Friday, August 24, 2007

'The best way to kill an idea is to form a committee'

I think that's how the saying goes. And I think that;s what SBY meant when out of the blue he coined that idea before DPD yesterday. DPD failed to get sufficient political support to amend the constitution and the senates who initially proposed the amendments have actually withdrawn those proposal.

Now SBY is calling for a more thoughtful concepts and broader amendments (not only regional government's, thus DPD's, interest). These things takes time and require clever guys and gals to think through. So voila - he proposed a constituional amendment committee.

Just a refresher on contemporary history. Back in 2002-2003 when four amendments to the Indonesian 1945 constitution was debated there were calls for a constitutional committee - yours truly was involved. The idea then was to create a more participatory process piggy backing on nation building momentum after the fall of Soeharto.

The parliament toyed with the idea, rejected it but then adopted it in the end. But in the form of experts who went on their way to 'harmonize' (god how I hate this word) the various clauses of the constitutions. Yes, an artisan work. Even then most of the committee's recommendations were rejected by the parliament.

And now SBY wants to set up similar committee. Hah... what for? No political momentum means this thing will only b worse then the last. Maybe he just want to comfort DPD. But it's uncalled for. Or maybe he's aiming at something else?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Constitutional Amendments Mess: Sore Looser

Hey – I’m back!!! Y’all must’ve read the papers these days. A number of ‘eminent’ figures questioned the validity of the recently amended constitution essentially based on two arguments. First, the (original) 1945 constitution is still in force because it has not been repealed by the MPR (when it amended that constitution). Second, the constitution’s amendments are not binding because they have not been published in the State Gazette. Among those who made these arguments are Gus Dur – if you must know our former President, and one Amin Aryoso of PDIP who chaired some of the MPR’s committees, sessions that amended the 1945 constitution.

Who are they kidding? Us or themselves? One can find in most (if not all) civic education books – including those for primary schools – that the 1945 Constitution has been amended. Four times in fact, staggered between 2000-2004. Surely everyone with high school education knows that when one amends a document, part of the original remains. Hence the terms ‘amendment’, as oppose to cancellation, [repeal] or any other synonyms. It is beyond reproach that a former President, who was serving his term when some of the amendments we made, fail to understand this.

Now that we have that stupid argument out of the way, it is obvious that their problems are the content of the amendments. What’s wrong with them anyway? Of course they’re not perfect some (including yours truly) have spent countless days trying to put some sense to those bastards who’re debating them. But these bastards have no right complaining about it because they are sitting on the damn committees and sessions. They’re the one who should be hanged if the constitution sucks.

‘Tis true that the constitution is far from perfect. But we know there isn’t such a thing as a perfect constitution. Ask the Americans who’re still debating whether or not fag burning is protected speech. But there are many important issues that have been enshrined in the constitution. An easy example is a through list of human rights, which some have said is offers among the best ‘protection’ compare to most other countries.

But the major problem of our (amended) constitution is very few actually understands the impact of those clauses in our daily life. Including (or should I say particularly) among the parliamentarians who amended the constitution. An example: looking at how the constitution was worded, it’s damn difficult to argue for capital punishment.

Let me move on to the more technical yet equally important – at least to me. It is true that all of the amendments were not published in the State Gazette until early 2006. What effect does this has on the constitution’s validity– some may ask what the hell is this gazette anyway....

Bear with me. Y’all are assumed to know the law, ie. you cannot argue your ignorance of the law to let you out of trouble. Very ambitious doctrine, I know. That’s why all laws have to be enacted by publishing it in an official state publication, such as the State Gazette for this law to be binding on y’all. So, if you don’t know the law then you have to pay for your own ignorance. In theory then if a law is not published you’re not bound by it. Fair enough right?

Now let me ask you: if a law has to be gazetted, then a constitution must be too because it is much more important and is the basis of all laws. Simple logic right yet sooo fundamental...

‘Houston we have a problem’. Does this mean the amendments to 1945 constitution are not binding between 2001-2004 (when they are passed) and 2006 (when they are published). Unfortunately yes, if we are to be consistent with the theory. I can’t accept the argument of the amendments’ proponent that the gazetting is only ‘administrative’ and that the amendments have been effective since they’re passed by MPR. What infuriate me most is that this also comes from the Chief of the Constitutional Court (separate story).

This will mean that the state can hide behind this administrative argument and not publish all laws! Hell no! So that you know, even when gazetting is required for a law to be enacted it is still difficult to access the gazette.

We (or rather the government) must admit that they messed up. They should’ve published the amendments as soon as they were passed. Some formal apology would be good too. Fyi, the (original) 1945 constitution was published in the State Gazette in 1946 – if I’m not mistaken among the first ones published there. This is when the country is still at war.

We need not worry about Gus Dur & Co at the expense on some fundamental issue (at least to me). While publication is late, everybody has been using the document anyway, including those claiming its invalidity. We have seen one or two election, so many law passed and strike down by the Constitutional Court, new institutions set up, etc.. etc.. Who in the right mind wants to undone all these and create one big mess that we surely won’t recover from?

If Gus Dur & Co wants to, let’s send them to Timbuktu. As I said, what’s the problem Gus? Still pissed because you’re impeached? You know that because of your impeachment, the amended constitution had made it more difficult to impeach a sitting president. Indicted by the DPR on limited causes, proven before the Constitutional Court etc and sanctioned by the MPR. You should applaud the amendments then. Unless you want to impeach SBY the way you were impeached. Sore looser!

on Hillary, Al Gore, Poso, Gus Dur and other has beens. (Week #4 - 2007)

Media Indonesia today has Hillary and Barack Obama on the front page. This is one of Indonesia’s largest national daily. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, is making a case for Al Gore. Apparently, his favourability rating is still higher than Hillary. Personally, I like Hillary, but that’s because I had a major crush on her a while ago.
I’d still do Hillary, and I know I’m not the only one. Steve Young from Huffingtonpost said the same thing so i know i'm not really that strange.

The news around here this week is plastered with the mess in Poso. The police finally had enough of it and raided the small militant village, killing 11 people or so. Most of the international media coverage are busy highlighting the sectarian aspect of the conflict. While valid, that’s not necessarily true. The area have been ripe with violence for a few years now. These days, they were carrying M16 and semiautomatics, supposedly coming from Southern Philippines and other foreign lands. The successive governments have been neglecting the conflict for many years and in occasions, it almost looks like they’re letting it happen: armed conflicts between the various security personnel are just as common as those among the sectarian gang. Soldiers regularly got involved in spats (with panzers and machine guns) against the police, anti terror squads against special forces and other strange stuff.
Hendropriyono – head of BIN, the Intelligence agency – said on Wimar show last week that the militant groups are getting support and protection from politicians and other powerful people. He should know, this man put out a similar sounding uprising in Lampung during his days in uniform. It was pretty clear, the entire village was wiped out and we never heard from them again. Blah.

The other big item of the week is the constitutional riff raff. Gus Dur and other notable has beens were busy campaigning against the constitutionality of the 1945 Constitution Amendments. From what I gather so far, their case is pretty meek: most of it are on technicalities like the fact that the amendments weren’t registered with the State Gazette back then. I’m not a legal scholar, so I am not sure if really a constitutional amendment could be rendered invalid just because it wasn’t registered, but on the surface of it, it sounds like a lot of rubbish.

Of course, the main issue here is the fact that the Amendments established a direct presidential election: if the Amendments were invalid, then – according to them – the elections were invalid (parliament, president, regionals, the whole thing). This opposition (old generals, old ladies, old presidents, etc) is getting louder and louder, especially since the palace is really being impressively stupid in the handling. They seriously need some spinning help.

On the other front, the Prez just declared we no longer need the CGI and people are busy getting pissed off at the IMF once again. I’m not sure why that is even interesting anymore.

That’s it for now, I need to get back to work.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Week #3 - 2007

a missing plane, a missing ship, a dropped head, old generals, old ladies, old presidents, dead birds and Britney Spears. What's on the news in Jakarta, week 3 2007.

It’s Wednesday. Time for the week wrap. It’s looking politically charged, here and elsewhere. My colleague remains in_absentia and I’m beginning to give up hope. He’s a very busy guy though, responsibilities and all.

Moving and crashing things dept. Speak of giving up hope, they found the plane, or at least what remains of the plane. It was scattered all over the place on the west coast of Sulawesi. They’re busy with one thing or another, tiny bits of metal and the occasional plastic remains.
Meanwhile, some 300 people are still missing within an entire ship. And a train crash yesterday, killing five and wounding hundreds in Solo. The parliament is making noises about it, but it seems unlikely that the white haired minister will be fired. I’m rapidly losing appetite with this government.

Constitution and Politicians Dept. The Prez expressed his concerns over the demonstration held on Monday (in remembrance of the Malari demo, on the same day in 1975). Apparently this was provoked and partly arranged by a group calling themselves, “Dewan Revolusi” (Revolutionary Council) – how uncanny, the most important event in modern Indonesia was the communist attempted coup in 1965, allegedly perpetrated to counter an insurgent military council, called “Council of Generals.”
This new council vowed to stand fast on the 1945 Constitution and publicly called for ‘revoking the government’s mandate.’ Frankly, I know little of what is really happening behind the screen, but Wiranto just recently formed a new political party full of old has beens and it’s looking like the last dash of the immortals. They seemed to be particularly exasperated by the constitutional amendments.
What I really don’t understand is why the President seemed to bothered so much about it. SBY is the one leader with real, legitimate mandate that Indonesia has ever had, his approval rating is in the high 60 and there’s no contender in sight even for an ’09 election. Why he considers these old 80 something generals so relevant is mindboggling. Maybe they are immortals.

The Ultimate Has Been Dept. I couldn’t find the precedent for this, but PDI-P seems all but certain to have Megawati to run for president again in ’09. Hello people!!!! She was a president once and we weren’t very happy with her then!!! This old lady just couldn’t get enough!! (I’m using too many exclamation marks, I know). We’re taking odds on who has a better chance on making a comeback: Britney vs Megawati. Now.

Press and the Media Dept. Along with those other stuff, the gov’t seems to be making more and more rhetoric against the press. They decided to step in and meddled in the PWI fuss (National Press Council), KPI is getting more assertive in dealing with rogue tv programs and the recent meeting of editors with the president at the palace was a thinly veiled plea for a ‘tone down.’ All the presidential spokespersons are busy on talk shows touting the gov’t past achievements and reminding old men to ‘uphold the constitution.’ Same as above, I don’t get this bit, the palace obviously needs a new spin doctor. The current one isn’t doing his job properly (please someone tells Andi Malarangeng to get better suit, too). I met Sofyan Djalil (the Information Etc. Minister) and asked point blank if the recent comments reflect a shifting policy against the press freedom, he looked stunned for a few seconds, before patting me on the back and told me I was paranoid. Frankly, I wasn’t convinced.

Bird Deaths Dept. More and more people are dying of the avian flu. Some of the hospitals are running out of isolation rooms and Sutiyoso announced a plan for a plan to handle this in Jakarta. Seriously, I need to know more of these things.

Foreign Deaths Dept. Mr. Bush will invade Iraq, again. Then he will exit Iraq, thru Iran, it now seems. They also botched another hanging of Saddam’s brother. I don’t get this stuff, is it really that difficult to hang someone?

Castro is dying, condition is now grave. Will he make a come back?

Now, that, will make it the last dash of the immortal. Ha!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Indonesian Internet 2007

For a country – and population - of our size, Indonesian Internet scene has been strangely quiet these days. Nothing too exciting happened for the last few years. Current Internet population is about 12m or so and growing – many expect 2007 to be the take off year where broadband will finally be affordable (and usable), at least for those in the big cities.

I was pretty lucky to be work with many of the Internet players back in the 98-00 days, Astaga,, Satunet, Boleh, Jatis and also some of the regional players, Yahoo, Lycos, Catcha and later also CNet and others. Most of them crashed and burned in the years afterward, with a few morphed leftover. Jatis is primarily a service provider with some mobile excitements and most of the regional players changed their mind to focus on China and India instead. That left practically in monopoly of the local internet content – and ads.

Fast forward to the Web 2.0 and not much has changed. Except now there are more people online and you’re seeing a growing trend of user generated content – blogs etc. While interesting, the economics of this segment is minuscule to the overall market, it will take a lot more than individual blogs to make a real impact on the market. Major media outlets are still pretty much clueless and barely managed to stay online.

Online advertising revenue is trivial to the overall ad spending (recent Nielsen report has no percentage of the online advertising revenue for ’06). By my own estimate, online advertising revenue is only slightly more than IDR60bn, with probably getting about 40% of that. Compared to the IDR22t total ad spending, online advertising made less than 0.4% in 2006.

If we compare this with China where online ad revenue is at 2%, Indonesia should be on its way to make IDR440bn within the next 5 years. That ought to be enough to get the attention of the bigger players, one thinks.

It is rather peculiar that the local media groups have been very slow in looking at this opportunity – particularly so, considering that most of them are struggling to grow their advertising revenue. The last three years saw total advertising revenue grow significantly but this is divided among even more players, so individual revenue are less than spectacular for even the best performing ones (consolidations are already happening with the recent acquisition of TV7 by Trans TV group). Many would suggest that you will see even more consolidation in 2007 in the traditional media platform (TV, Radio, Magazines, Newspapers).

A recent Nielsen report that shows 50% of the AB class are now already getting their news off the Internet and 16% of the upper class spend their media time on the Internet. Include the explosive growth of mobile penetration and the rapid availability of mobile data access, one could make a convincing case that the Indonesian online population is very much under served. More people are on the internet, but with fewer content providers to serve them.

It’s incomprehensible that a market of this size have almost no local content providers. During the recent quake in Taiwan, with most of the international network down, Indonesian users were forced to access only a handful few of the local players, and you’re only talking about two or three real Internet destinations. All reported almost double the traffic (particularly so with the string of local disasters and the public hunger for information) during this period.

On a peculiar side note, just launched their new ad platform where you can now purchase advertising on an impression based pricing (as opposed to the regular monthly/weekly rate card). The debuting advertisers got their money worth within the very first few days with double the impressions and their servers crashed under the load. And this is for a leading player in the market.

The new year begins with a promise and it also welcomes a new player in the market. This time, it looks serious. MNC group just very recently launched their new online venture – The chosen name, I think, is rather silly and the current layout looks like an HTML mockup, but still, it holds a lot under the hood.

The group is currently one of Indonesia’s largest media group with holdings in just about everything from magazines to tv stations to radio stations. The recruitment drive is super aggressive and – in a way – reminds me a lot of the euphoria with Astaga back then. This time around, however, it’s not some ambitious Silicon Valley deserter but a full blown corporate entity (the parent company reported a Q3 2006 EBITDA reaching IDR711bn) that will hopefully bring some sort of corporate accountability in their ambition.

Okezone currently have about 100 or so employees and are already busy churning out real news report online. Presumably, they’re still planning for even more content, sport, entertainment etc. Their existing media properties have stable relationships with advertisers already and the corporate credibility have a lot of leverage with the public, if executed properly, they have a good chance in grabbing a big chunk of the market rather quick (I’d still recommend that they change the domain before the silly name became a liability).

Anyhow, I’m eyeing both Kompas and the Media Indonesia group to quickly get their act together before they got beaten in their own game., the reigning market leader, need to behave itself and put their party dress on before they became obsolete. By any account, these guys are lucky to have managed this long.

In a market with no competition, it’s too easy to lose focus and forget what it was like to stay on the edge. By most measures, has already lost much of its grip over the newer generation of the Internet population –current events and politics is less appealing for the younger digital generation.
They need more than luck to stay relevant with fresh competitors lugging a heavy war chest. In any event though, 2007 will be a crucial year for Indonesian Internet 2.0 and a good year for most of us.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Week #2-07

My colleague here is still missing. Apparently he had some unfortunate accident and had to stay home and all. So in the meanwhile, it’ll be myself and you guys instead. Nothing too special came up this week, except for some potentially interesting things (Ha!)

We will do a week wrap and have some quick Q n A session with in_absentia to clarify some of the legal mumbles from the press this week.

For a very long time, Indonesians keep little respect for the law. For much of our history, the Law existed to the exclusive benefit of the few.

In the period after 1997 (otherwise known as the ‘reformasi’ days), however, Indonesians go postal on everything legal. We can argue on the substance of these recent development, but one thing is clear: Indonesians today are much more comfortable when it comes to all things legal. For better or worse.

Now, on to the headlines.

Soapy Stuff Dept. This is actually from last week and not so much this week. The Indonesian Film Festival 2006 picked a crap movie for Indonesia’s Best Cinema and polemics ensued. Everyone seem to agree that it was indeed an ugly movie, but how ugly is it, really? Some 30 previous award winners made their discontent public and returned their awards (all of them are contemporary –and notable- Indonesian film makers and actors). Some of them accused that the 2006 blatantly copied the score and music from Hollywood movies and not only undeserving of the award, but also a copyright infringement. The gov’t funded FFI was firm on decisions and invite the offended parties to file a lawsuit.
My question:

a) can you sue the FFI (on the grounds that they’re a gov’t funded entity) for choosing a bad movie?
b) If the filmmakers indeed infringed on copyright laws, who will take action? (particularly so when the police were aggressively checking people’s laptop for pirated software).

Missing Plane Dept. The Supreme Court made a statement today that members of the public can sue Adam Air for negligence. This is following the previous announcement from a consumer protection group that they’re preparing a lawsuit against Adam Air. I won’t say much more about Adam Air since everybody else is also doing it, but I’ve a question:

a) How (and why) is a court official (Supreme Court spokesperson, Mr. Djoko Sarwoko), making a statement on eligibility of a lawsuit? At a glimpse, that looks a lot like a conflict of interest since such statement seems to indicate a certain bias in behalf of the court (the court is seemingly to send a welcome signal for such a lawsuit). Note that this isn’t the first time the Supreme Court made such comments on case eligibility, Supreme Justice Mr. Bagir Manan made a statement once to discount the possibility of a lawsuit against Lapindo Brantas (the company behind the mudflow in Sidoarjo).

Old Pains Dept.. The Attorney General office announced that they are ready with another graft case to potentially grab Soeharto. This time, it involves the various Soeharto foundation, totally some $100m. They’ve made several attempts to get the old man in the last 8 years or so, none without much success. On the last call, the AG office decided to drop the charges altogether.

a) How is this one expected to be different than the others? What are the likelihood of success? Is this just another tail wagging the dog?

Even More Old Pains Dept. BNP Paribas in Guernsey (a tax haven under the British commonwealth) is withholding $36m of Tommy Soeharto’s fund. The bank claimed to suspect graft and wrongdoings in the accumulation of the fund. Tommy claimed otherwise (thru Gartner investment).
What makes it interesting is that the AG office expressed their interest and intend to ‘intervene’ in the case, potentially, to get their hands on part of the money. The logic goes that since Tommy was obviously involved in corruption cases in Jakarta, then the money could be suspect to unlawful gains.
Tommy was only very recently let out from prison and the Supreme Court allowed him to get his hands on $100m previously held in a local bank thru some funny legal shenanigans.

a) what chances do they have on getting anything right in London when they’re doing the exact opposite in Indonesia? Is this just a scam to get free travel allowances to England?

I’m posing the questions, in Absentia will answer later.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Week #1-07

I’ve a problem with my partner here. In Absentia. I probably should’ve expected that, with a name like that. Let all pray for his well being and imminent return.

Anyhow, let’s move on to the news items of the week.

Much of the news space in the last week are on the strings of recent disasters. The missing Adam Air plane is, well, still missing. Again, the inaptitude of the gov’t in handling this one was downright embarrassing. There were series of cock up that would be too embarrassing to repeat. The updates occupy much of the front page in newspapers for the last few days although there’s still very little to report on the fourth date.

The silly white haired minister first said they found the plane, then not. He also told journos that the radar in the area was broken as he was walking away from a press conference in the palace. Then he returned back unannounced and told everybody that the radar was actually okay and not broken.

I’m wondering why so much attention is paid to this missing plane while at the same time we’ve 600+ passengers in a sinking ship, also floating around in the sea. They continued to fish out survivors almost daily now but the media dedication to the sinking ship is nowhere comparable to the missing plane. Maybe because there’re only poor people on the boat and they should learn to swim anyway.

Frankly, I’m not sure why Hatta Radjasa – Transport Minister - is still up there, he should’ve been fired already.

Or at the very least, he should retreat back to his cave and die in shame.

Tempo ran the Microsoft – Indonesia MoU story. Once again, the cover story illustrates well the decline of this once great magazine. Generally speaking, most of our local papers aren’t very good in tech related issues but materials on Microsoft and open source issues are everywhere and they could’ve done with better research and at least some attempt at providing a fair and balanced view. I read quite a few of opinions written on the Indonesian blogs out there and they’re all much better than what Tempo is doing. It annoys me when a proper magazine can't even meet certain basic standard of good journalism. (i had my two cents, here)

The same edition also featured a slew of columns on Indonesian contemporary culture. As usual, the quality is much better when the magazine deals with the romantic sentiments that they love so much over there: the style on the select commentaries on outstanding Indonesian arts is a showcase on how the magazine is now really staffed with a bunch of people trying too hard to be Goenawan. Don’t take it wrong, GM is probably Indonesia’s finest writer these days, I’m just not so sure about an entire magazine trying to mimic him. Read the feature on Dewi Lestari and you’ll get what I mean.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs once again embarked in their annual screw up. The pilgrims aren’t getting their food, some 180,000 of them. They do Hajj pilgrimage anually, people save money – some for many years – just to do the once in a lifetime visit to the Holy Land, and one year after another, the incompetent officials find a new venue for another screw up.

With this sorts of horrid moments, it’s a wonder that many in SBY’s cabinet are still out there touting promises for 2007. In_absentia pointed out that if resignations were to be demanded from these tarred officials, then we would have no government left.

Everybody else in the government are busy with the annual outlook. Observers say 6%, while the ever optimist veep dared 7% growth for 2007. Meanwhile, Sri Mulyani snapped at reporters and told them to ask Mama Lauren the psychic for the expected annual growth.

Foreign Affairs Dept. From Iraq, Saddam went thru the trap door. Right on Eid Adha. America, of course, insists that they had nothing to do with the execution or the gory hanging footage. I was going to say something about it but so many people said it better already, here's Christopher Hitchens.

Last, from Africa, Ethiopia took a page direct from the US playbook and invaded next door neighbour Somalia. America then put their battleships on the coast line and said they needed to watch for escaping Al Qaeda elements. Do these people ever learn?

All in all, it’s a sad way to start a fresh calendar year. Proves the point that it is indeed, a year like any other.