Bobby Umar, Chairman, Indonesian Engineers Association: Interview

Bobby Umar, Chairman, Indonesian Engineers Association

Interview: Bobby Umar

When it comes to human capital, which engineering disciplines are most lacking in Indonesia?

BOBBY UMAR: To provide a context, Indonesia has a population of 240m people but only 800,000 engineers – around one-third of the number that the country needs. Indonesia is lacking in engineering disciplines related to natural resource industries such as agriculture, energy and mining – areas where we should be very strong by now. Those competencies that we do have are mostly concentrated in Java and need to be more integrated into outlying regions.

In answer to your question, we need all kinds of engineers – a new generation. The predominant obstacle is the low number of engineering students at schools and universities, largely due to the limited employment opportunities associated with a period of “de-industrialisation”. However, this period is coming to an end, with considerable growth in the construction and automotive sectors creating far more opportunities.

How fierce will competition for engineering jobs be in light of the incoming 2015 ASEAN integration?

UMAR: We are above all concerned that the gap in the number of domestic engineers will be immediately filled by foreign engineers. However, the Engineers Act has been finalised and approved by legislators. This is a hugely significant development because all other ASEAN countries, apart from Indonesia, Laos and Myanmar, have already installed such legislation. The act, something the Indonesia Engineers Association has been working on for 25 years, will help prevent errors, better integrate technology and develop the competency of Indonesian engineers to a standard equivalent with other countries.

How can foreign companies play a role in technology and knowledge transfer?

UMAR: It is actually hugely important for Indonesia to develop its own organic knowledge. With such extensive access to mineral resources, we must develop skills accordingly rather than rely exclusively on foreign help.

The government, which does not provide funding accrued from taxation such as that which is applied to crude palm oil, must allocate state funds for research and development (R&D). This is a positive process that has been used in Malaysia for years, and while the government has encouraged the private sector to invest in R&D, it too must step up and provide support.

North West Jakarta is sinking four inches a year due to depletion of underground water aquifers. What can be done from an engineering point of view?

UMAR: This is a natural geological occurrence, but one which has been exacerbated by human development.

The government of Jakarta must place greater emphasis on pre-emptive city planning.

The depletion of aquifers is related to over-exploitation and to seawater destabilising the ground around these rapidly depleting aquifers. The governor already has a plan to construct a sea wall to protect the city's north coast, with funding for the work to be provided by the World Bank. However, the rapid development of the Tanjung Priok Port and its surrounding apartment buildings is concerning to many.

How much of Indonesia’s successful infrastructural development hinges on the successful implementation of the Land Acquisition Law?

UMAR: After the 2004 elections, the new cabinet announced major plans for infrastructure development; however, after seven years, very little progress has been made. This is largely because there was no comprehensive implementation plan or supporting law.

The Land Acquisition Law arrived to combat some of the problems; however, supporting regulation stipulated that the law could only be used for new projects. Therefore, all existing projects, which were riddled with problems, would continue to use the existing law.

The government appears to be afraid of executing the new law, which has now been pushed back to 2014.

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The Report: Indonesia 2014

Infrastructure chapter from The Report: Indonesia 2014

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