The Straits Times says

Indonesia's infrastructure President

President Joko Widodo has been indefatigable in his efforts to drum up foreign investments for Indonesia, an emphasis evident in his just-concluded state visit to Singapore. Such investments are vital to help boost the development of the potential economic powerhouse. Nowhere are funds more badly needed than in its creaky infrastructure - a demand evident across Asia as people clamour for better roads, railroads, power plants and water and sanitation systems. With trillions of dollars needed by the region in the coming years,

Indonesia will have to compete hard for its share of private investments if Mr Joko is indeed to make infrastructure development the hallmark of his presidency.

What runs counter to such efforts are the mixed signals of policies - some measures encourage foreign investments while others appear nationalistic. The slow pace of economic reforms is also giving pause to many foreign investors. With growth slowing and the need to create new jobs for a young population, Indonesian leaders as a whole must take the bull by the horns. Since taking office last October, Mr Joko has reduced fuel subsidies and freed up funds for infrastructure to facilitate trade, such as airports, seaports and roads. However, an inefficient bureaucracy has been blamed for ills afflicting projects - fund disbursements are lethargic, work is slow to start, and if started, falls behind schedule.

The machinations associated with Jakarta politics do not help Mr Joko's cause either. His party lacks a parliamentary majority which makes it harder to get reforms passed by lawmakers and draw support for moves to open up the economy in a consistent manner. For example, while plans are afoot to roll back part of a ban by the previous government on exports of raw minerals, recent protectionist measures have created doubt among investors.

Investors, particularly foreign ones, can be expected to turn skittish if policy flip-flops surface for whatever reason. For example, a plan to charge a tax on toll fees was approved, only to be shelved weeks later because it clashed with another plan to increase the toll road fees. Problems of coordination can be ironed out as more politicians and professionals in government realise the folly of working at cross-purposes, and close ranks for the sake of national goals.

But harder to change are the rent-seeking ways of officials and pervasive notions of economic nationalism. Bad memories among investors who found the red carpet that had been rolled out pulled suddenly from beneath them when the popular mood turned will be hard to forget. Fighting corruption, overcoming bureaucratic inertia and providing security for long-term investments will be critical if Mr Joko is to deliver on his goal of being Indonesia's infrastructure President.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2015, with the headline 'Indonesia's infrastructure President'. Print Edition | Subscribe