ASEAN Beat | Security | Southeast Asia

Indonesia’s Omnibus Bill on Maritime Security: the Making of a Global Maritime Hub?

The clutch of new legislation offers a chance to advance the country’s long-held maritime ambitions.

Indonesia’s Omnibus Bill on Maritime Security: the Making of a Global Maritime Hub?

Indonesian Bakamla vessel KN Tan Jung Datu (left) sails alongside the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton in the Singapore Strait, August 11, 2019.

Credit: Flickr/Coast Guard News

As part of its efforts to cut red tape and develop the country’s maritime sector, the Indonesian government is preparing an “omnibus bill” that will integrate the various laws and regulations that govern its law enforcement at sea.

The Omnibus Bill on Maritime Security is expected to integrate 21 laws and empower the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) to coordinate several government institutions and agencies that have law enforcement authority at sea. The bill is part of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s bureaucratic reform efforts and arguably a continuation of his previous plan of transforming Indonesia into a global maritime hub and power.

Calls for Indonesia to realise its maritime potential have long been made. It is, after all, the world’s largest archipelagic country, with 3.2 million square kilometres of sea area, covering two-thirds of its territory. Moreover, it possesses abundant natural resources at sea, from fisheries — 6.5 million tons per year, or 7.2 percent of the global marine fish potential — to offshore oil and gas reserves, including a proven reserve of 3,602.53 million stock tank barrels. Indonesia is also located strategically at the crossroads of important global shipping lanes.

After taking office in 2014, Jokowi was quick to push forward the idea of transforming Indonesia into a “global maritime fulcrum” (GMF). The GMF vision was initially lauded by scholars and positively received by international observers. It seemed that Indonesia was on the cusp of realising the motto of its Navy, “Jalesveva Jayamahe” (“In the seas we shall triumph”). Over time, however, many commentators have argued that little progress has been made. Furthermore, in his second term, Jokowi seems to have “abandoned” the GMF idea to focus more on his economic reform and human capital development agendas.

Meanwhile, the Bakamla, which was reshaped by Jokowi in 2014, was expected to lead maritime patrols and law enforcement at sea. However, the plan has not come to fruition. As of the time of writing, there are at least seven institutions with authority to conduct sea patrols, and the Bakamla has to share the “coast guard” role with them, resulting in overlaps.

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Uncoordinated maritime governance has led to ineffective and sluggish law enforcement. Moreover, the Indonesian government tends to create new platforms rather than fixing the problems that currently exist. This was shown by the Ministry of Fisheries’ decision, under former minister Susi Pudjiastuti, to create a new task force — Satgas 115 — to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The net result has just been more red tape with actors hopelessly entangled in bureaucratic processes.

The Omnibus Bill on Maritime Security is expected to solve this problem. Among other things, Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister of politics, legal and security affairs, has reiterated Jokowi’s desire to make the Bakamla the leading institution for coast guard and maritime patrol activities.

The Bill essentially enshrines the Bakamla as Indonesia’s primary and exclusive coast guard agency. In doing so, the Bakamla will be able to coordinate various institutions and manage their assets under one umbrella — particularly patrol boats, vessels, and other vehicles. The agency can utilize more than 400 patrol boats from different agencies, some of which are from the Directorate General of Sea Transport, Directorate General of Customs, the Sea Police, and the Ministry of Fisheries. It will additionally be able to be more effective in law enforcement at sea, from combating IUU fishing, smuggling, and piracy, to conducting border patrols and securing Indonesia’s natural resources.

A strong and integrated coast guard will eventually put Indonesia in a better position to protect its borders and conduct wider activities in the region. Recently, there have been several foreign intrusions into Indonesia’s waters — especially by Chinese vessels — that expose how vulnerable Indonesia’s border is. Hence, the country needs a stronger coast guard to secure its territorial waters. Furthermore, with the increasing tension in the South China Sea, fueled by China’s assertive expansion and attempts to counter this by the “Quad” (the United States, Japan, India, and Australia), Indonesia should be more engaged in setting the geopolitical agenda in the region. It is also in line with Indonesia’s proposed ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which promotes maritime security cooperation for freedom of navigation at seas.

With all of its potential and strategic position at the heart of the Indo-Pacific, Indonesia is expected to emerge as a maritime leader in the region. The conception of the GMF and the re-establishment of Bakamla can be deemed good starts, despite the lack of effort to realize these ideas in Jokowi’s first term. Indeed, the spirit of the GMF arguably can — and should — live on in his second. The Omnibus Bill on Maritime Security, as an amalgamation of the GMF and the bureaucratic reform drive, might just be the second-wind that Indonesia needs to become the global maritime hub it has envisioned itself to be.

Joseph Tertia is a Research Analyst at KRA Group Indonesia. The opinions expressed are his own and do not represent the institution.