Tighten belts, avoid lavish lifestyle, says Gen Try

Free spending could make less well-off unhappy.

INDONESIAN Vice-President Try Sutrisno has called on Indonesians to tighten their belts and avoid a lavish lifestyle in the face of the country’s economic downturn.

Referring to the currency crisis that has seen the rupiah slide 31 per cent against the US dollar, he said the turmoil would get Indonesians thinking “to prepare ourselves to face all kinds of future challenges and hardships”.

“We should be brave enough to tighten our belts,” the Indonesian Observer yesterday quoted him as saying.

“The choice of economic development as the nation’s priority should not be misunderstood as allowing individuals to pursue economic wealth to the point of being egotistical and permissive.”

His comments came against a background of repeated calls by the government here to rich Indonesians and civil servants to moderate their spending habits.

State Minister for Administrative Reform, Mr T. B. Silalahi, for example, lashed out at officials recently for spending lavishly on parties in hotels.

He urged them to refrain from such practices, saying they should take the lead in promoting a simpler lifestyle.

Political analysts contacted by The Straits Times yesterday said Gen Sutrisno’s call reflected concern that in a period of economic austerity, a blatant show of wealth by some Indonesians could fan unhappiness in large sectors of the population facing the brunt of the crisis.

“There is a sense of nervousness ahead of the Idhul Fitri and signs that the government wants to dampen an excessive display of wealth,” noted a diplomat.

Observers believe there could be disturbances during the Muslim holiday of Idhul Fitri in January when workers expect to be paid a bonus equivalent to one month’s salary.

Some speculate that many will not get that bonus, given the economic squeeze.

Recent social unrest in the country has been blamed on economic disparities and observers fear social agitation could gather momentum as the rupiah devaluation and the country’s worst drought in 50 years begin to bite.

Earlier this month, about 20,000 workers at PT Gudang Garam – Indonesia’s biggest clove-cigarette maker – demonstrated.

It was the first strike in the firm’s 40-year history.

If workers at PT Gudang Garam have reason to protest, the story is probably bleaker for others in Java, Indonesia’s industrial heartland.

Six smaller firms around the East Java capital of Surabaya, for example, have already been hit by strikes, with one turning violent.

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