Samantha Brown – Southeast Asian-based journalist and editor

Indonesians told ‘inconvenient truth’ of climate change

19.07.2007 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Current Affairs ::

JAKARTA, July 19, 2007 (AFP) – In a darkened auditorium on a weekday afternoon, Indonesians are warned that floods in their capital will become more catastrophic and the haze-inducing fires blazing through their forests are partly to blame. A message from Al Gore has arrived.

For the first time in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation and its third largest carbon emitter, a tailored version of the climate change slideshow delivered by former US vice president Gore and featured in the smash movie "An Inconvenient Truth" is underway.

Emerald Starr, an American environmental engineer based in Bali, was one of 200 people trained directly by Gore last year to spread his environmental message around the world.

While Starr has presented the results of his week-long training several times on the resort island, this is the first show to include detailed Indonesian data provided by environmental group WWF, so the impact is strong.

Graphs with soaring and plunging lines are interspersed with startling images of devastation: drought-scarred landscapes in Australia, the wreckage of a typhoon in the Philippines, flood victims in India.

The several-hundred strong audience gasps at photographs of polar bears and penguins perched on melting chunks of ice, as statistic after statistic shows that humans must take responsibility — immediately — for climate change.

Some 60,000 species have disappeared in the past 100 years; 30 new diseases have emerged since 1976. And if current trends continue, a map of Indonesia bleeding blue shows what will happen as a result of rising sea levels by 2070.

"Two islands off Madura (an island off the north coast of Java) are gone and Jakarta — you can imagine the devastation," Starr says.

Indonesia’s main contribution to global warming is through the burning of its forests. Companies typically have concessions of 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) — three times the size of Jakarta — and some as many as a million, or twice the size of Bali, Starr says.

While the wood is used for pulp, palm oil plantations soon follow, though the companies are supposed to replace the trees with acacia.

"Actually Indonesia has very good environmental policies, but they need to be enforced," Starr explains.

The audience is receptive, but they want to know whether the talk will be repeated elsewhere in Indonesian, rather than English.

"Somebody in the audience is training tonight and if anyone here tonight is interested in that please come and see me," replies Starr, who may deliver his presentation to a UN conference on climate change on Bali in December.

They are also thirsty for more knowledge on what they can do practically. Starr tells them to recycle; to carpool; to change their light-bulbs.

"Never underestimate the power of individual citizens taking steps individually," says Starr, who is not paid for his time here. "Everything you do matters. Nothing is frivolous at this point."

– "All of us have a mission" –

Arif Hasyim, a 35-year-old director of a biogas company, is taken aback by the Indonesian data and tells AFP that people must get organised.

"I myself was quite shocked with what’s happening in Indonesia. It actually had more of an effect on us, because when you’re talking about climate change, (you think of it) happening somewhere else, but not to us," Hasyim says.

"But what about the follow up? What do we have to do? All of us have a mission to gather people together again to move on, from just getting information to the action."

Eric Natanael, a 33-year-old environmental engineer, says the show was "like half of a complete presentation. The other half is what you can do, really, in real terms".

Hundreds of businesspeople are expected to attend Starr’s evening session, but some are here now, including Suzy Hutomo, the CEO of the Body Shop Indonesia.

"I see now that the impact for Indonesia is very real," she says.

"The Body Shop has been ‘green’ but personally now I intend to spread the message to people I know, to my customers."

After meeting with audience members, Starr is pleased with the reaction.

"People were so enthusiastic," he says. "I believe people are going to go out and do something and start making some changes in their lives from this. That’s the most exciting part."

Dr Love brings good sex to Indonesia

17.07.2007 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Current Affairs ::

JAKARTA, July 17, 2007 (AFP) – When Singapore’s Dr Love invites you up to his hotel room, you don’t say no. And once you’re inside, he doesn’t disappoint.

The doctor’s got plans for educating close to the entire world about sex. The starting point is his laptop — and Indonesia.

Wei Siang Yu, nicknamed "Dr Love" for his flamboyant, non-conventional methods of sex education for Singaporeans, has now launched his innovative programme in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Indonesians can send anonymous questions about sex via mobile phone text messages. And an avatar called "Nova" — a virtual character with artificial intelligence — will then answer.

Some might get a personal response from one of the Indonesian doctors on the panel behind "Nova". But all the queries will be compiled and responded to on the "Love Airways" website, where anyone can log on and learn, he says.

"It’s a boarding pass — it’s like a journey," the enthusiastic Australian-trained doctor gushes, as he logs on to the site.

Backed by Fiesta, a major condom brand in Indonesia, the site also features a sex forum where users can ask each other questions.

"The best solution is not just to tell people what to do and not to do, but rather to create a big forum using multi-media… This way we get the real questions," says Dr Love.

"It’s about real content. It’s about sex education made by the people for the people."

With his buttonless white shirt, trademark square glasses, checked trousers and white shoes, the 37-year-old, who is something of a celebrity in Singapore, looks more DJ than doctor-turned-inventor.

"The world has been running sex education campaigns presuming that people will follow what the system wants — but we don’t actually know what is on the ground, qualitatively," he says.

Sex surveys, he complains, have sample sizes that are too small and answers that are unreliable.

"Talking about sex is pretty much taboo still in Asia," he says.

Indonesia already has mainstream relationship advice readily available in the media, as well as commercial public seminars offering advice on sexual health. But nothing packaged quite this slickly.

Giving people an opportunity to ask questions anonymously will help public health educators find out what communities really want to know, he says.

Dr Love is upbeat about the prospect of Indonesians getting involved, saying they are more relaxed about such things than their reputedly straitlaced Singaporean neighbours.

"The Singaporean threshold of good quality sex may not be the same as the threshold of good quality sex in Indonesia. I think the people here are more relaxed. They understand quality is very, very important," he says.

And is Dr Love fearful of ruffling feathers among Indonesia’s small band of radical Islamists? Not really.

"Number one, we are not aligned with any religion… We are not bringing foreign content to impose on the culture," he responds.

"I don’t drive the content, they will drive it themselves."

The Indonesian programme follows similar campaigns run for 10 days in both Holland and Singapore, though this one is rolling out indefinitely — and it is the first time a so-called AI avatar is being used.

"Imagine you have a computer system that gathers 20,000 questions and answers that come from Indonesia, answered by doctors… Later on in this AI system, the avatar will be able to answer your question or help you to pick questions and a relevant answer to your query," he says.

"You are going to educate your own avatar in your country, to represent you and answer your questions."

Besides the website, which is in English now but will soon be in Indonesian, the answers to more common questions will also be disseminated via the Love Airways magazine.

The glossy is already on the shelves in conservative Singapore, and is scheduled to debut here late this year.

The "adult wellness" magazine, backed by his company Meggpower, touches on everything from where to escape with your spouse for a romantic holiday to sexually transmitted diseases.

A late-night television advice show similar to one Dr Love hosted in Singapore is also in the pipeline for Indonesia.

The text message programme will be rolled out to Malaysia next, followed by India and China.

The campaign is "a revolution of the whole landscape of sex education where now you can ask a question in privacy — anytime, anywhere," he says.

"At the end of the day, it’s a whole total revamp of sexual health epidemiology in the world."

Indonesia’s new investment stance: a confusing step forward?

15.07.2007 (12:00 am) – Filed under: Current Affairs ::

JAKARTA, July 15, 2007 (AFP) – Indonesia’s new list of foreign investment limits by sector has caused head-scratching among investors. But analysts and the government say that despite confusion, it is a step towards untangling the infamous bureaucracy of Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

Indonesia is seeking to court foreign investment, with leaders insisting they are addressing concerns about entrenched corruption, red tape and legal uncertainty so the sprawling and unclear list immediately raised eyebrows.

The 61-page regulation, purportedly aimed at protecting the national interest and bolstering the development of domestic small and medium-sized enterprises, was unveiled early this month and replaces a 2001 list.

It compiles a dizzying array of sectors and subsectors and their level of protection: for instance foreign ownership of a karaoke bar is set at a maximum of 50 percent, landscape architectural services at 55 percent and hospital services at 65 percent.

But Anton Gunawan, a Citibank investment analyst, praised the list for its relative clarity.

"In general, this list is much clearer than previous ones, which were not so transparent and contained a lot more grey areas. The current list is much more detailed," he told AFP.

What remains puzzling, however, are the criteria that were used to determine the size of permissible foreign share ownership, he said.

"If we want to talk majority, minority, then it is a simple 49-51 percent thing…. But what people want to know is, for example, what does it mean to have a 95 percent ceiling compared to a 65 percent ceiling?"

Indonesia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) chairman Muhammad Hidayat has been meeting with members who are similarly baffled.

"What is the philosophy behind the choice of divisions for foreign ownership?" he asked.

Hidayat declined to comment further ahead of a meeting with Indonesia’s coordinating economy minister Budiono on Monday but said Kadin would seek a series of explanations.

"We would like to convince the government not to reject the DNI (negative investment regulation) but to make the DNI more complete and more simple in business terms…. There are several grey areas," he said.

Among the controversial changes are tighter limits on foreign ownership of cellular operators, from 95 percent to 65 percent; of insurance companies, from 99 to 80 percent; and pharmaceutical companies, which have an upper limit now of 75 percent, down from 100.

Other sectors, however, have been opened to foreign competition, including health and education.

Muhammad Ikhsan, a special adviser to Budiono, said this was the first time an array of sector regulations had been put into one umbrella list.

While some sectors on paper now appear more closed than previously, he said in practice they were never actually open — if a foreign company approached a ministry seeking permission to invest in a sector, they were rebuffed.

"This is the first time we have synchronised all regulations. In the past, there were a lot of conflicting regulations," he told AFP.

"We are still open to discussion about what sectors we make more open."

Ikhsan said about 111 subsectors are now more open, but 32 could be considered more restrictive, with others basically keeping their status quo.

"What we want to do is to make it transparent, fully clear, and also give certainty for old and new investors," he said, noting that the changed levels of investment were not retroactive.

Ikhsan said general guidelines to accompany the regulation would be drafted based on Kadin’s questions.

"This is not final. It’s still open for evaluation," he said.

"They deserve to complain because we need to explain it more — even among ourselves we need explanations about how to interpret the regulation," he conceded.

In an editorial on the new regulation, the Jakarta Post noted that much more needed to be done in Indonesia to lure foreign cash than just creating level playing fields.

"Opening up business sectors to foreign investment does not automatically mean foreign investors would come in their hordes," it said.

"Therefore we should see this new regulation and negative list as an initial step. It needs follow-up action to woo investors, which in turn would create employment and then wealth for our people."