His Excellency offered some interesting insights into the organisation of this Retreat during the 50th anniversary of Indonesian and Singapore diplomatic ties

by HE Ambassador Ngurah Swajaya

The Leaders’ Retreat is preceded by a meeting at the ministerial level as well as meetings at the working group platform. So, we have working groups trying to finalise the agendas and  everything has to go through them before  another meeting at the ministerial level takes place. For this visit, it was very important for our leaders to discuss follow-ups of what have already been agreed to in the last Leaders’ Retreat Semarang, Central Java last September. Then there were talks related to renewed sector cooperation where our two countries can work together based on leveraging each other’s potential.

The ministerial level meetings took place in Jakarta in July 2017 and Singapore was represented by Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr Lim Hng Kiang, and Indonesia by Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Darmin Nasution. At that meeting, the two ministers witnessed the signing of the MOU on the establishment of the Indonesia and Singapore Business Council. After 50 years, this is the first time we have had such a business council.

Regarding preparations for the Retreat…these were kicked off from the month of January this year. We are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations so this year’s retreat was meant to be special. We agreed that was going to be the high point or culmination of all the activities we organised.

A First – Joint Flypast Idea
One such highlight that was never done before was the joint fly past by the Indonesia and Singapore air force. It was a major element that was finalized when the new Indonesian Air Force Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto met Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen. It was then, that I suggested the idea that why don’t we organise a joint fly-past by the two air forces and they can make a fly formation of the number 50 as a commemorative mark celebrating 50 years of bilateral relations between the two nations. Both of them immediately responded positively and supported the proposal wholeheartedly. In the end 10 aircraft from each country took part in the ‘50’ formation. Another joint item was the marching bands from the Indonesian and Singapore military forces. It is the first time they have held such a combined exercise. It was a great success and some feedback we received then was to do a repeat performance, but on a Sunday, so that everybody can see and hear them. But we felt it was specific for that week because we are marking the 50 anniversary on the 7th of September (Thursday).

Using Social Media
All the staff in Indonesian Embassy in Singapore was involved in some way for the visit by our President during the Retreat and we also hosted the accompanying delegation which included other VIPs such as the other cabinet ministers who were helping in preparing for the topics of the meetings and together with the chief of protocol for all the detailed items of the visit. It was a major exercise but we applied useful infocomm technology such as Whatsapp and social media tools to address several problem which cropped up,  and another example was, registration to attend was done by using social media.

One challenging aspect of the visit was the organisation of the President’s meeting with the Indonesian community at the embassy which was not in the official programme. But Singapore has a sizeable number of Indonesians here who very much wanted to be closer to their President, meet and hear from him. President Widodo also likes such meetings and we were able to organize and present the session very seamlessly in a very short time. During the session President Widodo shared with the people what he has been doing for the past almost three years of his presidency.

The President also explained in his speech in Bahasa Indonesia “Saya juga orang biasa” or “I am just like a normal person”. So, he really likes to engage with people, talk as well as meet them. He is not really complicated in terms of protocol matters, very simple, very charming and very easy to speak to, to both of them, the First Lady and the President. They show great consideration to everyone.

For example, we had just arrived at the hotel from the airport about 7.15 am. So, I reported to the President that we were starting the event at 8.00 am at the embassy. He asked me whether they are already there and I told him they already started coming in since 5.00 am ,much earlier than the official opening hours of 8.00 am ! The President immediately made a decision we have to go there directly. He said we should not let them wait too long. Rather than be there at 8.00 am, he just needed to freshen up for a while, and then go straight there. We arrived half an hour ahead of schedule as he doesn’t want to let his fellow Indonesians wait.

The Indonesian community here was very enthusiastic. Although it was a weekday many left their work earlier and there was a tremendous response to our call to come wearing Indonesian traditional dress – which they all did. We heard how even though some don’t really have their own, they rented or borrowed traditional costumes from the different provinces to wear. We received and catered (food) for all 1,800 people who came. Luckily there are many Indonesian restaurants in Singapore and they helped with this aspect.

Distinct Touches
This year’s Retreat is commemorative of the 50th Anniversary and the Singapore Government has also helped make it really very special with some distinct touches. I think, this was unprecedented, based on the information I have. The Indonesia state flags flying in the streets, the motorcades and the receptions etc— this is the time for both of our communities as well as our leaders to celebrate as the 50th year anniversary is an important milestone.

Now we are in the middle of a journey. Sometimes there will be new things that will come up that were not planned at the beginning. We will then need to meet the challenges, overcome them and continue on the journey. If we can do this, it will  make me very happy. The most important thing for me now is working on how we can maintain and also enhance the close interactions at the official level. Of course, the leaders’ level is very important but we should not forget people-to-people ties. We must have a better understanding of each other to move this forward.