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Tuesday 11 Dec 2018 | 18:16 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 11 Dec 2018 | 18:16 | SYDNEY

This week in Jakarta: Boat crisis, female corruption fighters and plastic rice



22 May 2015 18:14

Indonesia this week opened its doors to thousands of migrants stranded at sea, with the expectation that regional neighbours such as Australia could help with resettlement. Meanwhile in Jakarta, President Jokowi announced the first all-female selection committee for the country's anti-corruption body, and social media lit up over reports of toxic plastic rice entering the market from China.

After a meeting with Malaysia, Thailand and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) on Wednesday, Indonesia agreed to take in some of the thousands of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh now stranded at sea after being turned away by the navies of three neighbouring countries. Recognising the humanitarian crisis at hand, Indonesia's foreign minister Retno Marsudi has agreed to take in a share of the migrants, provided they can be resettled within a year. Indonesia has already taken in more than a thousand of the latest wave of migrants, many of whom were welcomed by ordinary Acehnese even after they were rejected by the navy.

There is strong public compassion in Indonesia towards the stranded migrants, in part because of their shared religion. The newly arrived migrants will join almost 12,000 asylum seekers and refugees already in Indonesia who are either awaiting verification of their refugee status or resettlement. Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, is currently able to resettle about 500 refugees a year. This means other countries in the region that are signatories to the convention, such as Australia and the Philippines, may be expected to take some of the load in resettlement.

Australia has already responded to this idea with a big 'nope', which means the issue will likely become another source of tension between Australia and Indonesia in the months to come.

President Jokowi has yet to make a statement on the boat crisis, but has spoken to media to announce the new all-female line-up of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) selection committee. The nine women selected by the president to appoint anti-corruption commissioners have been hailed as 'heroines' by the local press, with the expectation that they can help save the KPK from a year of controversy and tension with the National Police.

Though the move to appoint an all-female committee has been labeled 'sensationalist' by some, none have questioned the suitability of the members and their varied backgrounds in law, psychology, sociology, management, governance and more. Observers have suggested that the appointment of economist Destry Damayanti as head of the committee signals an intention for the KPK to focus more on corruption in business, rather than political graft.

Meanwhile, the police this week dropped investigations into allegations of graft by Budi Gunawan, whose slated appointment as police chief sparked controversy with the KPK earlier this year. Budi was made deputy police chief last month in a closed-door inauguration. The new police chief, Badrodin Haiti, welcomed news of the all-female KPK selection committee, saying that women are usually 'more thorough' in their work.

A woman from Bekasi, Greater Jakarta, was the first to report the presence of synthetic rice in Indonesia this week, sparking panic on social media. The food seller claimed to have bought rice from her usual supplier at a Bekasi market, only to find that the rice turned to mush after it was cooked. She posted photos of the cooked and uncooked rice on social media and sent a complaint to the Indonesian Consumers' Board (YLKI). Similar reports had previously come from India and Vietnam of 'plastic' rice made of potato and sweet potato starch mixed with resin. The Bekasi mayor has confirmed that a lab result showed rice laced with a polyvinyl materials had been found in a local market. The Trade Ministry is investigating the source of the tainted rice, and one lawmaker has called its circulation an act of 'food terror', saying those responsible should be persecuted as terrorists.

Photo by Flickr user basibanget.

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