobbed by the crowd as soon as he exited his vehicle.
The “blusukan” destination was a downtown mall in the heart of the capital, where crowds thronged Mr Widodo for pictures or “selfies,” requests he patiently obliged. Many of them held his hands and wished him well and he also purchased Indonesian batik from Solo.
His online engagement with people is even more impressive - 23 million followers on Instagram and close to 12 million on Twitter. He also has 347 videos on YouTube. While most of the videos on President Widodo's YouTube channel depict his day-to-day activities in office, he also puts up clips which give Indonesians a glimpse into his personal life.
Data from Statista shows YouTube was the most used social network in Indonesia as of the third quarter in 2018, with a penetration rate of 88 per cent. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are not far off, ranking in the six highest leading social networks.
Mr Widodo admitted to embracing social media, but he encouraged people to use social media responsibly.
Don't (use it to) spread hoax, fake news, slander, I don't think those things are good for social interaction between neighbours, friends, anyone. I invite all of us to use social media with good ethics,” he said.
Watch the full interview on "In Conversation," Monday (Aug 12) at 10.30pm (SIN/HK)