Speech by Verhagen at Erasmus Huis

Your Excellency, Ms Sinaga, ladies and gentlemen,

Selamat malam!

I am delighted to be here tonight, in the Erasmus House, in your excellent company! Thank you all for coming. This is my first visit to Indonesia in my capacity as foreign minister, and I am struck by the dynamism of Jakarta. Since arriving last night, I have spent most of my time in meetings – today I met Indonesia’s President and Vice President, my opposite number at Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Justice and Human Rights. These ministerial visits are always very worthwhile: we have had good and open discussions about a wide range of issues, in an excellent atmosphere. The only downside is that my schedule is always so overloaded – it would be nice just to spend a few minutes outside in the street, being part of everyday life. But I’m not complaining! I have been to Indonesia before and I certainly intend to come again. Jakarta seems to have changed a lot since I was last here – outwardly, at least. It’s such a vibrant city, bustling with activity!

I would like to thank Ambassador Van Dam for his introductory words, and Ms Sinaga for showing me around earlier. The varied yet coherent exhibition presented here tonight has definitely made an impression on me. I can tell from the range of work showcased here that you have a dynamic artistic climate in Indonesia – which is very positive. You probably know that Jawarharlal Nehru once said ‘the art of a people is the true mirror of their minds.’ From this exhibition, you can tell that the artists have been able to let their minds speak freely… sharing their vision of life and society, inviting us into their world, as we freely interpret their work and the effect it has on us. It is very fitting that this exhibition should be called ‘The Spirit of Interaction.’ By looking at these works of art, by weighing them up and judging them in our minds, we are indeed interacting with the mindset of the artists who made them. Indeed, in doing so, we are actually giving meaning to their work.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Artistic freedom of expression is an indication of a wider freedom within a society. That freedom should be nurtured in order for society and its people to flourish. Since the start of the reformasi ten years ago, Indonesia’s democratisation has made impressive progress. That is no small feat in a country with nearly a quarter of a billion inhabitants living on over 17,000 islands. Democratisation is a process, not a fixed state. It can progress or regress; it is never finished – it can always be improved. The fact that Indonesia has opted to move democratisation forward was clearly reaffirmed in Bali last month at the democracy forum. A fitting testimony to Indonesia’s commitment to promote democracy in the region.

Actions always speak louder than words. In the last ten years, Indonesia has had two successful parliamentary elections. The first-ever presidential elections were held in 2004. Since 2005, more than 465 other elections have been held. And this year will bring new parliamentary and presidential elections. You have also started the largest-ever decentralisation process in the world. A massive 45% of the annual gross national budget is being spent on provincial and local government. Since the introduction of the ‘One-Roof System’ in 2004, the judiciary is no longer part of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The press is free and administrative reforms are underway at several key institutions. The inauguration of the Anti-Corruption Commission in 2003 was another milestone.

There are still challenges, of course – as there are in any democracy. After all, improving governance means work-in-progress. In the Netherlands, we are also working towards a more effective government that is better equipped to provide public service. This involves major downsizing, whilst improving public service at the same time!

The Netherlands and Indonesia are close partners when it comes to promoting good governance. We are working together to strengthen the capacity of key institutions, such as the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry for Trade, the Supreme Court and the Anti-Corruption Commission. Recently, we have launched two new programmes in the area of legal cooperation: one focusing on supply and the other on demand. In the first, we want to help implement a National Access to Justice strategy. It’s a programme designed to stimulate dialogue between the people and the nation’s institutions. The Netherlands is supporting efforts to strengthen regional parliamentary debate through five sekolah demokrasi. And secondly, we provide assistance to the National Community Empowerment Programme, which aims to alleviate poverty by empowering people: it strongly enhances public participation because the decision-making mechanisms have been delegated all the way to village level. These projects are all part of creating and nourishing a culture of democracy, and instilling democratic values.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Tomorrow I am travelling on to Yogyakarta, where I will be paying my respects to the Sultan. I look forward to visiting some schools there as well: I always feel I learn most in my direct contacts with people, talking to them about their views and experiences, and seeing what is going on in their everyday lives. Which is why I will end my speech here, to give us a chance to talk more informally. But before that, I would like to officially open this beautiful exhibition at the Erasmus House: ‘The Spirit of Interaction.’

Ladies and gentlemen,

Terima Kasih!