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The Abuse of Indonesia's Poor

Bangkok Post Article by Imtiaz Muqbil Explores How EU's Blacklisting of Indonesian Airlines will Harm the Poor.

(7/10/2007) The following article, taken from the July 2, 2007 edition of The Bangkok Post, looks at how the EU blacklisting of all Indonesian airlines will have a devastating effect on the Republic's poor.

ER Ban Will Harm Indonesia's Poor - by Imtiaz Muqbil

Indonesian aviation and tourism authorities" have been put on the defensive by last week's European Union ban on Indonesian airlines, but they are beginning to question the timing, methodology and motivation of the move. Although the initial reaction has been to plead their case before the EU Transport Commission and cite the various measures to boost safety of the Indonesian airlines, some senior officials are taking a more cynical attitude.

In an interview with the Jakarta Post, Indonesian Transportation Society (MTI) chairman Bambang Susantono expressed skepticism about how the commission's experts arrived at their conclusions.

"I don't remember them coming here to inspect the airlines directly," he said, adding that information for the report may have come from pilots flying in and out of Jakarta.

Garuda Indonesia's vice-president for operations, Ari Sapari, told Indonesian TV that the ban "has followed an uncommon procedure" as the "EU has never audited Indonesian airlines." By contrast, American aviation authorities have "done their own audit before making their assessments and American authorities have not banned Indonesian airlines," he said.

Another report quoted Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) executive director Sudaryatno as saying: "We must also look at this from the perspective of the saturated markets that exist in the developed world. We must be careful as this ban could be part of a strategic plan to ruin the reputation of local airlines so that foreign airlines can get a foothold in this country."

He added: "Soekarno Hatta Airport (Jakarta) and Ngurah Rai Airport (Bali) are no longer gateways to Indonesia. They have been replaced by Singapore's Changi. The situation could worsen if the stakeholders in the industry do not take the necessary steps."

Indonesia was apparently too late to include the latest assessments of an audit that noted significant improvements made by Indonesian operators during the past three months, to be included in the EU Commission report, despite efforts having been made to do so, explained director-general for Air Transportation, Budhi Suyitno, to the press.

Although the ban is only applicable to Indonesian airlines flying to Europe, it sends a wider message. Insurance companies, too, may not cover EU passengers traveling on Indonesian flights, or be legally entitled to refuse payouts in the event of a mishap.

Interestingly, the ban came just before a four-day strategic seminar on aviation safety to be held this week in Bali, beginning today.

The seminar would include a one-day session on "International Agencies Assistance Framework" at which donors and aid agencies from developed countries outline how to fund safety-upgrade programmes for Indonesian aviation skies, thus making Indonesia more dependent on financial and technical handouts from abroad.

The ban also comes three months before Bali hosts the annual travel mart of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) between Sept 28-30 this year to which nearly all buyers and sellers would be flying on Indonesian airlines.

Although PATA has been trying to position itself as a champion of aviation liberalization in the Asia-Pacific, there was no response to the ban on the PATA website. It was left up to Indonesia Digest editor Tuti Sunario, a former senior official of the Indonesian Tourism Ministry to defend the interests of the tourism industry. She wrote in her weekly newsletter last week:

"The Tourist Industry ... sees the EU ban as another threat to international confidence in Indonesia's tourism," especially as the market has just "sufficiently recovered from the fear of terrorism."

"Europe and European tourists form a very important market for Indonesia," Mrs. Sunario wrote.

European tourists stay between 15-18 days in Indonesia, visiting many regions and spending an average of US$1,450 per person per stay, compared to Asian visitors who stay an average of 5-8 days and spend an average of $500 (Singaporeans) to $838 (Japanese) per stay.

"With stagnation in the number of European tourists, regions that will suffer most are the poor, outlying traditional villages."

She added: "The European ban ... will in the end thwart those very efforts that Europe -and Indonesia - both wish to foster, which are the preservation of culture, sustainable environment and the alleviation of poverty through the development of tourism."

Imtiaz Muqbil is executive editor of Travel Impact Newswire, an e-mailed feature and analysis service focusing on the Asia-Pacific travel industry.