FROM DRILL BITS TO DIGITAL BYTES
Adhiyana Auditorium in Wisma Antara was bustled with attendants from various backgrounds last Wednesday, May 10th 2017. Students, journalists, business executives, to diplomats coming from numerous embassy offices in Jakarta were filling up the room, in spite of the traffic jam following the spontaneous rally outside Jakarta’s City Hall nearby Wisma Antara, following the judges’ verdict on Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s blasphemy case yesterday (9/5). The public anticipation was astounding, as the event that was titled as “From Drill Bits to Digital Bytes: Thoughts on a Stronger US-Indonesia Relationship” would be one of the first major public addresses by the new US Ambassador to Indonesia, His Excellency Joseph R. Donovan Jr., who was sworn-in on November 4th 2016 by President Barack Obama.
The mediator of the day who also the President Director of Antara News, Mr. Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, kicked off the seminar by welcoming all the attendants to Wisma Antara, extending his welcome to congratulating Antara News that celebrated its 80th anniversary last December, wishing that the only state-owned news will always be able to serve public’s interest. Mr. Meidyatama mentioned the uncanny importance of keeping the US-Indonesia relationship at a favorable condition, considering the great amount of mutual interests both nations possess, and how the volatility of current political condition should not hinder the relations, especially in economic sector.
Ambassador Donovan greeted the guests with his impression on Indonesia: an admirable democratic country, with beautiful landscapes and thriving economy. He continued by extending the meaning of US Vice-President, Mike Pence’s visit to Indonesia last April, as the proof for US’s strong commitment towards Asia. VP Pence’s visit was also a show of commitment from the US government to support Indonesia’s democracy, moderate Islam and economy through free trade, and business investment.
Furthermore, he retracted back to the history of US’ investment in Indonesia dating back to before Indonesia gained independence. With Standard Oil opening their plant in 1910s, American coal companies’ plant opening in 1930s, up until today where American companies in numerous sectors including natural resources, garment and furniture, have always been a great economic partner for Indonesia. Ambassador Donovan reiterated how American companies have always had a positive outcome for Indonesia’s development, where these companies employ thousands of workers in plants situated all over Indonesia. Where through these employments, American industries have helped Indonesia in advancing its production capacity through technological transfer, as well as knowledge transfer where Indonesian workers are being educated to attain further production skills.
“American companies are here for profit, make no mistake,” emphasized Ambassador Donovan, before continuing that in spite of that, American companies always thrive to gain production that considers protection om the workers’ rights and high quality of production means. This has led garments, furniture and many other Indonesian products to successfully get into markets with high-quality standard, such as the US market.
In his speech, Ambassador Donovan also mentioned that it is not only the big companies that cultivate good impact for Indonesia’s economy. Ambassador Donovan told the experience of one small American company that operates in East Bali
Ambassador Donovan mentions as Indonesia’s economy becomes stronger, so does the middle-class in Indonesia. The expanding middle-class in Indonesia, with their stronger purchasing parity, and digitally-connectedness attracts many American investors. This is because Indonesia is a remarkably big market with over two hundred million of population, however there are still several issues present for Indonesia to achieve its full potential, as Ambassador Donovan noted. The first issue being the lack of infrastructure that would sustain larger investment, to which Ambassador Donovan praised President Joko Widodo for his on-going nationally prioritized infrastructure program; the second issue is the insufficient electrical power, which has also been an issue that President Joko Widodo has been concerning about. Ambassador Donovan iterated how the US government has always been in the front-line of providing energy, the Ambassador announced partnership of General Electrics (GE) with PLTG Gorontalo that sustains over 100 megawatt electricity capacity that is aimed to supply Sulawesi with stable electricity. The United Technologies Corporation (UTC) has also embarked in a partnership with Indonesian government to construct windpower plant is South Sulawesi.
However, Ambassador Donovan also presented the third issue which became one of the focus of his speech. That is: the need for a more transparent and healthy business environment for investors. The Ambassador calls for a stronger non-discriminatory policy and more pronounced transparency measures in bureaucratic process to open businesses in Indonesia. The Ambassador reiterated the utmost importance for the government of Indonesia to uphold this principle as it is adjacent to the growth of investment in Indonesia.
Amongst many concerns, the Ambassador also emphasized the need for more Indonesian workers to fill in strategic executive position in many big companies within the country. The Ambassador regrets that even though many Indonesian workers have the potential, many of these positions are still being held by expatriates. This led to the booming phenomenon of outsourcing which has a detrimental effect to Indonesia’s development in the future. For this situation, Ambassador Donovan stressed on the importance of keeping competitiveness harnessed, concluding his speech by iterating the negative effects of protectionism in today’s globalized society. Ending his speech, the Ambassador once again reiterated on the importance of both Indonesia and the US to preserve their prosperous trading partnership where both shall always accommodate each other through win-win solutions.
Speech of Ambassador Joseph R. Donovan could be accessed on: bit.ly/speech10may