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Jakarta Post

Opposition brewing over free-visa policy

Nurul Fitri Ramadhani
Jakarta   ●   Tue, February 16, 2016

The House of Representatives on Monday strongly opposed the government'€™s plan to waive visa fees for visitors from another 76 countries, including restive Pakistan, arguing the policy would further compromise security amid already poor immigration control.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan delivered Tourism Minister Arief Yahya'€™s proposal to expand the list of countries exempted from visa fees to the House.

The proposal was delivered during a hearing with House Commission I, which oversees foreign affairs, and Commission III overseeing security and legal affairs.

Countries on the new list include Australia, Brazil, Guatemala, Mauritius, Namibia, Pakistan, Palestine, Ukraine and several Middle Eastern countries, according to the Law and Human Rights Ministry'€™s director general of immigration, Ronny F. Sompie.

Should the government proceed with the plan, tourists from a total of 169 countries, that is 87 percent of the 193 UN member countries, would be granted easy entry to the archipelago.

'€œThe policy is aimed at luring more visitors to Indonesia and attracting a minimum of 20 million foreign tourists over the next five years,'€ Luhut said, adding that the government wanted to make tourism the largest contributor to state income by 2019.

'€œIt'€™s a very promising source of revenues,'€ Luhut added.

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician Effendi Simbolon attacked the minister'€™s argument, claiming that such a policy was not a determining factor in people'€™s decision to visit Indonesia.

'€œTourists do not take into account visa matters if they have already planned to spend their holidays here,'€ said Effendi.

He also argued that Indonesia was currently in a fight against terrorism and was seeking ways to strengthen security.

'€œThis policy does the opposite,'€ he said.

'€œIndonesia is a country on the list of radical movements and terrorism. It'€™s very unwise to widely open the door for foreigners now.'€

Daeng Muhammad of the National Mandate Party (PAN) said the policy would not guarantee reciprocity and would bring few benefits to the country.

'€œIf the government wants to boost tourism, it'€™s better to improve infrastructure first and do better promotion,'€ Daeng said.

In response, Luhut argued that the government had already put in place anticipatory measures, such as strengthening monitoring of foreign arrivals at airports and seaports.

'€œWe can'€™t deny concern over security, but from hundreds of thousands of foreign arrivals, few are suspected to be linked to terrorism,'€ Luhut said.

'€œIt'€™s our responsibility to secure the country without casting aside the potential tourism income.'€

However, he said the government would take the House'€™s advice into account.

Immigration chief Ronny expressed confidence that his agency had the capability to monitor and identify risks associated with foreign arrivals.

He said the agency had strengthened the monitoring of foreigners at the regional level, in cities and regencies and in villages and neighborhoods.

Officials at various levels are required to report suspicious activity from foreigners to the nearest police station.