Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Plus ca change, plus ce la wocka wocka wocka

[Update redacted. And you thought China was fun!]

It's much the same outside of Globe Towers, too. You always hear stories about rampant corruption and people gaming the system to the benefit of themselves or their political party, but sometimes it's hard to tell how much of that is cynicism and how much is justified. In addition to the usual problem of people swindling money, now there are reports of businesses artificially creating food shortages. Rice dominated the headlines in the last few months as stockpiles got dangerously low, but that all seemed to dissipate once Indonesia's main harvest started. Now the focus is turning toward meat.

Indonesia, like other growing economies, is slowly moving from a grain-based diet to one with more protein as its people become more affluent (see China and its love of pork). Being a proud nation, as well as one that's still comparatively poor, Indonesia wants to become self-sufficient in meat in short order. To no one's surprise, someone is trying to get rich off the government's impatience.
Beef may become increasingly scarce next month as the government rushes its efforts to reach self-sufficiency, the Indonesian Meat Importers Association said on Tuesday.

In February last year, the Agriculture Ministry instituted a program to make Indonesia self-sufficient in beef by 2014. As part of the effort, the government dramatically cut this year’s quota for beef imports to 50,000 tons, after the country shipped in 120,000 tons in 2010.

Thomas Sembiring, chairman of the association, also known as Aspidi, said by cutting the import quota by almost 60 percent without first securing the domestic supply, the government seems to be rushing and forcing the self-sufficiency issue.

“It’s just a political move. By reporting that the import quota was cut that much, they’re trying to make it seem like the program is working already,” Thomas told the Jakarta Globe. By his estimates, “If there are no more imports coming [this month], in April beef stocks will be empty.”
The real news nugget is further down, though. Like seemingly everything in this country, it all comes down to politics.
In its March 14 issue, Tempo Weekly said the quota cut could result in unfair competition. It reported that four beef-importing firms owned by Basuki Hariman had more than the average import quota for similar companies.

The report also said 143 containers with 2,750 tons of meat were waiting in Tanjung Priok port.

According to the report, Basuki’s close relationship with members of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), such as Tafakur Rozak Soedjo and Suripto, allowed him access to several top officials in the ministry, which is led by PKS member Suswono.
The Tempo Weekly report has been bumped off the site's main page, though Google still has a cached version. I highly recommend you read the report (if it's still available). It's a shining example of how things truly work in this country.

Meat isn't a new issue, of course. It's been raging for some time, though it could take on new importance now that Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand have signed a raft of free-trade agreements between them. A much sexier story is the revelations by WikiLeaks that the US and Indonesia's president don't exactly see eye-to-eye. The government responded with a flurry of denials, of course, but hasn't exactly strained itself to disprove the allegations.

Now there are reports Indonesia's own generals may be working against the government.
Al Jazeera is reporting that “senior retired generals” are supporting the Islamic Defenders Front and other hard-line groups to incite religious violence and overthrow Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“The generals are using the groups in their efforts to topple President Yudhoyono because they feel he is too weak and too reformist,” said Al Jazeera correspondent Step Vassen in the report.

Al Jazeera acknowledged that though the claims that certain hard-line groups had powerful backing were not new, “this can now be confirmed for the first time.” “This revelation shows that behind religious violence, a dangerous political power play is happening.”

Al Jazeera quoted Chep Hernawan, leader of the Islamic Reform Movement (Garis), as saying that “the generals are fed up with the president’s lies.”

Chep said the generals had previously attempted to use a number of issues, including corruption, to foment a backlash against the president, “but they failed.”

“Now they are using the Ahmadiyah issue and it works,” he said, referring to the Islamic sect currently being persecuted by the mainstream Muslim majority. The generals say Ahmadiyah has to be disbanded or we’ll have a revolution.”

Chep told the cable news channel that he was approached by a retired three-star general in January. “He told me that we should keep fighting a jihad, we should not back down so the liar can be toppled.”
Video of the Al Jazeera report is here. I can't say I'm too surprised. More and more these days, it seems "working together" with people means stepping on their throat until they give in to all your demands. It's not just here, of course (Hi Ohio and Wisconsin!), but Indonesians are more up front about it.

I don't want to send you off on a down note, though. Just remember that when things get bad — truly, awfully terrible — even criminals are capable of putting aside their base instincts and making the world a better place.

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