Indonesian leader admits to ‘trust deficit’ in climate deals

Some of his own people may think he is fat and slow like a buffalo, but Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has at last shown a willingness to talk straight about one of his country’s biggest problems: credibility.

In unusually frank comments to his cabinet ministers this week, the leader of the world’s fourth most populous country made a pretty stunning but welcome admission: the world doesn’t trust us.

And instead of ranting and raving about the evils of colonialism and neo-liberalism (the usual crutches Indonesian politicians use when they can’t defend or confront their country’s weaknesses), he told ministers to take the “trust deficit” as further impetus for reform.

Here here SBY! It’s about time.

These are some of the president’s comments as reported by The Jakarta Globe:

I call for you to ensure [Indonesia] has global credibility, to make it a reality and do it. I called for all institutions in this nation to do the same. This is the reason for reform. We can turn the trust deficit into a trust surplus.

The problem — and don’t be upset or downhearted about this — is that the international community doesn’t really trust institutions in most developing countries, ours included. They want sureties that such institutions will manage grants in a credible way without violations, particularly corruption.

I take no offense at this, because we really do need to strengthen our institutions and their credibility. It’s best to treat this problem as the motivation we need to ensure our institutions become more credible.

It’s pretty strong stuff considering that in Javanese culture one generally refrains from any kind of direct criticism. To his credit, it’s not the first time SBY has thrown off the cultural equivocations and called a spade a spade. Earlier this year he acknowledged that the country’s judicial system was in the grip of an evil “court mafia” that doles out justice to the highest bidder or most powerful party. That’s a very strong indictment from a leader about his own judiciary. He also said the country’s forests were at the mercy of a “logging mafia” – another bit of straight-talk that put blushes on Indonesia officials’ faces but which gave heart to ordinary people that maybe, at last, something would be done to improve the rule of law in the country.

Yudhoyono made his “trust deficit” remarks in reference to the forest moratorium he announced last month in Oslo. From next year, Indonesia will halt deforestation on new concessions in exchange for a billion dollars in grants from Norway. But Norway has been very clear that it will not accept business-as-usual in the form of lies, corruption and more lies about forest management and conservation.

“If there is no reduced deforestation, we will not pay. If there is reduced deforestation, we will pay,” Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg said on May 26.

People who care about Indonesia’s forests should be encouraged by Yudhoyono’s frank admission that the country needs to do better to convince the world that it is serious about its environmental promises.

They can also take heart from other signs of progress in the war against illegal logging. According to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), important work is being done with the Indonesian banks to trace the money trail leading to the big illegal logging bosses and their cronies, and to make it harder for them to launder their money through the country’s financial system. This is surely better than trying to stop them in the forests, where only the poor little fish end up getting caught.

“Forestry Law mostly ended up chasing small actors such as cutters and traffickers instead of the big fish,”  CIFOR lawyer and research officer Anna Sinaga said.

“By following the money, the law enforcement agencies can get to the kingpins.”

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