Prabowo makes case for Indonesia to be self-sufficient

Presidential candidate's big push strategy includes food, water, energy self-sufficiency

Indonesia's presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto has said he has a "big push strategy" to make the country a prosperous nation, catching up with some of its South-east Asian neighbours.

Among the core programmes is achieving self-sufficiency in food, energy and water, Mr Prabowo said in remarks at the annual Indonesia Economic Forum on Wednesday.

"My strategy will be to use our competitive advantage," the retired army general said, referring to agriculture and agribusiness.

Mr Prabowo is seen as trailing President Joko Widodo in the polls next April. To attract voters' interest, he has been throwing up big ideas in recent weeks.

Last week, Mr Prabowo's team spoke of his plans to slash corporate and personal income tax rates if he wins the election, so as to better compete with low-tax neighbours like Singapore in luring more investments.

Mr Prabowo told the forum on Wednesday: "We are occupying one-third of the tropical zones of the world... We can have three harvests a year with technology, good management."

He also said Indonesia can regrow 88 million ha of destroyed forests - twice the size of the island of Sumatra - to make them productive again to help meet the country's self-sufficiency goal. He did not say how he would take over huge tracts of land to replant forests.

Large chunks of three of Indonesia's main islands - Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan - have been cleared for farms and plantations, from rice to oil palm and other commodities like rubber.

He said Indonesia's forests are vital for food production and renewable energy generation. He cited as examples how the forests can produce bioenergy such as bioethanol from sugar palm trees and biocoal by intensely heating biomass.

The 66-year old criticised Indonesia's current heavy reliance on fuel imports, while at the same time exporting a huge amount of crude oil.

He warned of the depletion of energy resources, citing a projection that the resource-rich country will need to depend on imports for its entire energy or fuel needs by 2027.

State-owned energy firm Pertamina said in September that oil imports for this year stood at an average of 393,000 barrels per day (bpd) up to August. This is 6 per cent higher than the daily average of 370,000 bpd the country imported for the whole of last year.

Despite the inward-looking orientation, Mr Prabowo said he will be open to foreign investment and is willing to learn from other countries with advanced technology, such as the United States and India, on agriculture issues.

Mr Prabowo is the son of Indonesia's notable economist Sumitro Djojohadikusumo. His big ideas on economic issues are among the key highlights of his campaign.

The presidential candidate's running mate is businessman and former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno. Their economic policy team includes economist Dradjad Wibowo, a politician from the National Mandate Party.

Mr Prabowo and Mr Sandiaga are challenging President Joko and his running mate, cleric Ma'ruf Amin, in the April polls.

The former military man also promised that if elected, he would emulate the success stories of countries that have managed to reduce poverty significantly.

He cited China, which he said had lifted more than 90 per cent of its population from the poverty line since 1978 with its "economic miracle". He added: "I am convinced that we can turn the country very fast, but we need a clean and strong government."

Mr Prabowo brought up various indicators to show that Indonesia is lagging behind some of its South-east Asian neighbours.

The country's tax ratio, which stood at 10.3 per cent to its gross domestic product (GDP), ranks it 112th out of 124 countries in 2016, much lower than Thailand (66th), Malaysia (86th), Singapore (87th) and the Philippines (88th), according to data he cited.

Indonesia's tax-to-GDP ratio is expected to be 11 per cent this year, slightly lower than 12 per cent last year, the Finance Ministry has said.

In the 2016 Human Development Index, which Mr Prabowo referred to, Indonesia was 113th out of 188 countries surveyed, lower than its neighbours Singapore (5th), Malaysia (59th) and Thailand (87th).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2018, with the headline 'Prabowo makes case for Indonesia to be self-sufficient'. Print Edition | Subscribe