Saturday, March 28, 2009

An unneighbourly Indonesia is hurting only itself

March 28, 2009

By Patrick Guntensperger

INDONESIA and Singapore engaged in protracted negotiations to arrive at a mutually satisfactory Defence Co-operation Agreement and a parallel extradition treaty. The two nations reached an accommodation and, in 2007, the agreements were signed.

The Indonesian House of Representatives, however, savaged the agreements, declaring that they somehow compromised Indonesian security, and as a result the treaties were never implemented. The Indonesian government then went back to the Singaporean negotiators insisting on a series of substantive changes, all favourable to Indonesia. Singapore quite reasonably refused, since there were already negotiated agreements.

Now Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono has weighed in with his views on the issue. On March 19, he was quoted as saying: 'Singapore doesn't want this extradition arrangement because it would have to return money from corrupt individuals who ran from Indonesia, along with the hot money it gets from other countries.'

Disregarding for a moment his astonishing lack of diplomacy and his frankly insulting tone, Mr Juwono might consider for a moment the fact that Singapore has every reason to 'set aside the issues for the time being', as Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo put it.

While it is likely that Singapore is somewhat reluctant to turn over vast amounts of cash pilfered by corrupt Indonesians and deposited in accounts in Singapore, is Mr Juwono seriously suggesting that is the country's sole or even primary reason for refusing to renegotiate a deal that took years to finalise?

Perhaps Mr Juwono ought to consider the obvious fact that since any agreement reached with Indonesia may simply be reneged and new terms demanded, there is little point in pursuing any negotiations. Why would Singapore, given this history, want to sit down at the table with Indonesian representatives and try to make any deal at all?

Another issue that might have some influence on Singapore's reluctance to hand over still more concessions to Indonesia is the nature of extradition treaties. Since all negotiations (in theory, at least) involve some give and take, Singapore must quite reasonably be asking what it would gain from an extradition treaty with Indonesia. It's obvious what Indonesia would gain. There would be the possibility of repatriating some of the billions of dollars stolen by Indonesians from Indonesia and poured into banks and investment vehicles in Singapore. But what's in it for Singapore?

Extradition treaties, under the best of circumstances, are difficult to work out. Even countries that are similar culturally and with similar legal systems find extradition law difficult to adjudicate.

Canada and the United States, for example, have similar cultural and legal systems but are frequently at odds with one another over extradition. Since Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, it won't extradite murder suspects to the US, which still has the death penalty.

Nevertheless, extraditions for lesser crimes occur on a nearly daily basis. This is because each country respects the integrity of the other's judicial system. If someone is tried in either country, the other assumes that the trial was fair, just and impartial. That kind of trust is a vital component of any extradition treaty.

Indonesia's judicial system, however, is perceived as being one of the three most corrupt institutions in the country. The police are also among the top three most corrupt. And the third? The House of Representatives - the very same group that squashed the treaty after five years of negotiation had finally led to a deal.

The Indonesian government must recognise that when working on an international agreement that is beneficial to Indonesia, but not particularly significant to anyone else, we are not dealing from a position of strength. It would be wise to acknowledge that we need the deal; Singapore doesn't.

Mr Juwono, normally a thoughtful and moderate politician, should realise that Singapore has every reason not to trust Indonesia at the moment. By making statements like the one he did this week, he erodes that relationship even further.

Moreover, honourable members of the House of Representatives would be well advised to realise that reneging on signed agreements destroys the trust that is an essential element in any successful negotiation. If the House is going to undermine the reputation of Indonesia's diplomats, it ought to be for a very good reason indeed. Flexing its muscles and squashing agreements just because it can, isn't sufficient.

The Jakarta-based writer is a teacher of journalism and communications. This article was first published in Jakarta Globe on March 24.

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