Kusfiardi – Indonesian Anti-Debt Campaigner arrives in Scotland!
On Friday 23rd May the Jubilee Scotland team waited excitedly at Edinburgh airport for Kusfiardi the anti-debt campaigner from Indonesia to arrive. After introductions and a drive into Edinburgh the work immediately began with a initial briefing by Kusfiardi on Indonesia’s debt situation. It quickly became clear that Kusfiardi was both an eloquent and passionate advocate for debt justice for Indonesia and we in the Jubilee Scotland team were immediately engrossed. We can’t wait to tour with him around Scotland!
Our discussions about Indonesia continued well into the evening with Kusfiardi remarkably showing no signs of jet lag (considering the flight from Jakarta had taken 15 hours to get to Scotland) and we looked forward to showing him a little of Edinburgh the next day as an introduction to Scotland.
The next morning our first visit was to show Kusfiardi the best view of Edinburgh, from Arthur’s Seat and the Crags, then we drove to East Lothian to North Berwick to walk on the beach and talk more about debt and the Jubilee Scotland campaign to cancel Indonesia’s arms debt owed to the UK.
Time and again Kusfiardi impressed upon us just how devastating the impact of debt was having in Indonesia not just by taking resources away from the government’s budget but also because of the lack of disbursement of loans in the first place. Not only is Indonesia having to repay the debts but it has never received the full amount that was owed to them in the first place!
It is Kusfiardi’s belief that is this that makes the issue of debt an issue of political control, with the creditors and multinational corporations having the power to control the destiny of Indonesia.
Kusfiardi also told us about the current political situation in Indonesia where the government that day were about to increase fuel prices, a development that was being driven by the oil multinational corporations based in Indonesia and the impact this would have on everyday life.
But he remains hopeful that by coming to Scotland and campaigning with Jubilee he can show the Indonesian government that there is concern for Indonesia’s debt issue in the international community and that the people of Scotland are determined not to continue to be party to the injustice of the arms debt owed to the UK government.
Tomorrow, the tour begins in Inverurie where Kusfiardi will be talking with local campaigners and the public on Indonesia’s debt and encouraging them to take part in the Jubilee Scotland campaign. There will also be a screening of John Pilger’s ‘New Rulers of the World’ .
The dates and venues of the tour are:
Monday 26th May – Inverurie
Tuesday 27th May – Kilmarnock
Wednesday 28th May – Edinburgh
Thursday 29th May – Dumbarton
Friday 30th May – Kirkcaldy
For more information about these events click here
Here’s an update on our speaker tour with Kusfiardi:
Inverurie 26th May – The Acorn Centre, West Church
Our first stop on the speaker tour was Inverurie and what an opener! A packed hall gave their full attention to Ardi’s presentation and there followed a good discussion afterwards on the issue of Indonesia’s huge odious debt. The audience were also keen to take action and find out what they could do to support justice for Indonesia so the Jubilee Scotland campaign received lots of petition signatures as well as support for lobbying the local MP Malcolm Bruce.
For Ardi, the evening was a sign that Scotland was prepared to do what it could to support his movement in Indonesia and a real encouragement for the rest of the speaker tour.
A thousand thanks go to the organisers at the Acorn Centre who fed, hosted and gave us a bed for the night. Special thanks goes to Ian Groves and good luck to all at West Church!
Kilmarnock 27th May – St. Kentigerns Church
After travelling down from Inverurie and stopping off for a couple of hours in Edinburgh the speaker tour was on the road again, this time to the western town of Kilmarnock. It is amazing to see how people engage with both Kusfiardi and the John Pilger documentary film we show, this combination really translates well the injustice that Indonesia continues to face under the mountain of debt. The discussion continued after the event on a whole range of issues to do with food security, sovereignty and positive conditionality. Thanks to Grant Barclay for all his help on the evening.
Edinburgh 28th May – Scottish Parliament
Kusfiardi had the opportunity to address the International Development Group (IDG) at the Scottish Parliament with Patricia Ferguson MSP and impress upon them the issue of Indonesia’s debt. A small meeting, but helpfully arranged by Patricia at short notice to give Ardi the chance to speak to the IDG. There was a good discussion, displaying the depth of knowledge that many of the Group members bring, and Patricia called for the group to review the situation with Indonesia’s debt and to return to it later in the year. This Parliamentary group is one of the most important forums for development and politics in Scotland, and it was great to be invited to it (the photo shows Ardi with Patricia Ferguson MSP, convener of the Group, and former Minister with responsibility for international development in Scotland – plus Adriana Sri Adhiati of Down to Earth, and other members of the Group).
Wednesday evening, 28th May. Ardi spoke at Augustine United Church, along with Adriana Sri Adhiati, and David Lunan, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. “Evil debts” – so David Lunan called the vast sums which function to enslave the developing world.
We were there to discuss the effects of debt on Indonesia. A vast country, tremendously rich in natural resources: “The greatest prize in Asia”, Richard Nixon called it, quoted in John Pilger’s film “The New Rulers of the World.” Adriana showed us a map of “Indonesia Incorporated”, compiled by Friends of the Earth Indonesia. Vast swathes of the country were blocked out in red for mining, brown for logging, and the like — vast swathes: and this in a country longer by far than the breath of the USA (Indonesia is the fourth most populated country, after China, India and the US.
In theory, foreign loans are a good way for a country to develop. If a neighbour has a surplus, why not invest that surplus and take a return from the proceeds of their augmented labours? But Ardi underlined, through multiple examples, the difference between the theory and the reality. The reality is that loans come under certain economic conditions, that they entrench the power of certain elites, and that the financial mechanisms that underpin them serve to pipe wealth out of the country. A comfortable recitation of the theory, it seems, will never give us the whole story of the political economy of debt.
Ardi speaks with David Lunan, Moderator of the Church of Scotland 2008.
A few pictures from the event in Dumbarton, at the wonderful St Augustines Church.
The last day of Ardi’s tour of Scotland: Friday 30th May. A day of political meetings. In the afternoon Ardi met with Mark Lazarowicz, MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, and a long time supporter of Jubilee Scotland. Mark asked Ardi about the Indonesian government’s views on debt cancellation, and whether that government would be able to use the money wisely. Ardi pointed out that there is a public budget process in Indonesia, and that the use of funds is open to public scrutiny.
In the evening James, Westaly and Ardi went to Kirkcaldy, seat of the current UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for a meeting in the city council chambers. The audience was small, but comprised Kirkcaldy’s most committed and influential campaigners, as well as Marilyn Livingstone MSP, a member of Fife Council, and a researcher from the Prime Minister’s own constituency office.
This event closed the speaker tour in Scotland. Ardi had spoken at evening events in Inverurie, Kilmarnock, Edinburgh, Dumbarton and Kirkcaldy, at the Scottish Parliament and at a campaign planning meeting with other NGOs; VIPs he met included the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Patricia Ferguson MSP, Mark Lazarowicz MP, Marilyn Livingstone MSP, Fife councillors and a researcher for Gordon Brown: and many of the most heartfelt, wise and committed campaigners in Scotland (one hundred and sixty or so people came to an event during the week).
The next job for Jubilee Scotland is to organise lobbies of the most relevant Scottish ministers to press home the points from the “Witness to Injustice” tour. We still have live hopes of cancelling Indonesia’s arms debts, and setting new rules for international finance.
Ardi, in the meantime, has gone to London for a few days, prior to returning home.
On 3rd June I accompanied Kusfiardi to a meeting of the All-party Parliamentary Human Rights Group in Portcullis House, Westminster.
Jubilee Scotland’s main reason for wanting to attend this meeting was to keep our campaign engaged with civil society perspectives on the human rights situation in Indonesia. Earlier in the year Ben and I had met with Richard and Benny from the Free West Papua campaign, and had been horrified to learn of the extent of continuing human rights violations in West Papua. What would be the consequences of cancellation in this context?
Meeting Ardi made a huge difference to my understanding of the links between debt and human rights. The point that he made, strongly and repeatedly, was that it was at the point of bad loans being issued that they shored up the impunity of odious regimes, as the projects to which they were attached presented ample opportunities for corrupt elites to skim off money. Debt cancellation, by making more money available to the scrutiny of civil society and parliament, serves instead to increase the sovereignty of the people.
After the meeting – which was attended by several MPs and one Lord – Ardi confessed to me that at points he had felt uncomfortable about some of the language in which the discussion was couched, particularly the way in which the UK government was asked to ‘save’ people from the villainies of the Indonesian government. In his contribution to the discussion he preferred to look at the role of the Western backers of the ‘comprador’ Indonesian regime, at the activities of multinationals like Rio Tinto and BP, to whom Suharto was bribed to open Indonesia and its economy, and who now preside over the environmental and human despoliation we see in West Papua. By extension, he also perhaps led us to look at the possibility of using leverage on Western economic institutions – corporations, IFIs and Export Credit Agencies – to bring about positive change in the field of human rights.
It was a real privilege to meet the Indonesian and UK campaigners who battle – often at great personal risk – for the human rights of people in Indonesia. It was also exciting to see how much Ardi brought to the table. When global justice campaigners look at individual national cases many difficult questions are thrown up, which can be side-stepped when one talks in general terms about ‘the world’s poor’. But this meeting showed that by engaging with these issues head on campaigners who traditionally ply different paths can enrich and strengthen each others work. I hope that the alliances forged at this meeting play a strong role in the future of Jubilee Scotland.
Kusfiardi’s last engagement was on Thursday the 5th of June, when we went with our colleague Sarah Williams from Jubilee Debt Campaign to meet officials from the Export Credit Guarantee Department, the UK government department who ensured – and are currently collecting repayments for – the bad loans that are the focus of our campaign.
I had noticed throughout the speaker tour that the more confrontational and technical his interlocutors, the more Ardi rose to the challenge, and this meeting was no exception. He refused to be intimidated by the plutocratic architecture of Canary Wharf – ‘the elevator is speaking to us’ he remarked with a smile as we disembarked on the 13th floor of Exchange Tower – and repeatedly brought the discussion back to the core concerns of our campaign.
Ardi stressed the difficulty the people of Indonesia had in finding their feet when around 60% of their taxes went to debt repayments. He did not beg, but stressed the growth of a strong grass-roots movement in his country that was increasingly pushing the Indonesian government to de-recognise it’s illegitimate debts. Within this context I suggested that the Jubilee ‘Lift the Lid’ campaign, with its emphasis on an international and multilateral consensus on odious debts, was worthy of their serious attention.
It’s difficult to gauge how much of this serious attention we got. Certainly the meeting room was stuffed with officials of some seniority, including the CEO – Patrick Crawford. We encountered some of the usual red herrings – including the obligatory statement that it is pointless for the UK to clean up its own act when China behaves in the way it does. We were also told that standards had improved in the last few years, and that no new deals are being made to Indonesia.
While these last statements are possibly true, they are impossible to verify as long as so many ECGD-backed deals remain shrouded in commercial confidentiality. And while it felt exciting to expose this most business-minded of departments to the views of a campaigner from the Global South, it will clearly to be difficult for our campaign to make headway while the accounts of this secretive organisation remain closed to the public. To lift the lid, in other words, it may first be necessary to open the books.