Don't forget to scan the South

MOST Malaysians' perceptions of Indonesia are largely negative – the archipelago is often regarded as an economic laggard as well as a supplier of low-skilled workers and maids. Suggesting the republic could offer some pointers for the Pakatan Harapan (Pakatan) administration is likely to elicit stunned disbelief.

Nevertheless, Indonesia is a role model in five niche areas:
> Regional elections.
> Corruption Eradication Commission, better known by its Indonesian acronym KBK.
> Garuda Indonesia airline.
> e-commerce.
> Biodiesel.

Yesterday, 152 million Indonesians cast their ballots to elect 17 governors – including for four populous provinces of West Java, East Java, Central Java and North Sumatra – 115 bupatis who preside over prefecture-size areas known as regencies and 39 mayors.

Because the five-year tenure of governors, bupatis and mayors do not begin and end on the same date, regional elections in Indonesia are staggered. Previous regional elections were held in 2015 and 2017.

Recently, Malaysia's Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin said preliminary studies will be undertaken to prepare for local council elections in Selangor and Penang in three years.

If this news report is correct, it is disappointing local elections will be held only in two states rather than nationwide.

Although Malaysia holds state elections, there is one major difference from the archipelago's regional polls. In this country, the political party that wins the highest number of state seats has the mandate to appoint the mentri besar or chief minister.

In contrast, Indonesian voters chose their governors, bupatis and mayors. Directly-elected state chiefs are likely to be far more responsive to their constituents rather than give priority to ensuring they remain favoured by their party president.

Another excellent role model is KBK. Established in 2002, Magsayasay-award winner, KBK is widely admired throughout the region for its persistence in pursuing corrupt power barons, its success in securing convictions and its investigators' refusal to succumb to physical intimidation.

One notable example is senior investigator, Novel Baswedan, who had acid thrown in his face, resulting in serious eye injuries.

Despite a minuscule annual budget of US$5.3 million (RM21.37 million), KPK secured convictions against 119 MPs, 17 governors and 130 police, Jeffrey Hutton noted in a South China Morning Post article.

KPK's two biggest successes were securing convictions against two individuals perceived as invincible:
> Akil Mochtar, the former Constitutional Court Chief Justice, jailed for life in 2014, and
> Settya Novanto, former speaker of the House of Representatives and chairman of Golkar Party, Indonesia's second largest political party, who was sentenced to 15 years' jail for theft of US$170 million from the government's US$440 million ID card project.

Pakatan should note KPK's success stems from four factors – strong public support, robust backing from a fiercely-independent press, buttressed by President Jokowi, widely regarded as untainted by graft, and a good working relationship with the police despite previous hiccups.

An inspiring turnaround story, particularly for Malaysia Airlines, is Garuda Indonesia (Garuda). In the late 1990s to mid-2000s, Indonesia's national carrier was plagued by financial losses, operational problems and a poor safety record that prompted a ban on flights to Europe and the US, now lifted.

Today, Garuda is a multiple award-winning airline. In 2016, its "dramatic turnaround" landed the carrier the "Most Improved Airline" award.

In its citation, global rating agency, AirlineRatings.com, said: "Over the past five years, the airline has made enormous strides to improve its in-flight product, operational and fiscal performance."

Last year, a survey by Skytrax, an international rating agency, resulted in Garuda winning the World Airline Award – the aviation equivalent of the Oscars – for best airline crew for the fourth consecutive year while also top-ranked globally for its Economy Class. In June this year, Garuda was upgraded by Airline Ratings.com to the top safety tier of seven stars.

A third niche success in Indonesia is its rapidly-expanding e-commerce industry. Data provided by Startup Ranking show there are more than 1,700 start-up companies in the archipelago, a number surpassed by only the UK, India and the US.

Equally remarkable, Indonesia has nurtured four unicorns – Go-Jek, Tokopedia, Bukalapak and Traveloka. Unicorn is a label given to e-commerce companies with a valuation of US$1 billion or more.

Additionally, Indonesia surpasses Malaysia in biodiesel, a plan to improve current lacklustre demand for palm oil. In 2013, Malaysia initiated B10 – a blend of 10% palm methyl ester (PME) with 90% diesel. Unsubstantiated claims that vehicles will be damaged by using biodiesel have result in B10 being relegated to NATO status – no action, talk only.

Land vehicles in the republic are clearly more robust. Next year, land transportation vehicles in Indonesia must use 25% PME in biodiesel (B25) from B20 currently while raising the bio-content to 30% after 2020.

Instead of gazing towards the West, Malaysians are now encouraged to look East; they shouldn't forget to scan the South.

Opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the writer and should not be attributed to any organisation she is connected with. She can be contacted at siokchoo@thesundaily.com