PNG aims to ‘unlock potential’ by hosting APEC leaders summit

RNZ Live News video by Johnny Blades and Koroi Hawkins.

By Johnny Blades in Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea is preparing to host the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation)  leaders summit in November.

Leaders of the world’s biggest powers will converge on the capital Port Moresby to discuss trade and investment.

It is billed by PNG’s government as the ultimate chance to unlock the resource-rich country’s economic potential.

Despite a struggling economy, and record debt levels, the government has gone on a borrowing spree to develop the city’s infrastructure in time for APEC on November 15-17.

Johnny Blades and Koroi Hawkins are in Papua New Guinea currently on assignment for RNZ Pacific. The Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report has a content sharing agreement with RNZ.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Timorese vote in fresh general election after tense campaign

By Michael Leach in Dili

After a tense month-long campaign and two rest days, East Timorese cast their votes today in the Timor-Leste’s latest parliamentary elections. With the campaign characterised by considerable bitterness between the major parties, much is at stake.

Despite narrowly prevailing at the election just nine months ago, the Fretilin-led minority government failed to gain parliamentary support for its programme and budget during 2017.

The president — also from Fretilin — dissolved parliament and called today’s poll.

READ MORE: Choices sharpen in Timor-Leste

The East Timorese electoral agencies, short of funds after last year’s election and the parliamentary impasse, have risen to the occasion extremely well.

And, in a remarkable testimony to Timor-Leste’s young population, the electoral roll has grown by 3.1 percent to 784,000 voters, with around 24,000 voters turning 17 in just over nine months since last July.


Last year’s campaign came in the wake of a national unity government involving informal power-sharing between Xanana Gusmão’s CNRT and Fretilin. But relations quickly soured after an election that Fretilin won narrowly with 23 seats to CNRT’s 22.

In the end, Fretilin was only able to attract the Democratic Party, with its seven seats, to its minority coalition government, giving prime minister Dr Mari Alkatiri 30 seats in the 65-seat Parliament.

Rejected programme
Within weeks, the remaining parties had formed the Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) a coalition controlling 35 seats, and had voted down the government’s programme and budget.

Fretilin feels aggrieved that it did not receive parliamentary support after narrowly finishing ahead last year, despite an alternative coalition having been ruled out publicly by Xanana Gusmão in the immediate wake of the July election.

For its part, the AMP feels bitter about Fretilin’s parliamentary tactics last year, which delayed the second presentation of the government programme and prevented it from falling before the six-month mark, when the president could dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections.

AMP figures feel that their alliance should have been installed in government during the life of the Parliament. How these issues have influenced the voting public will be known tomorrow.

This year’s campaign has been marked by the resurgence of the “history wars,” the clash between the two wings of the East Timorese resistance during the Indonesian occupation.

The AMP has reunited Xanana Gusmão and his CNRT with former president Taur Matan Ruak’s Popular Liberation Party (PLP), which were at loggerheads during the 2017 election. Both were leaders of the armed resistance, Falintil.

The campaign has been frequently depicted as a contest between the armed front and members of the diplomatic front, who were outside the country during the occupation, including prime minister Alkatiri and key diplomatic figure Jose Ramos-Horta, who has thrown his weight behind the Fretilin campaign.

Hurt by attacks
Though he has not responded to them, Ramos-Horta has evidently been hurt by the attacks on his legacy, some of which have sought to diminish the contribution of those who struggled for independence in the international arena.

This division over resistance history has lent an unpleasant air to a campaign that has also been marked by exchanges of personal slurs between the major party leaders, including some outbursts of anti-Muslim sentiment directed at the Fretilin leader Dr Mari Alkatiri, and fractious personal debates on Facebook.

From the east of the country have come reports of rock attacks on AMP caravans in Viqueque, bringing back memories of the divisive 2007 election, which occurred in the wake of the 2006 political–military crisis.

The AMP parties have also complained of low-level attacks in Laga region of Baucau, were temperatures still run hot over the death of dissident veteran Mauk Moruk in 2014.

Yet the campaign has been remarkably peaceful on the whole, with colourful mass rallies of party supporters generally well behaved throughout most of the country.

The campaign has also been marred by a handful of accusations of favouritism and irregularities against the electoral agencies, prompting the head of the National Electoral Commission (CNE) to publicly defend the organisation in press conferences.

Several complaints originated on AMP’s Facebook page, including concerns over printing errors in the ballots, which were quickly identified and cancelled, and suspicions about meetings between CNE and political parties that turned out to be part of routine investigation of previous complaints.

Closely watched
The CNE has responded quickly and satisfactorily. With domestic and international observers closely watching the process and extremely professional electoral agencies, there is very little scope for manipulation.

The CNE and the Technical Secretariat of Electoral Administration have done an excellent job under trying circumstances with limited budgets.

While the parties have discussed differing visions for the future, especially during the series of TV debates, considerable energy has been diverted into personal and historical debates within the small political elite. The new AMP alliance brings together two parties that ran last year on fundamentally different development agendas, and it remains to be seen how the CNRT’s focus on major infrastructure spending can be reconciled with the PLP’s more grassroots focus on basic development spending on health education and agriculture.

How voters have received this new combination will be known tomorrow.

For their part, supporters of Fretilin and the Democratic Party (PD) have been on friendly terms throughout the campaign, suggesting the alliance seems to be holding, though this relationship could be easily revisited in the interparty negotiations that follow the election.

The AMP is a formidable coalition of parties that received 29.5 percent, 10.5 percent and 6.5 percent last year: a total of 46.5 per cent. It could also receive the support of the Democratic Development Front, or FDD, the coalition of the smaller parties most likely to exceed the 4 per cent threshold required to get seats. This is not certain, though, and there are at least some rumblings of dissent from one of the parties inside FDD. On the other side, Fretilin received 29.7 percent in 2017, and its PD partner in the minority government received 9.8 percent.

No polls have been taken to indicate the likely result tomorrow. As a baseline indication, if last year’s vote is notionally combined into the new party coalitions that have formed, the AMP would start with a nominal allocation of 33 seats — the minimum majority required.

Favourite on paper
In turn, Fretilin, PD and the FDD would receive 21, six and five seats respectively. If FDD cannot clear the 4 percent hurdle, these notional numbers rise to 36 for the AMP, 22 for Fretilin, and seven for PD.

The AMP therefore starts as favourite on paper, but the outcome tomorrow can easily change from the 2017 results., As a rough guide, Fretilin requires a swing of just under 4 per cent (if FDD does not take seats) rising to more like 6 per cent if the FDD gains seats and backs the AMP.

These are clearly challenging targets for Fretilin, though not impossible, especially in the former case. It may be that the smaller coalition becomes instrumental in the final result if things run close.

Some longer-term trends are striking. At a forum on the elections I conducted in Dili on Thursday, younger Timorese commented that though they are often reluctant to openly criticise their resistance-era leaders, young people are more interested in the development policies of the government and how they will help to create future jobs.

There was also a sense in last year’s election result that while resistance-era legitimacy remains important to political fortunes, it is starting to offer diminishing returns for East Timorese leaders as the median age of the voting public falls, and voters look for solutions to entrenched development problems.

The young people at the forum also felt that the direst warnings of potential trouble if one side or the other loses tomorrow have come from political insiders themselves, with most ordinary people confident that the national police can manage any post-election troubles.

Young voters also said Dili’s noisy and active social media has played a mixed role — allowing more opportunities for debate, on the one hand, and especially for women’s and young people’s voice to come through, but also distributing fake news and rumours, and not fully representing rural voices.

Potential sleeper trend
Another potential sleeper trend is the changing attitude of the Catholic Church to the major parties. The Church responded positively to the concordat with the Vatican orchestrated by the PM of the previous national unity government, Fretilin’s Rui Araujo.

Despite occasional slurs against Mari Alkatiri, most of the older political leadership from the 1970s does not identify strongly with the church, though younger Timorese broadly do.

As tomorrow’s poll approaches, both sides are supremely confident of victory in their public statements. Either way, it is likely that Timor-Leste will be in good hands, and the real issue as always will be how the unsuccessful parties accept the results.

After last year’s uncertain result, East Timorese will be hoping for a clear and decisive outcome.

Dr Michael Leach is Professor of Politics and International Relations at Swinburne University of Technology. This article was first published by Inside Story.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Accidents expose lax safety hitting Indonesia’s infrastructure projects

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Accidents expose lax safety hitting Indonesia’s infrastructure projects

By Sarah Yuniarni in Jakarta

A recent string of accidents in major construction projects in Indonesia has raised concerns of lax safety standards as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo pushes on with his ambitious infrastructure drive.

Last week, a retaining wall at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport near Jakarta collapsed and crushed a passing car, killing one man and injured another.

The wall was part of an airport train project completed only a few months ago by state-owned construction company Waskita Karya.

Prior to that, a total of 11 accidents were recorded at construction projects around the country managed by Waskita, Hutama Karya and Adhi Karya since August 2017, killing eight and injuring dozens of others.

Davy Sukamta, a structural engineering consultant, said managing too many projects could have strained the companies’ capabilities and exposed questionable work practices.

“Personally, I think [the accidents may have been caused by] bad work habits that have been going on [for years]. This makes it difficult for these companies to handle so many infrastructure projects,” Sukamta said.

Davy stopped short of saying contractors cut corners on construction materials, but did point out that many of them — especially smaller operators — lack skilled engineers and workers.

‘Lowest bids’
“The way the government conducts tenders for their projects [is also worrying]. They almost always pick a contractor that makes the lowest bid,” Sukamta said.

According to him, the Indonesian government should put contractors through a strict pre-qualification or pre-screening test. This will allow them to weed out low-skilled contractors from major construction projects.

The government should also conduct a thorough performance evaluation after each project is finished, which should allow them to earmark or ban underperforming contractors from future projects.

The incident at Soekarno-Hatta Airport forced the government to launch an investigation and raise safety standards in all its other infrastructure projects.

Transportation Ministry Secretary-General Sugihardjo said on February 4 that Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi had made an agreement with the Public Works and Housing Ministry to investigate the accident.

As part of the agreement, the airport train project will now be supervised by the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT).

Safety standards
The contractor for the project has already been told to replace facilities at the construction site that do not meet safety standards.

KNKT will also send a team to perform quality control at the site.

Waskita Karya’s corporate secretary Shastia Hadiarti said last Friday the accident at Soekarno-Hatta Airport has not significantly impacted the company’s business since Waskita still has numerous other projects going on.

Shastia said investigation into the tragedy is continuing and the result will be announced in March or April.

Reconstruction of the collapsed wall is expected to be completed in the next few days.

Waskita is waiting for a team of investigators to decide if the area is safe for cars or pedestrians to cross.

Indonesia’s development dilemmas – a green info gap and budget pressure

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Indonesia’s development dilemmas – a green info gap and budget pressure

Crucial to how Indonesia’s news outlets cover the environment – and its destruction – is the ownership and vested interests of the media landscape.  Video: Al Jazeera

ANALYSIS: By David Robie in Yogyakarta

In May, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo of Indonesia raised eyebrows across the archipelago when he inspected the Trans-Papua highway while trail blazing with a motorbike.

Tempo magazine, Indonesia’s most authoritative news magazine, remarked that he did this while “wearing only a thick jacket without a bullet proof vest”. Mentioning this lack of a flack jacket was tacit acknowledgement of the uncertain situation given an exponential rise of pro-independence sentiment in Indonesia’s two most eastern-most provinces of Papua and West Papua.

But Jokowi’s unconventional style of launching infrastructure projects didn’t just end there. Earlier this month he cruised along in a four-wheel drive vehicle on the recently completed Becakayu toll road, which had been languishing uncompleted for 18 years until his presidency gave the project a hurry up.

Last month, while giving a speech at Diponegoro University’s 60th Dies Natalis in Semarang, Central Java, Jokowi declared that infrastructure development was vitally important for the future in Indonesia. He wanted the country to become more competitive than its neighbours, such as Malaysia and Singapore.

President Jokowi Widodo checking out progress on the Trans-Papua Highway in May. Image: Repub of Indonesia

“Why is our infrastructure being built?,” he asked rhetorically about the rapid pace and emphasis that he and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla have given the strategy – a marked contrast with other presidencies.


“The answer is that we want our competiveness to be better than other countries. Our global competiveness must be improved,” he said. “This year is pretty good as we have soared from 41st to 36th among 137 countries.”

Tempo magazine: Infrastructure projects: Devil in the details.

The latest edition of Tempo magazine has devoted 38 pages to its cover story on infrastructure projects, headlining the fairly comprehensive report “Devil in the details”.

Few environmental reports
But absent from the range of quality articles was any serious report on the state of the environment in Indonesia — or environmental journalism, given that 2000 of the country’s 17,000 islands and 42 million households in a population of 261 million are at risk of “drowning” by 2050, according to a Listening Post report on Al Jazeera last month.

As Al Jazeera reported, “when you look at the [Indonesian] mainstream media, it is hard to find stories that go beyond catastrophes like forest fires or mudslides, examining who and what is behind them.”

A leading environmental journalism advocate has blamed lack of climate change and environmental reporting skills in Indonesian newsrooms for the lack of coverage.

“It is easier for journalists to cover sports or the economy, because they have scores and numbers,” Harry Surjadi, head of the Indonesian Society of Environmental Journalists, told Listening Post. “Those stories are much easier to write than environmental stories, where journalists have to understand biology, ecology, waste and chemistry.”

Nevertheless, Jokowi was praised by The Jakarta Post in a recent editorial for both his development policies and his concern for the poor of the country with his popularity  climbing.

“His overwhelming attention to the basic needs of the people has made him rather obsessive with the objective of keeping the prices of food and other basic necessities stable, thereby keeping inflation below 4 percent,” the Post noted.

However, in its special development edition, Tempo said in an editorial that the Widodo administration was “racing against time” after three years in government to complete its raft of planned infrastructure projects costing an estimated RP4,197 trillion (NZ$415 billion) between 2014 and 2019.

Many ambitious projects with an emphasis on developing the regions, especially eastern Indonesia — including Papua, are being worked on at the same time.

Projects’ sustainability
“All these activities spark public excitement, but also raise questions about the projects’ sustainability,” the magazine said.

“Jokowi’s choice to develop infrastructure is certainly not misplaced. Several studies show that infrastructure development in Indonesia was relatively backward in comparison with neighbours. Even worse: previous administrations spent more on fuel subsidies compared to physical construction,” Tempo commented.

In his Semarang speech, Jokowi said: “Why must we build? Because our country is an archipelago state, the marine foundation base is a must. Airport development was equally important as many islands could not be serviced by ship.

“So, on the remote islands of Natuna, Miangas, we are building an airport. This is just one example because we are building lots of small airports,” Jokowi added.

Tempo seemed to agree with this view by stating in its editorial: “In order to reach a healthy and growing economy, Indonesia needs new roads, bridges, power stations, airports and ports. This in turn requires massive funding.”

Some 42 percent of the required funding — the budget from the 2017 year has been almost tripled from RP177 trillion in Jokowi’s first year in office in 2014 to RP 4011 trillion this year — depends on allocations from the state budget, the magazine noted, plus money from state-owned businesses and private partnerships.

Tempo praised Jokowi for cutting back on energy subsidies, saying this was the right move to make – especially over fuel costs.

Sounding a warning
While also complimenting Jokowi on the boost for several jumbo projects that had stalled in recent years to ensure they get completed, Tempo also sounded a warning.

“Jokowi is racing against time. Infrastructure construction generally takes a while, and its economic benefits are only felt three to five years after construction begins: a time span which does not align with our five-year political cycle,” the magazine said.

“The government should avoid giving the impression that it is impatient to reap its rewards from the projects, especially once the cycle of political succession comes around. Good governance must not be abused for the sake of earning points for the next general elections [in 2019].”

Infrastructure development in Indonesia is a “matter of equality and justice” across the nation, says President Widodo. Image: Al Jazeera

Infrastructure highlights:

National: RP1,320 trillion (two programmes and 12 projects).

Bali and Nus Tenggara: RP11 trillion (15 projects, including the North Timor border crossing and supporting facilities).

Java Island: RP1,065 trillion (903 projects, including the 81km Serang-Panimbang toll road, MRT underground in Jakarta and public trains/railway).

Kalimantan: RP564 trillion (24 projects, including border crossings and facilities and the Serang-Balikpapan-Samarinda toll road).

Maluku and Papua: RP444 trillion (13 projects, including development of the Tangguh Train 3 LNG plant and the Palapa ring broadband).

Sulawesi: RP155 trillion (27 projects, including the Manado-Bitung toll road).

Sumatra: RP638 trillion (61 projects, including five sections of the Trans-Sumatra toll road).

The Jakarta MRT … among the infrastructure projects. Image: Repub of Indonesia

According to a breakdown chart published by Tempo, partnerships with private companies would provide more than half the projected budget – 57.5 percent, with SOEs providing 30 percent and the balance of 12.5 percent from the state budget.

In a four-page interview with the magazine, Jokowi said that after touring across the country, from Sabang to Merauke, “I saw for myself how grave the inequality was”, and he was convinced that an expanded infrastructure would help reduce the gap.

“This is a matter of equality and justice. Besides, our infrastructure development has lagged far behind our neighbours,” he said.

“Infrastructure is a foundation for tackling the problem of inequality. If we want it easy, we just have to allocate the budget for subsidies and increased social assistance, so purchasing power will increase and the public is happy.

“But do we want to continue this kind of strategy? I took the risk by not resorting to this kind of political move, and instead diverted resources to infrastructure development.”

Yet surprisingly nothing in this otherwise comprehensive report addressed climate change and environmental issues, a critical component of sustainable development in Indonesia.

Devastating forest fires in Indonesia in 2015 were caused by a massive burn-off for palm oil plantations. Image: Al Jazeera

Forest fire devastation
Al Jazeera’s Listening Post report stressed how in 2015 huge fires swept through Indonesia’s rainforests. About 2.6 million hectares of forest was set ablaze to make way for palm oil plantations.

“The fires produced – in just three weeks – more greenhouse gases than Germany does in an entire year,” Listening Post said.

“Forest fires have become an annual occurrence in Indonesia, and still, the country’s media seldom devote the column centimetres and airtime needed to explore the causes behind them.”

Merah Ismail, campaign manager for the mining advocacy network JATAM, was quoted as saying: “When [the media] do cover forest fires or the effects of mining, they leave out “subjects like ‘water poisoned due to toxic waste or air pollution’ because they don’t know enough about those subjects”.

While Jokowi had announced in September 2015 that Indonesia would cut the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent by 2030, the nation’s news media have reported little on the progress, or lack of it, over this pledge — even with global debate on climate change at COP23 ongoing in Bonn this month.

With little media exposure or debate, the issue of the future of the rainforests has been framed as a tough choice – between the economy and the environment.

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