Rizal Ramli: Elite have stolen Democracy


The macroeconomic picture is rosy, Rizal noted, but only the top 2 percent of the population has benefited.  

(Jakarta Globe) – Former cabinet minister and current concerned citizen Rizal Ramli is a busy man, crisscrossing the country to measure its pulse. His goal, he said, is to meet ordinary residents and learn how their lives have progressed since the reforms enacted following the 1997-98 financial crisis.

The commodities boom has created new pockets of wealth around the country, especially in regions where there are large palm oil and rubber plantations. The macroeconomic picture is rosy, Rizal noted, but only the top 2 percent of the population has benefited. 

When asked to explain the sharp rise in consumption, he acknowledged that the middle class is growing. The country has made significant gains over the past few years that have led to large inflows of investment and ratings agencies lifting the nation’s debt level to investment grade. 

However, the numbers are exaggerated, Rizal said, citing motorcycle purchases as an example. 

“Yes, motorcycle sales are rising, but the terms of payment have changed,” he said in a recent interview, explaining that people’s purchasing power hasn’t increased. 

Minimum down payments for motorcycles will increase to 25 percent in June as a result of a new Bank Indonesia regulation. 

Rizal is highly critical of the lack of infrastructure development, which he said was primarily due to a lack of operational leadership within the government. 

“This is what is lacking in our democracy — the ability to produce leaders who are popular as well as competent,” he said. 

An observer of society as well as the economy, Rizal has been a supporter of the demonstrations that have erupted to protest the cut in fuel subsidies. The core issue, he said, is not the price hike, but social justice and the continuing fight against corruption. 

“A large chunk of the subsidy goes toward corruption in the oil and gas sector,” he noted. “Logically, we should be using gas given the huge amount of resources the country has, so there is something wrong in the way we manage our resources.” 

Jailed by authoritarian leader Suharto in the 1970s for criticizing the regime, Rizal rose to become first the country’s finance minister and then the chief economics minister under President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid. During his time in government, he was faced with the prospects of rising prices and the effects of corruption. 

“In 1998, only intellectuals, media and students understood the level of corruption under Suharto,” Rizal said. “Now, because of greater media access and coverage, everybody understands.” 

So what is his end game and what do the demonstrators hope to achieve? 

“Democracy must work for the people, for the nation. Democracy in this country has been stolen by the elite.” 

Corruption has become so endemic that it is starting to impact on economic growth and affects the lives of the ordinary people, he added.