Ambassador of Indonesia to Singapore H.E. Suryo Pratomo shares insights on bilateral relations and effects of the pandemic on the economy
Your Excellency, thank you for having us. We would like to convey our full support to you on the difficulties Indonesia is facing right now for COVID-19 and our hope that we will all soon find relief from the effects of the pandemic.
A friend in need is a friend indeed—and Singapore is really a true friend for Indonesia. This is even more evident now, when we are facing the fall-out of the Delta variant spread in Indonesia. Indonesia and Singapore celebrate their national days in August and though this hasn’t been the best of times for both nations, difficult times have brought us closer.
Indonesia and Singapore celebrate their national days in August and though this hasn’t been the best of times for both nations, difficult times have brought us closer. So, what is your wish for both nations in this month of their National days? What is your message for Singapore and Indonesia?
As I see it, Singapore’s been fairly good in implementing health precautions with the numbers of Corona virus cases coming down after each round of lockdowns or heightened health alerts. So I’m sure this will also be the case after the last round. I know that it’s not easy to handle, but Singapore can do it and if we look at the economic data of Singapore, we know that the country experienced growth in the first quarter of this year (1.3% over the same period last year) and the second quarter is trending to be a positive figure. I think this is really excellent that during COVID that sectors such as construction and manufacturing can contribute positively during such a period. So, it means Singapore is slowly but surely, returning to being an active economy once again. However, my message to Singapore is that this is not a time for complacency. As you might know I was with Indonesia’s national taskforce forCOVID-19 before my posting here. We learnt from experience that everyone must keep their guard up and follow all the health protocols. This is important. If Singaporeans keep their discipline in following the health guidelines properly, I think the cases would decline even further and the number of patients needing serious care in hospitals would be kept low.
Singapore is a role model on how the people are disciplined, can come together in sharing the burden that is facing them, and how the authorities are implementing the health protocols. I am confident Singapore can overcome the difficulties posed by the pandemic. This year, especially when Singapore celebrates independence on the National Day, it has shown once again its resilience and the hope that one day we will overcome the impact of the pandemic. Once again, if all the people are trying to protect themselves.
I think this nation can once again pass the difficulties of the pandemic. As for Indonesia I think the challenges are bigger and the conditions more complicated. We have a population of 45 million people or almost 14% of Indonesians who believe COVID and vaccination are part of some imagined conspiracy theory. So, that’s why they don’t want to follow the regulations or health protocols and recommendations for vaccination.
The first challenge is how to bring all the people together on the need to follow the necessary protocols to stop the pandemic, stabilize conditions and guide and persuade them to protect themselves. That’s my hope and wish for Indonesia.
As part of the COVID-19 taskforce before how did it get people to be serious about how they should act about the pandemic? What measures did Indonesia take to make people understand they must cooperate?
Right from the beginning the Chairman of the COVID-19 taskforce realised we needed to make as many Indonesians as possible understand about the virus and how to protect themselves from it. When I joined the taskforce in March last year the first thing I did was to gather the media, all the major chief editors from print, broadcast and online newspapers to sit together and take major action – the priority was to use the role of media to educate the people about the pandemic and the need for them to follow protocols to protect themselves.
We also used other methods like public announcements, the radio, and articles in the press to disseminate information more effectively and quickly. We also asked experts to put out their opinions on the subject in the media to reach out to the common people to make them understand the situation. As people in Indonesia did not comply with the regulations the pandemic spread very fast and many suffered and soon needed hospitalisation. Within a month the number of patients became so high that even the hospitals were unable to cope. They was severe need for oxygen. Not all factories producing oxygen could be used for medical purposes which added to the worsening situation. We are very grateful to Singapore for their timely help.
How did you reach out to Singapore and how did the help come forward?
We contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who in turn called on the relevant Singapore ministers to help Indonesia as the need for oxygen grew urgent. We were happy that we got a quick response from Singapore which supplied 600 oxygen cylinders, ISO tanks and other medical equipment which improved the situation considerably and helped save many lives. At the same time, I am also thankful to Madam Ho Ching, Chairman of Temasek Foundation. She responded as early as she could to contact companies in Singapore to try and collect oxygen cylinders – this also helped tremendously as we got 11,000 cylinders! A factory in China was contacted and soon after that Indonesia received the first batch of 3,000 out of 11,000 cylinders. I would also like to say ‘Thank you’ to Temasek for the quick action that saved many lives.
Ambassador moving forward do you think that businesses should consider collaborations in investing in factories in Indonesia to meet any future demand for these kinds of medical needs? These adversities are creating opportunities for investors too, don’t you think so Ambassador?
It’s good to have collaborations with other countries. If one country falls prey to any problem many countries can come to their rescue. For example the same problem happened in India. Indonesia also helped in giving oxygen. Every country tried to help. We have learned in a pandemic no country should be left behind. If by any chance any one country is left behind this will only increase the possibility of a new virus spreading.
Opportunity Indonesia focuses on trade, business and investments. Please share with us any recent developments that have emerged in terms of trade and investment collaborations between Indonesia and Singapore?
Singapore organisations such as EDB, Enterprise Singapore, Singapore Business Federation, Singapore Manufacturing Federation and many organisations have been very supportive in furthering the agenda of trade, business and investments. Last year Singapore and Indonesia investments totaled US$9.8 billion in 2020 with 20% growth in the manufacture, e-commerce and medical sectors. In the first quarter of this year there were investments of US$4.7 billion, whereas we had 22 new investments which have come in from Singapore to Indonesia. Based on this I am confident investment levels will surpass that of last year.
Could you update us on the upcoming Leader’s Retreat that had been scheduled to take place before the end of the year; will there be a special agenda for the Retreat?
Yes, the Embassy is preparing a meeting between our leaders. Originally Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wanted to meet in person with President Jokowi during June-July. The President and PM have expressed the hope that after September the latest meeting will be held.
Regarding any special agenda one area of discussion is expected to be the establishment of the Micro Blanket Bubble. We are studying several best practices related to the travel sector during COVID. Singapore can be a role model with the best ways of implementing these micro bubbles for some selected destinations.
How is the situation about getting vaccination in Indonesia? Are there adequate supplies? The Indonesian government has set up a target of one million people a day. Is it possible?
One million vaccinations is possible but it needs to mobilize very quickly. Previously we were making such levels of vaccinations for polio but the number was fewer. We can learn from the experience from the US, which is mobilizing the military and getting people vaccinated.
Although international travel is still restricted in the meantime you have been promoting The10 New Bali book virtually. Now perhaps is a good time to evoke interest in potential investors. Do you have any plans to promote or invite investment in tourism?
Yes, we have been active in this area. For example, we met Singapore’s businessman Mr. Ong Beng Seng of Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) who has proposed to invest in Indonesia to develop a beautiful island suitable for tourism. We are getting more content ready through collaborations with private sector one such example is our support for the publishers of The 10 New Bali. They also have a website (www.dolanesia.travel) supplementing the book promoting Indonesia through regular webinars, info graphics, pictures and articles on Indonesian tourism. People will want to travel once the pandemic is over and enjoy life. So during this time we are trying to build up a bigger appetite for Indonesian tourism again especially for the travel trade, industry and investors.
Ms. Nomita Dhar: Ambassador it has been an absolute joy speaking to you. The pandemic has been harsh and there were dips as the whole human race suffered, but there were also highs when we saw how the governments on both sides are doing their very best to deal with the situation. So indeed this is a triumph for humanity. We are looking at a borderless world where we as humans get together to ease our suffering and arise again. I wish Indonesia a very happy National Day and I look forward to spreading all the good news through our publications IndoConnect and Opportunity Indonesia.