As much as I have tried for more than 19 years to adapt to life here, I do know that I will never be totally assimilated. This is nothing to do with my height, skin colour or inability to become fluent in bahasa Indonesia or the notion that maybe my face doesn't fit.
I have always believed that 'we are all one under the skin' so in accepting our differences there are shared notions of what is good and bad and what is right and wrong for society. A credo of 'do as you would be done by' serves to bind society together. This is the essential core of democracy, the notion that we can all determine our temporal destinies by participating in the decision making process, if only by entrusting others with the temporary power to make decisions on our behalf.
If we disagree with those decisions, then it is our right to protest and to suggest alternatives. There are, unfortunately, occasions when the protesting becomes an end in itself, when the decision makers assume powers beyond their competence and refuse to listen to their constituencies. They surround themselves with lackeys who are generally concerned with protecting the fiefdoms which are theirs by mere association.
This is, of course, a general truth which applies throughout the world. Here in Asia and in particular in Indonesia there is an added dimension which I have great difficulty in comprehending.
Take a couple of examples given in today's Jakarta Post.
First there is is the issue of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Indonesian government and Microsoft. This has been a focus of comment
for the past month.The MoU refers to IDC/World Bank/Intel surveys that estimated the number of PC (needing MS Windows) across the government at 35,496 plus additional 266,220 in the form of license grants. Additionally, they will also need 177,480 licenses for MS Office. While there's no dollar value anywhere on the document, Tony Chen, the local MSFT President put the dollar value of Microsoft revenue loss to piracy in Indonesia at US$187m - so the estimate will be somewhere around that figure.
To put this figure in perspective, the entire Indonesian judicial system gets roughly just a little more than double that figure for their budget this year (they asked for more, but that's how much they get in '06).
(The figure quoted by the Post
, as taken from Tempo
, is $41.9 million.)
However, ignoring the cheaper options of Open Source software as produced by the Indonesian I.T. community, what has further stirred emotions is a concurrent donation of $1 million "made by Microsoft to SBY when he visited the United States
". This donation was "in the form of goods and educational aid
". That the MoU is not transparent is a factor in the implication that SBY is not Mr. Clean and this is why the journalist and 'noted economist' Faisal Basri who wrote about the issue in Rakyat Merdeka Online
is now facing police action.
And the potential charge? Tarnishing the government's image!
Image? A government which spends tax payers' money without accounting for it and which won't disclose how it will spend a donation gets the image it deserves. A bad one.
The second case of image protection is happening right now with the tragic loss of life in the crash of rhe Adam Air plane in Sulawesi. As I write this (8.30am) the plane has not yet been found
, which makes yesterday's 'news' of 90 casualties being found at Polewali, West Sulawesi, seem exceptionally cruel and heartless.
Firstly the relatives in Surabaya and Manado were told that the plane was delayed, come back later. Then they hear about the missing plane on the radio and TV. Then they are told that hope is extinguished. Then they are told that, actually, Adam Air and the authorities have no idea where the plane actually went down.
Put yourselves in the shoes of the grieving and ask yourself what Adam Air should be doing, or rather, how
they should be doing it.
Adam Air "provides a special planes from Surabaya to Makassar for 100 relatives
" and "has dispatched 70 families of passengers from Manado to Makassar
" as well as providing accomodation for them and co-ordinating with the 'Joint Team'. That's all well and good.
But the quarter page advert in today's Post concludes as follows:We and the joint team will try to gather information as best we can and pass on the information in due time. Therefore we appeal for understanding for our inability to adequately distribute information to the public at this time.
No apology for yesterday's almighty media cock-up; just an appeal for understanding. And why? Because Adam Air is worried that it's image may be tarnished, that's why.
We all screw up at some point. Taking responsibility for and learning from our mistakes, then moving on, is all part of life. It's a sign of maturity.
Being affronted by criticism and not being prepared to apologise is a sign of arrogance and immaturity.
These are two atypical examples of 'face', the ugly face of Indonesia.
And that's why I will never be totally assimilated here.