Saturday, August 28, 2004

Isolated Nation of Islands

Isolated Nation of Islands

Indonesians who travel out of their country frequently will be very happy to hear that the government is scrapping the exit tax ("fiskal" to the locals) soon. Visitors to Indonesia are often surprised to learn that locals have to pay a 1 million rupiah (RM 400+) tax at the Sukarno-Hatta airport everytime they take a flight out of the country. Though the exit tax has been around since the late seventies, the government has quadrupled its amount since the Asian Financial Crisis to prevent currency outflow and also to beef up its coffers.

When I was working in Jakarta and holding a KITAS (Kartu Izin Tinggal Terbatas), I also had to pay 1M rupiah everytime I travel back to KL. Of course, there are always "agents" who will offer you a backdoor for 700-800,000 rupiah. I didn't bother with that because most of my trips (including fiskal) were paid by the company.

The 1M rupiah fiskal virtually limited overseas travel only to the well-to-do. It has become a bit ridiculous recently when budget airlines started offering tickets to Singapore and KL priced at around 400,000 rupiah. Imagine having to pay more than twice the ticket price for exit tax!

Sometimes when you live in Indonesia, you feel a bit isolated from the rest of the world. There are many people who are still afraid to travel to Indonesia. The lack of broadband Internet access further accentuates this feeling of isolation. It didn't really bother me that much because isolation was exactly what I sought for when I decided to live Jakarta. It was a good place for my "exile". But the isolation is very bad for the development of the people there. Indonesians always feel that they are lagging behind countries like Singapore and Malaysia.

This isolation actually breeds a feeling of inferiority complex among the population. For the past 8 years, I've had the opportunity to work with many engineers in Indonesia, and to me they are equally capable if not better than their counterparts in Singapore and Malaysia. Perhaps they lack a bit of exposure, but somehow I always feel that they tend to give a little bit too much respect to their foreign counterparts.

To me, Indonesia is a country with an abundance of talents and resources. The diversity of the country is its greatest strength and sadly, its biggest obstacle too. Hopefully, with political stability and a strong leadership, this isolated nation of 17,000 islands will one day realise its full potential and enjoy the prosperity that it truly deserves.

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