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Jakarta Post

Slow money from Saudi Arabia

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, February 22, 2019   /   08:33 am
Slow money from Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gives a joint press conference with France's President at the Elysee Palace in Paris on April 10, 2018. YOAN VALAT / POOL / AFP (AFP/Yoan Valat/Pool)

Indonesia can only blame itself for its continued failure to secure lucrative business contracts and investments from Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Middle Eastern countries. Why do other countries get multibillion-dollar investments from Saudi Arabia while we only get a relatively smaller amount from the royal family?

Why did Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman cancel his scheduled visit to Jakarta on Feb. 19 to 20, while his high-profile visits to Pakistan, India and China went on as planned? The prince pledged to pour billions of dollars into those countries. International media described the lucrative investments as part of the prince’s campaign to counter his worsening relations with the West.

Why is it that we cannot reap such benefits? We feel we are close to Saudi Arabia, yet we are never seen as good enough for their money. This is a matter of business and goes beyond sentiments. Malaysia is much better than us at attracting Arab tourists and investors.

Ironically, on Feb. 19, Saudi Gazette reported that a bilateral agreement between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia to resume recruitment of Indonesian housemaids by the kingdom is only awaiting ratification from Indonesia’s legislature. According to the agreement, only highly qualified and well-trained domestic workers would be sent to Saudi Arabia. The monthly salary of an Indonesian housemaid would be 1,200 riyal (US$319.95).

So why was the visit of the prince’s father, King Salman, in March 2017 disappointing for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo? Such questions will continue to be asked, and the government will unlikely find answers any time soon.

The prince’s canceled visit — delayed in diplomatic terms — and the king’s 2017 visit should sound alarm bells for Indonesia’s foreign policy. This is no longer just the Foreign Ministry’s or the President’s problem. We should ask ourselves why we fail to bring in mega investors from Middle Eastern countries despite our excellent bilateral relations with them. Simply being the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation means little when it comes to the economy.

One month after King Salman’s visit, President Jokowi expressed disappointment with his guest’s much smaller-than-expected investment commitment. Jokowi insisted he had tried to win the king’s heart, including changing his schedule to accompany the king for three days in Jakarta. Jokowi was “surprised” and “a little bit disappointed” that King Salman made a commitment to invest US$65 billion in China, compared to only $6.71 billion in Indonesia. Jokowi reportedly expected at least a $25 billion investment.

We should be more competitive. We should be much more serious about better understanding the mind-sets and behaviors of Arab investors. We are the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. This should be highly advantageous. However, it evidently is far from enough.

Investment will not come just because of a shared religion. Are we willing to learn from other countries about how to attract investors from the Middle East?