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More kinks in Indonesian-Singapore bilateral agreements?

Updated On: Sep 21, 2007

The debate over cooperation between Singapore and Indonesia goes on.

There are contradicting reports coming out of Indonesia due to the confusing array of interest groups at work here.

The House of Representatives has reiterated its stance in requesting the government to cancel the Indonesia-Singapore Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA). The head of House Commission I overseeing defense and foreign affairs, Theo L. Sambuaga, said the one-sided action of ratifying the DCA would be unethical, so Indonesia needed to take firm action on the issue. "If Singapore is indeed pushing on with ratifying the agreement while there are still some points to be settled, then it is time for Indonesia to take firm action," he said during a working meeting with Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono.

Other political parties are also chipping in with noisy and confusing array of oppositional voices. "We ask the government to rediscuss the Defense Cooperation Agreement with Singapore," House Commission I member Untung Wahono of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) said during a meeting with Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono here on Monday. "The body of the agreement should be discussed again and so must the implementing arrangements on (military) training areas," he said.

Commission member Andreas Pareira of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said, "Singapore may think the DCA is a final decision so they are pushing the ratification, although they know that we are still discussing some of its substance because the agreement benefits them more".  Yet other reports say that Singaporean Parliament`s unilateral ratification of the Defense Cooperation Agreement with Indonesia imply that the island state has cancelled the pact.

To clarify matter, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda has come out to deny allegations that Singapore`s Parliament has ratified the Indonesia-Singapore Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA). "The claim made by many (that the Singapore parliament has ratified the DCA) turns out to be untrue," Wirajuda said after attending a limited cabinet meeting at the presidential office here on Wednesday. He said if the Singapore Parliament proved to have ratified the DCA, the content of the agreement would not be the result of negotiations between the two nations. "That`s why, if it is true, we will reject it (the ratification)," he said.

Along with this longstanding issue of the DCA, other lobby groups within Indonesia have joined in this circus of voices in bringing up other bilateral issues for comparisons. "The Ministry of Communications and Informatics (Depkominfo) needs to take a lesson from previous agreements (with Singapore) such as the defense cooperation agreement and the extradition treaty which have been assessed disadvantageous to Indonesia," Anas Urbaningrum, associate chairman of the Democrat Party, said.

He was commenting on the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Depkominfo and Singapore on development of E-Government, E-Commerce, E-Education and E-Business Platform. The Indonesian media have said Singapore had already acquired Indonesian telecommunication companies (Indosat and Telkomsel) and certain banks so that the MoU with Depkomnfo was only further increasing Singapore`s control over Indonesian assets. Using this and the DCA as analogies, Anas demonstrated the need for the maximizing of national interests.  

Other than telecommunications companies, the fate of the newly inaugurated Batam, Bintan and Karimun free trade zones (FTZs) also appears to be in limbo with members of the House of Representatives raising fresh objections and questioning the government's decision to issue an emergency regulation to set up the free trade zones. These politicians from the House of Representatives went up against the government, represented by Trade Minister Mari Pangestu, who argued that Batam and Bintan islands, which are supposed to benefit from their proximity to Singapore, had failed to benefit from substantial economic growth due in part to the lack of legal certainty surrounding the status of the islands.

In terms of foreign investment, Batam and Bintan islands secured US$8.9 billion (S$13.4 billion) in 2005, but the figure then dropped to US$5.6 billion in 2006.  'Between 2004 and 2006, a total of 26 companies closed down their operations in the islands, causing potential losses of US$91.9 million and 23,140 layoffs,' she said. 'It is important for us to immediately provide legal certainty regarding the FTZs,' she concluded. (20 September 2007)

Sources:

FM Wirajuda denies Singapore parliament has ratified DCA (Antara, 19 September 2007)

Singapore in effect has cancelled DCA with RI (Antara, 19 September 2007)

House urges government to cancel defense pact (Jakarta Post, 17 September 2007)

Legislators urge govt to rediscuss DCA with Singapore (Antara, 17 September 2007)

Jakarta faces fresh objections over Riau FTZs (Straits Times, 14 September 2007)

RI must be cautious in cooperation with Singapore: Observer (Antara, 11 September 2007)