Friday, August 27, 2010

An Indonesian Minister’s Analysis on Singapore

Indonesia’s Communication and Information Technology Minister, Tifatul Sembiring, shared his analysis on Singapore and its relationship with Indonesia, through his Twitter account.

According to Tifatul, Singapore’s history is inseparably related to a figure of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister and current minister mentor. On year 1959, while Singapore’s gross national product (GNP) was US$400, Lee had a vision of the GNP to have a 60-fold increase to US$24,000 by 1990. And in 1995, Singapore’s GNP was US$20,000, nearly reaching the target.

Tifatul said that he had the opportunity to have a direct discussion with Lee twice, and at the age of nearly 90 years old, Lee is described by Tifatul as “still smart”. Tifatul asked Lee on how he built Singapore, how is Indonesia’s future competitiveness, the role of China, India, Japan and South Korea, and Lee answered his questions with excitement.

Singapore is like a mini-Indonesia, multi-ethnic with Chinese majority, and Lee said, they are being “engineered” to interact with each other. As a small nation without natural resources, they have to invite people to do business in Singapore. That’s why they must have an airline with the best service, referring to Singapore Airlines (SQ).

According to Lee as quoted by Tifatul, the society have to be disciplined, there have to be certainty on law, which is enforced strictly. No smoking by law, a ban on spitting, and death penalty for drug traffickers are just the examples. There’s no democracy in Singapore, opposition is just a complement. As what Lee said, they don’t want to take the risk of political turmoil, they have to be stable. As a result, investors are streaming in.

Tifatul asked Edward Lee, a former Singapore’s ambassador for Indonesia, on what is Singapore’s modern vision. Edward replied: “Vision Hub”. Tifatul asked what does that mean, and it was explained to him that Singapore has to become the central (hub) of businesses. We (Indonesia) might be rich in oil, gas etc, but they have to be sold via Singapore, resulting in the price to follow MOPS (Mean of Platts Singapore). We might have Bali, Lake Toba, Singkarak, Maninjau, Bunaken, Senggigi, Bromo, Sentani, but visitors will have to go through Singapore, using Singapore’s travel agents.

With main businesses on finance, banking, insurance, telecommunications and trade services, and with a population of 4.5 million people, Singapore’s foreign reserves reaches US$ 120 billion. In 2005, Singapore is Indonesia’s biggest foreign investors. They are now harvesting the result of their expansion strategy (Tifatul used the term “tebar jala” in bahasa Indonesia) to neighbouring countries.

Therefore, Tifatul concluded that we have to learn from history. A crisis will not be resolved by simple amok and flag burning. There have to be “smart moves”. He’s referring to the current crisis between Indonesia and Malaysia, pertaining to the arrests of Indonesian maritime officers by Malaysia’s police.

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