A series of unfortunate events (and a ‘happy’ ending)

burning televisions

 

For non-Indonesians, I understand if you haven’t heard about this news story. For fellow Indonesians, I hope our attention is not solely preoccupied with the aftermath of recent bombs and gunfire in Jakarta last Thursday (and that hashtag which instantly turns into a rap song), or splits within some of the country’s major political parties.

If you notice some conversations in the social media, or even to a limited extent on Indonesian news channels, I bet you must have heard the case of Mr. Muhammad Kusrin. Or no? Perhaps because other bigger issues are dominating major news taglines?

If you don’t, that’s okay. Based on the information I compiled from several news articles (my apologies all of them are only available in Indonesian language), Mr. Kusrin was a self-taught entrepreneur who assembled parts from unused PC monitors, and converted them into TV screens. He didn’t get himself an engineering degree in order to obtain such knowledge; indeed, this man only managed to finish his primary-level education, and most of the skills he possessed in reproducing those devices originated from decades of repairing electronic products. From Karanganyar, a mid-sized town in Central Java Province, which is also his hometown, Mr. Kusrin managed to open up a small assembly center that recycled those PC monitors into television screens, employing over 35 persons, with daily revenues up to 75 million rupiah (or equivalent to 5,500 US$). Every TV screen was sold with prices ranging from 500,000 rupiah (~ 36 US$) up to 800,000 rupiah (~ 58 US$).

The Lemony Snicket-esque irony began, nonetheless, when he tried to apply for national product standardization, or in Indonesian known as SNI (Sertifikat Nasional Indonesia). Never mind with the fees charged (it costs 35 million rupiah, or approximately 2,590 US$, to get one), albeit it’s costly. But the application process, on average, requires almost half a year for an inventor in order to get this standardization for his or her product. Within this timeline, one has to go to the national accreditation body to begin the application process, and demonstration of competence has to be conducted. Even that process doesn’t simply end here. In the following procedure, three stages of processes are applied here, mainly product-testing by a designated state lab, followed by standard inspection by a special appointed body, and certification of product parts by another appointed body, all affiliated with the standardization process. The last process includes ‘demonstration-of-conformity’ test, so as to adjust these products with consumers’ needs, before a fixed standardization is issued. And lastly, within this period, one is not allowed to produce and/or sell their products to the public. In the eyes of Max Weber (father of bureaucracy), it is turning into a golden cage for the universe.

And it was bureaucracy itself that became the biggest problem for Mr. Kusrin’s business: he, and just like most other small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), had no slightest idea about the idea of ‘product standardization’ required by the government. Having both business and trade licences, both of which had also required light years in process (sorry for hyperbole), were not sufficient to safeguard his business assets; police, assisted by local prosecutor’s office, raided his company, confiscated almost all his assets, and put him into prison, back in March 2015, as his company continued selling the assembled product in the absence of SNI. To exacerbate the matter (or cause you some conflagration), both police and prosecutors openly smashed and set his business’ TV screens, unused PC monitors, and carton-made packages on fire, very proudly captured in front of reporters and journalists, just a few days ago. As Mr. Kusrin was in prison, the business couldn’t operate, and all his 35 employees immediately lost their jobs.

 

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Pictures: retards (above), another retard (below)

 

This is my afterthought: what the heck are these prosecutors doing? First, if you burn a TV, regardless of its status as cathode-ray or LED or whatever, from a very close distance, your chances of inhaling cancerous chemicals into your lungs increases dramatically (without me having to be a forecaster, unless you people are already chain-smokers). Second, this country, of which I have to share with those buffoons, is still struggling to shelve its ‘punish-only-ordinary-people’ mentality; it’s true hundreds and hundreds of politicians, mayors, regents, governors, and even ministers have been put into prison on charges relating to corruption and other forms of power abuse, but out there, there are still countless other people sitting on top of the elites who, having committed numerous mistakes that cost Indonesia huge amounts of money, remain safe and untouched by the existing laws. Third, you proudly burn someone’s creation in front of cameras! What makes you different from thugs, after all?

Again, this was another reason why I really adore the way social media works. Soon after this incident, people on Facebook, Twitter, and various petition websites began posting for demands to release Mr. Kusrin out of prison, and at the same time, these prosecutors (and some police involved) underwent their mob-trial by the media. This news soon reached out to the central government in Jakarta, with the immediate response by Ministry of Industry to directly reward him the standardization, thus enabling him to breathe the air of freedom. Yes, he just got the certificate a few hours ago, all the way directly bypassing the months-old procedures.

 

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“My name is Kusrin, and I am not a copyright-pirate.”

 

I don’t know if getting the standardization will become an eventually happy ending for his business (as well as his family and the workers) as there are still obstacles Mr.Kusrin has to face, given that he has lost most of the capital he needs to resume the operation, all engulfed on that big fire. For now, from my standpoint as a rational optimist, this is a ‘happy ending’ that he deserves for years of hard work and expertise he has accumulated.

Let me say something: this is another harsh lesson, one after another, that the government hasn’t succeeded to learn. I must be both proud and outraged to say that Indonesia has so many geniuses that the existing system, engendered after decades and decades, fails to cultivate. Education system remains rigidly on one-direction approach (students are discouraged to critically evaluate their teachers’ explanations), while a lot of government regulations, rather than stimulate the growth in creativity and innovation, end up choking new ideas to death. It is not just one Kusrin I’m referring to, but also the entrepreneurial culture in Indonesia. Most media remains conditioned to only focus talking about politicians and stuff happening on their parties, while little attention is paid on how people like Mr. Kusrin are transforming their communities with their creative works and/or other inventions.

Which brings me to one question: how’s President Joko Widodo’s ‘mental-revolution’ plan? This becomes interesting.

 

(please give me feedback if you get to find any fallacies)

Inside the world’s smallest, and most baffling, republic

donetsk people's republic

 

With today’s inauguration of Ukraine’s new president (the country’s Willy Wonka, Petro Poroshenko), the new government will be faced with a greatly daunting task: restore the sovereignty of Crimea, reform the nation’s ill-fated bureaucracy and economic stagnation, and most urgently, resolve the ongoing, worsening conflicts in East Ukraine which have escalated into an all-out war.

And here is this, one of the headaches Poroshenko surely will face: a movement of pro-Russian fighters now occupying an 11-story government office building, proclaiming People’s Republic of Donetsk,, one you unofficially can acknowledge as the world’s smallest republic, and also a highly absurd and farcical one.

The New Republic has dispatched its reporters to cover on this new micronation. Read the full article here.

 

Excerpt:

 

On the tenth floor, we were greeted by a gang of hoodlums in track pants and beat up pointy leather shoes. One of them lazily pounded a black truncheon into black biker gloves. Another had one propped behind his neck. One young man in a blue t-shirt with ears like an Indian elephant had a Kalashnikov slung across his stomach.

“We need our accreditation stamped,” Max said.

We were told to wait for Yulia and sat around chatting to the hoodlums, who found a Russian and American a curious sight.

“Did you hear that Obama ran away?” said a man with a buzzcut, a blue tooth, and the eyes of a man who knows his way around the city’s alleys. 

“What?” I said. 

“Yes, yes,” he said. “He fled the White House and took a helicopter to his ranch in Texas.” 

“What?”

“You haven’t heard?”

“No?”

“And you call yourself a journalist,” he smirked. “You don’t even know anything.”

Moving beyond BRICS

THE CENTURY OF THE EMERGERS

GOING BEYOND BRICS

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If combined, their dynamic, vibrant economic growth will prevail the main powerhouse that drives that of the whole world for in minimum one or two decades to come. The roles United States and European Union used to dominate in the past have been increasingly shifted instead to developing countries, largely thanks to the current financial malaise and the booming workpower outsourcing trends, in which major corporations in most of the advanced countries have commenced to reconsider the gigantic manpower all these countries have while their bases do not. Thousands of American companies have been vying for brummagem, cheap-jack manufacturing cornerstones either in China or any developing countries elsewhere in the world. Russian economy will still fluorish on the ground of its tremendous natural resources yet to be mined; there are dozens of mining giants currently on the list to extract away all these priceless metals and minerals required to ensure the global economic powerhouse will keep on functioning.

But here comes the challenge: how long will BRICS dominate the lexicon of 21st-century international relations? Or more importantly, how long will this decade-old, newly-coined neologism survive?

BRICS is not without its own heels of Achilles. Among the countries, there tends to be an overarching, outlying inequality in terms of GDP comparison. It takes the entire GDP of Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa (which if summed up would have been approximately 7 trillion US$) to counterpoise that of China. The inequality extends to the geopolitical roles China plays in global stage. Unlike the four countries, the ‘Big Brother’ has much more capability, given its cash-rich foreign exchange reserves and gigantic population, to bind contracts with myriad regimes of resource-rich countries, no matter whether they have good records in human rights or not. It does also host a titanic diaspora numbered at more than 100 million, scattered throughout the entire globe, who are economically influential in dozens of countries. It is still in a period of ‘harmonious relationship’ with the rest of BRICS members, especially in terms of economic and trading agreements, but all of these will be further tested by an increasing ambition among all the countries to hamshackle superpower status, which in the future may sparkle possible conflicts among each other.

 

Officially, Twitter ‘reborn’ in China.

 

The existence of BRICS is further examined by the unavailability of democracy in Russia and China. Russia may have had a multiparty democracy, but the country remains occupied with terrors and despondency. There is little, or to a worse extent, no, protection for critics and dissidents, whose ideas are needed to improve the quality of the nation. China presents an even more formidable scenario. With economy pacing up rapidly, hundred million civilians are right now attaining the ‘middle-class’ status. And that also means more Chinese are becoming increasingly well-educated, and are able to relish access to sophisticated technology, particularly Internet. As we know, Internet has played a major role to trigger masses to overthrow iron-handed regimes, as have been shown recently in Middle East and North Africa. This is what Beijing becomes very worried about. The Chinese people in 21st century are in general no longer the Chinese people in 20th century we used to perceive. More youth are turning up increasingly aware that ‘there is something wrong taking place with our government, and we’ve gotta change it’. It is even strengthened by the mass availability of instant social networks which enable information to  be disseminated in no time, such as Twitter and Weibo. (as of today, Chinese government does not allow Facebook to lure Chinese users) The culmination point was reached when the Chinese bullet-train incident took place in July 2011, instigating a tsunami of anger and wrath in many of China’s social networks, which in the long run were blockaded and covered up by government’s agencies (there were even reports where police confidentially arrested and jailed Weibo users who were caught up to have tonguelashed the regime by tracking down their IP addresses. Moreover, the regime has currently passed a bill to obligate every social-network user to enlist their actual names, in accordance with those on their identity cards.) A handful of labor protests, despite the infinitesimal amounts, began to unravel in many factories throughout the country, demanding better equality and better pay, albeit they often ended up in brutal crackdowns by police authorities. The dreams of ‘real democracy’ in China, as a few envision, will still remain a castle in the air for this moment, but sluggishly, the supporters are popping out throughout the whole entity, even though the time taken to embody these ideals might be excessively long, and even would not be achieved within a generation.

 

Mexico City’s GDP is approximately one-third of the country’s total, with figures amounting to almost 400 billion US$. As an additional fact, it is inhabited by as many as 20 million people, or one-sixth of the nation’s population.

 

Given all these propositions, experts are currently proposing that a few countries be added in to the list, which will automatically convert the acronym’s name. The first option is Mexico. In the recent years, it has showed off strong economic performances with a high turnover for its GDP. The economy fluorishes very well because of its strong consumption sector, its reduced dependency on extraction-related sectors, such as oil & gas and mining, and its successful efforts in diversification, as shown by the examples: its automobile production currently surpasses that of Canada and United States, the television’s surpassing South Korea’s, and the smartphone’s surpassing those of China, South Korea, and Taiwan, thanks to its abundant number of young-aged workforces. In addition, Mexico has a strong economic cornerstone, sustained by its low debt-to-GDP ratio, which approaches no more than 20%. Beyond economy, it also adopts a very free democracy, which allows ideas to be easily circulated among people. Nevertheless, it also faces a serious thorn in its own flesh: the ongoing drug war by security forces which has claimed more than 40,000 lives, since its glissade by President Felipe Calderon in 2006. Corruption rates remain high, especially in the police forces. Many states in the country are ravaged by so-called ‘jungle law’, as they are dominated by competing drug cartels, whose members consist of ex-troops and policemen who had been laid off.

 

Seoul, South Korea.

 

Besides Mexico, analysts also put South Korea in the consideration list. It tops among all the other emerging markets in terms of GDP per capita, which has surpassed 23,000 US$ as of 2011, making it almost eligible to be included among the G7 list. Moreover, of all the 64 identified emerging markets in the planet, it is the South Koreans who perfectly excel in terms of educational quality, environmental conservation, science, technology and infrastructure. It has also witnessed high economic growth in recent years, despite the fact that it was once hit quite hard by 2008/2009 global recession. Still, two main challenges are facing the country right now: the belligerence status with North Korea, which indicates any possible open warfare might occur sometime in the future between the divided states, and the near-zero and possible negative population growth rate, which menaces a possible decrease as far as 10% in 2050.

 

As many as 15% of Jakartans (the demonym for people living in the megapolis) – numbered at 1.5 million – do earn more than 10,000 US$ per capita per annum, the highest percentage compared to the other major cities in Indonesia.

 

Lastly, there is a country considered to be one of the world’s most strategic emerging markets after evaluation by substantial number of economists: Indonesia. Together with Turkey and Egypt, they are the only triumvirate which always appear in all emerging-market indices released by behemoth, rock-star investment banks and financial institutions, as listed consecutively: Next-11/BRIC, CIVETS, FTSE, MSCI, The Economist, Standard&Poor, Dow Jones, and EAGLEs/NEST. In terms of geopolitical vocabulary, they share the similar advantage, serving as the main gate for intercontinental trade. Turkey is the main ‘bridge’ connecting Europe and Asia, Egypt linking Africa, Europe and Asia simultaneously, and Indonesia correlating Asia and Oceania. Yet, unlike the former duo, Indonesia is endowed with a plethora of diverse natural resources, either extractive (with the sole exception of oil and gas) or edible. Besides, its economic performance has improved dramatically ever since the 1997/1998 maelstrom, as seen from its resilience and resistance against the 2008 recession which sent a hard blow into the global economy, thanks to the strong consumption sector. It has also succeeded in lowering its debt-to-GDP percentage, from a record-high 150% during the peak crisis in 1997 to approximately 25% by the commencement of 2012.  Furthermore, its abound young generation (those aged between 15 and 40), the most pivotal factor in determining the long-term success of a country’s economic growth,  constitutes more than two-thirds of the total population, enabling Indonesia to go on sustaining vibrant economic development in the long term.

However, albeit democracy has been fully restored for more than 12 years, Indonesia still has piles of homework it needs to accomplish in order to maintain the success. Its Corruption Perception Index (CPI), released annually by Transparency International, has recorded only a slight improvement, from 140 in the beginning of the first decade to 120 in the second. Bureaucracy remains complicating particularly for investors, as often there are many provincial-level and regency-level regulations which in fact contradict with the statutes already passed by the legislature. Security remains quite vulnerable as there may emerge sectarian conflicts, labor protests ending up in anarchy, political dissensions among parties involved, armed robberies, societal brawls, etc. Infrastructure remains lagging behind many other emerging countries (as a comparison, China has 40,000 km of highway, Malaysia 3000, while Indonesia? A bit more than 700.) This is why there is no doubt that its infrastructural quality was ranked 90 worldwide in 2010, and remains unchanged since then. State administration remains rattletrap, as obviously seen from the wanton acts by land authorities in giving certificates of land ownership to certain parties who don’t realize that the land they purchase have been actually possessed by someone else. That is why land disputes often spark deadly conflicts between farmers and corporations involved. For the government, it will be an arduous task, especially for a country whose credit rating has elevated to the status of ‘investment grade’, the bestowal granted only for newly industrialized countries or those with low bureaucracy, corruption rates, and high legal certainty.

By the outset of May 2011, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has recently launched a 15-year economic-development scheme entitled ‘Masterplan Percepatan dan Perluasan Pembangunan Ekonomi Indonesia’ (MP3EI), translated in English as ‘Masterplan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Economic Development of Indonesia’, scheduled to take into account from 2011 to 2025, with the aims of multiplying its GDP to 4.5 trillion US$ by the time the program has ended. Through investments by government, state-owned enterprises, national and foreign private corporations, the program is expected to have invested more than 4000 trillion rupiah (equivalent to 450 billion US$) in national infrastructure within the given period. In the first year of its implementation, as many as 100 projects worth 350 trillion rupiah (more or less 38.5 billion US$) have gained approval by authorities in Jakarta, but still, many businesspeople consider it a ‘major failure’. What makes them  to say so?

Many of them are yet to await agreement by authorities of the provinces involved, excluding the regencies and the districts. Some simply garner consent, but without much financial assistance. It all happens at the same time more economists aspire that Indonesia be admitted to BRICS (the new acronym will be BRIICS, or BRICIS) than they do to Mexico, or South Korea. What an irony.

 

 

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