Indonesia playing punk with us again

MFA Spokesman’s Comments on remarks by Indonesian Minister of Defence Prof Juwono Sudarsono

In response to media queries on remarks by Indonesian Minister of Defence Prof Juwono Sudarsono, who was quoted as saying that Indonesia’s ratification of the Defence Cooperation Agreement was held up because Singapore had rejected Indonesia’s proposal for training arrangements to be determined jointly by the two sides, the MFA Spokesman said:

“We are puzzled by Prof Juwono’s statement that Singapore wants to decide by itself the military training arrangements in Indonesia.

Indonesia and Singapore had negotiated the Extradition Treaty (ET), and the Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) and four associated Implementing Arrangements (IAs) as one package. This package of agreements was agreed to and completed at a meeting of their Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence, and their armed forces chiefs on 23 April 2007. It was on this basis that the ET, DCA and Military Training Area IA were signed on 27 April 2007 in Bali in the presence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. At Indonesia’s request, however, the date for the signing of the three remaining IAs was deferred to 7 May 2007, purely for administrative and logistical reasons. The TNI explained that it could not get all three Indonesian Service Chiefs to be present on 27 April. Unfortunately, the signing on 7 May 2007 did not materialise, because just before it was due to take place Indonesia requested changes to the IAs which Singapore could not agree to.

The package of agreements was settled after comprehensive negotiations between the relevant agencies on both sides, including the defence ministries and armed forces of Indonesia and Singapore. Since the time negotiations commenced in October 2005, both sides had ample opportunity to raise any matter of concern for discussion, prior to the conclusion of the carefully balanced set of agreements on 23 April 2007. Indonesia did not raise these issues then. But after the conclusion of the package, Indonesia asked for substantive changes and new conditions to what had already been agreed upon in the DCA and IAs, as reflected in Prof Juwono’s remarks.

Singapore’s position is that the agreements are already settled, and the terms cannot be changed casually or piecemeal, without risking the whole package of ET and DCA unravelling. Nevertheless, in the interests of good relations between the two countries, Singapore had earlier conveyed to Indonesia our proposal on how we can move forward on this issue, and we are waiting for Indonesia’s response to our proposal.”

13 JUNE 2007

This is a worrying escalation of “megaphone diplomacy”, whereby Singapore and Indonesia are now negotiating through the mass media, instead of through more discreet diplomatic channels.

Let me hazard a guess as to what’s going on behind the scenes (the following may or may not be true, but it’s my assessment of what I think is most likely):

1. Singapore made an earlier than expected announcement that it was ready to sign the ET and DCA, and Indonesia got rushed into signing even though they didn’t want to sign the DCA, because there is much domestic expectation that the ET should be signed asap.

2. Now we learn that the Indons tried to play punk by claiming their military chiefs couldn’t make it to the 27 April signing. That is absolute rubbish! You mean the president, defence minister and foreign minister can make it, but the generals can’t? I mean, how big shot can a general possibly be? So why can’t the defence minister sign on their behalf. They must think the Singapore officials were stupid not to call their bluff in the first place. Singapore probably knew it, but just swallowed it.

3. Juwono alleged that Indonesia “proposed that training arrangements be determined jointly by the TNI (Indonesian military) and Singapore. Singapore rejected it, saying they should decide for themselves, despite the fact that the exercises will be conducted on our territory” — that is ludicrous! I know Singapore officials are often pushy and arrogant, but they would never insist on something outrageous like conducting military training in another country without the host country’s 100% concurrence.

4. After 27 April, Indonesia probably proposed some vague clause that could effectively invalidate the whole DCA because they can just use it to delay the DCA’s execution indefinitely. Naturally Singapore rejected the change. Also there’s a principle to stick to. If they agreed to it before, why should we allow them to suka suka make a change like that?

5. “Puzzled” in Singapore diplomatic speak means more like “the fella is trying to shift goal posts and go back on what we previously agreed on”.

Vessel detentions show Jakarta’s disconnect with its people

It is shocking to learn from the MFA spokesman yesterday that Indonesia has yet to release the vessels carrying granite from the Riau Islands to Singapore. The press release did not indicate how many vessels were still being detained, but based on remarks in Parliament on 5 March by Foreign Minister George Yeo, some 12 tugboats and 12 barges — most of which fly the Singapore flag — have been detained. On Friday 23 March, The Jakarta Post reported that at least 20 barges have been detained by the Indonesian Navy since early February — that’s almost two full months!

(Photo: WN)

Aside for the obvious implications on the construction industry in Singapore, which relies heavily on sand and granite imports from Indonesia, the financial impact on Indonesian companies in the business of sand and granite exports has been tremendous. Riau Granite Members Association (APGR) member Muchamad Syafei told The Jakarta Post that business has been “badly affected”, as each vessel can carry between 2,000 and 3,000 tons of granite, with up to 3 round trips to Singapore per day. At US$21 per ton (which was the price of granite before the detentions began), that works out to over US$1 million in losses per week for the Indonesian companies.

And we haven’t even factored in the losses from the ban on sand exports. Based on a 11 March report in Indonesian daily Kompas, Indonesia used to sell sand to Singapore at US$7 per ton. Each day, more than 16,000 tons of sand were being exported from Indonesia to Singapore. The losses in sand revenue for Indonesian companies: US$672,000 per week.

The 17-member APGR has made a complaint to the Trade Ministry, and some companies are even considering suing the Navy for its massive losses. All this while, the Trade Ministry, including its minister and director general, has been denying that there is any ban on granite exports. Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda also assured George Yeo on 15 March that the Indonesian Cabinet was not considering a ban on granite exports. However, he said that some of the detained barges were “in breach of regulations”. (The Navy alleges that the exporters are smuggling sand concealed under the granite, but the Indonesian exporters have insisted that these were just dust from the crushed granite.)

Jakarta has already let the cat out of the bag that all these bans and detentions are nothing to do with environmental damage, but are instead intended to pressure Singapore to sign an extradition treaty so they can hunt down corrupt businessmen and officials seeking refuge in the city state. Given the conflicting statements and actions of the Indonesian Trade Ministry, Foreign Ministry and the Navy, it is possible that each of these power centres in Indonesia are playing one-upmanship games in order to claim credit for what is eventually going to be a signed extradition treaty. (Singapore has already said that it will sign the Treaty once the details of the parallel Defence Cooperation Agreement are worked out.)

All this points to a serious disconnect between the government in Jakarta and commercial interests in their own Riau Province. While Jakarta officials continue to play games to demonstrate their nationalist credentials, their own people and businesses suffer. Singapore can always find alternative sources of sand and granite. But do the Indonesian companies and their workers have alternative sources of revenue and employment?

Extradition Treaty with Indon will benefit S’pore too

Singapore and Indonesia have been conducting “megaphone diplomacy” with each other in the past few weeks. Officials and parliamentarians on both sides have been trading barbs over Indonesia’s sudden ban on the export of sand to Singapore and the bilateral Extradition Treaty that Indonesia so desperately seeks.

Indonesia has been wanting to sign the Extradition Treaty with Singapore for over 30 years. However, it is only in the past decade since the 1997-98 financial and political crisis in Indonesia that nationalistic drumbeats have forced this to the top of its foreign policy agenda with Singapore. In 1999, then-President B. J. Habibie accused Singapore of being racist and harbouring “economic criminals” as he tried to pressure Singapore to sign the Extradition Treaty. It was in this context that Habibie uttered his now infamous remark that Singapore is nothing but a “little red dot in a sea of green”, an analogy that the Singapore Government has used ever since to explain its dispassionate and clinical approach to foreign policy.

After Singapore’s and Indonesia’s new leaders — Lee Hsien Loong and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — took power in 2004, the two countries finally agreed to move forward on talks on the Treaty. In early 2005, during President Yudhoyono’s first state visit to Singapore, PM Lee assured him that Singapore would work towards concluding the Treaty. But since then, Singapore officials have been uncharacteristically slow in working out the details of the Treaty to bring it to a conclusion.

The Indonesians have not bothered to hide their impatience with Singapore’s apparent delay tactics. In February this year, Jakarta suddenly announced a complete ban on sand exports to Singapore. Singapore was the biggest importer of Indonesian sand, which is needed for its construction industry. The Indonesians first cited environmental and border encroachment concerns. But then the Director-General for Asia in DEPLU (Indonesia’s foreign ministry) revealed to the Jakarta Post on 26 February what both parties knew all along: the sand ban had nothing to do with the environment, and everything to do with applying pressure on Singapore to conclude the Treaty expeditiously.

The next day, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla lashed out at Singapore in an interview with the Financial Times for “refusing to sign” the Extradition Treaty. He accused Singapore of trying to keep “billions of dollars” in corrupt money siphoned out of Indonesia by fleeing tycoons during the 1997-98 financial crisis. He added that “Singapore often says there’s so much corruption in Indonesia. But when we want to work together on combating corruption, they don’t want to.”

A report in Australian daily The Age (“Singapore none too fussy about the source of wealth in its financial sector”, 26 July 2006) pointed out that among those believed to be hiding out in Singapore are convicted crooks who had embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars from Indonesian banks and state investment agencies. Many of these white collar criminals had bribed state bank officials to give them huge unsecured loans, and then fled to Singapore.

Singapore: Indonesian corruption is not our problem

The Singapore Government has countered Indonesia’s claims by pointing out that an Extradition Treaty is not going to solve its corruption problems, and that the main culprit is poor law enforcement within its own borders. It has also argued that the Treaty is a complex document that is complicated even further by the different legal systems in each country.

It is clear that the Singapore Government does not see any economic benefit in concluding the Extradition Treaty with Indonesia. A Merrill Lynch report in October 2006 found that one-third — or 18,000 — of Singapore’s high net worth individuals (those with over $1 million in assets) are Indonesians holding Singapore Permanent Residency. Their combined assets are worth a whopping $87 billion — prized foreign talent indeed! No doubt these Indonesian tycoons have contributed tremendously to the strong growth of Singapore’s wealth management industry in recent years.

Of course, not all rich Indonesians living in Singapore are corrupt. But the fear in the financial services industry is that once the Treaty is signed, many corrupt Indonesians will simply pull out their money and move to another safe haven to avoid extradition, and in the process hollow out Singapore’s private banking industry. So while Indonesia’s loss has been Singapore’s gain, Singapore’s loss (when the rich crooks pack up and leave for third countries) will not necessarily be Indonesia’s gain.

So what’s in it for Singapore?

So, from a Singaporean perspective, are there any compelling reasons for concluding the Extradition Treaty with Indonesia? In my humble opinion, there are many.

Firstly, it is the morally right thing to do. “Always do what is right, because it is right“, is what an American soldier’s mother advised him when he went out to war in Clint Eastwood’s movie, Letters From Iwo Jima. Just because Indonesia wrongly thinks that the Extradition Treaty is a panacea for its corruption problems, doesn’t mean that Singapore should continue to provide refuge for economic fugitives and profit from their dirty money. As a Christian, I am convinced that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34, NIV). We will reap in future what we sow now. Obviously this cuts little ice with our self-proclaimed rational and amoral government, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

Secondly, taking a firm stand on money laundering will raise our profile as Asia’s premier fin
ancial services hub. This issue has been reported in the leading newspapers in Australia, the UK and goodness knows where else, causing much damage to Singapore’s squeaky clean reputation. The Government previously claimed that there is no need for an extradition treaty, because Singapore banks already have stringent checks in place to ensure that the Republic is not used as a money laundering centre. If this is the case, then the Government should have no worries that the Extradition Treaty will impact the money parked in local banks. If it turns out not to be the case, then it’s high time our banks put their house in order.

Thirdly, the conclusion of the Extradition Treaty will extinguish Indonesia’s main bargaining chip in its negotiations with Singapore. They have already agreed to renew the bilateral Defence Cooperation Agreement in exchange for the Extradition Treaty. In addition to continued access to training areas for the SAF, improved defence diplomacy with Indonesia will in no small way contribute to Singapore’s security. The Treaty will also remove the main bugbear in bilateral relations with our largest and most important neighbour, and open doors for further cooperation in a myriad of areas.

Finally, if Indonesia makes inroads into combating corruption, Singapore will be one of the main countries to benefit. This is the basis of ASEAN’s “Prosper Thy Neighbour” policy. Corruption is a scourge that is preventing the Indonesian economy from achieving its full potential. Although an extradition treaty is not going to fix Indonesia’s endemic corruption, it is part of the effort and would force corrupt businessmen to think twice before committing fraud and escaping to Singapore.

Indonesia is Singapore’s second-largest trading partner and Singapore is one of Indonesia’s biggest foreign investors. A growing Indonesian economy would be a boom for not only our exporters and investors, but our services industry as well. It is certainly not a “zero sum game”, as many in our government often see it. A Business Times report (“Betting on IT in Indonesia”, 1 March 2006) indicated that there is strong interest among Singapore’s companies in the Indonesian ICT market, which is set to grow from US$1.9 billion in 2005 to US$3.7 billion in 2010. Lower corruption means more efficient running of business and less “overheads” that need to be paid out to get things done.

Concluding the Treaty “early”

It is heartening to note that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated yesterday that Singapore “would like both Agreements (the Extradition Treaty and the Defence Cooperation Agreement) to be concluded early”.

Hopefully this is the honest truth, and not just more diplomatic lingo.