Indonesia: Vengeance with a Smile

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In his "nonaligned" stance, Sukarno took equipment from any country willing to lend him the money to pay for it. As a result, the electricity plant at Makasar, for example, operates on generators from four different countries, making it impossible to cannibalize one machine to supply spare parts for the rest —and requiring the services of four separate groups of maintenance men.

In a nation as lush and warm as Indonesia, life goes on. The skies of Java are dotted with bright kites flown by bright-eyed barefoot boys. In Makasar, spotted deer tethered to trees keep the grass cut short beside the boulevards; while, on the waterfront, Buginese sailmakers squat on the docks sewing large squares of canvas together. The spicy aroma of cooking fires drifts lazily in the twilight haze on the Musi River in Palembang, and the evening sun casts a warm orange glow on the great white mosque of Banda Atjeh. In Padang, the bustling bazaars are piled high with a rainbow of fruits and silks.

In the countryside, where 80% of the population still lives, the ravages of the world's worst chronic inflation are scarcely felt. Most families can grow enough food to get along and often have enough left over to barter for clothes and even bicycles. In the cities, life for most is not so easy. The monthly wage of an average white-collar worker would barely buy a round of drinks in the Hotel Indonesia bar. To make ends meet, city dwellers have invented a sort of guerrilla economy. Almost everyone has a racket.

Rice for Teacher. Civilservants appear at the office only long enough to sign in, spend most of the day doing other jobs, such as driving taxis or peddling their influence. Clerks and secretaries cart away office supplies to sell on the black market. Chauffeurs and bus drivers put in extra hours hauling passengers for themselves, pick up extra pocket money by siphoning gasoline from their tanks and selling it. Soldiers set up roadblocks to exact a few rupiahs from every passing vehicle. Schools are supposedly free, but teachers expect donations of money or rice from their students. At ports, longshoremen and police openly loot incoming cargoes; one favorite ploy is to remove the vital parts of imported machinery and sell them back to their desperate owners shortly after delivery.

The result is unbounded chaos. Ports are hopelessly clogged, government services all but paralyzed, businesses wildly inefficient. A visiting American economist recently warned that the time may soon arrive "when a person spends all his time and energy going from one job to another, so that he gets almost nothing done on any of them."

On with the Job. It is General Suharto's intention that things will never get that bad. Economic recovery is the principal goal of Suharto's administration. "He personally doesn't understand the complexities of the economic problems facing the country," says a foreign diplomat who knows him well, "but he inspires confidence and has clear objectives. He wants to get on with the job of nation building."

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