Mr Suryo Pratomo, Indonesia’s ambassador to Singapore, says that despite pandemic disruptions, “Singapore and Indonesia continue to have trust and confidence in each other, which is why, despite the fact that there has been lack of direct contact among businesses, the investments have gone up based on existing business and economic interaction”.

INDONESIA continues to be prominent in the minds of Singapore businessmen as the Republic’s investments in the neighbouring country shot up by a robust 30 per cent last year despite the difficult business conditions created by the Covid-19 pandemic which reduced personal contact and business visits.

Latest data from Indonesia shows that in 2020, total investments in the country from Singapore amounted to US$9.8 billion, with the money going into 15,088 projects. This trend has continued this year with a further US$4.7 billion pumped into 5,226 projects in Indonesia by Singapore investors in the first half of this year, accounting for 30 per cent of the total foreign direct investment in the country so far this year.

Singapore has been the top investor in Indonesia since 2014, with its investments spread across various sectors, including manufacturing, energy and logistics. Last year, Indonesia was Singapore’s seventh-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to S$48.7 billion.

“I am pleased to note that even during the pandemic last year, investment from Singapore continued to increase by more than 30 per cent. This is indeed a signal on the part of Singapore’s investors that they still have strong confidence in Indonesia,” says Indonesia’s new ambassador to Singapore, Mr Suryo Pratomo, in an exclusive interview with The Business Times on the occasion of his country’s Independence Day on Aug 17.

“This is also an evidence that the key players in Singapore and Indonesia continue to have trust and confidence in each other, which is why, despite the fact that there has been lack of direct contact among businesses, the investments have gone up based on existing business and economic interaction,” he adds.

When the time is right and the pandemic is under control, the Indonesian envoy says he hopes to revitalise cooperation in the tourism sector through twinning destination programmes, cruise, sport and leisure projects, and MICE activities.

“I will also continue to push forward cooperation in the education sector to spur research and development cooperation on green energy, health and pharmaceutical studies, as well as sustainability related sector,” says the Indonesian ambassador who presented his credentials to President Halimah Yacob last November.

Before his current diplomatic posting to Singapore, Mr Suryo Pratomo, popularly known as Tommy, had been a journalist for over 30 years. He has held several key positions in Kompas, a major Indonesian newspaper, including being its editor-in-chief.

From 2017 to 2019, he also served as chief editor at Indonesia’s Metro TV. From March last year to taking over as Indonesia’s ambassador to Singapore last November, he was a member of his country’s Covid-19 task force.

“Indonesia and Singapore enjoy and continue to nurture warm, cordial and close bilateral relations, including during the Covid-19 pandemic, as I can see myself how the Government and business entities in Singapore continue to support Indonesia by sending assistance,” says Mr Suryo Pratomo.

“After I started my assignment in Singapore back in November 2020, we were planning to hold a number of events and push some projects. However, due to the policy and regulations, we have to make adjustments on the way we are doing things.

“But this pandemic situation does not stop us from being innovative and creative in executing our programmes that are mainly aimed at bringing the people together to collaborate in different fields of cooperation from political to cultural cooperation.”

The Indonesian envoy says that with the support of the Singapore government and different entities here in Singapore, his country has managed to secure concrete projects and cooperation.

“On the economic front for example, we facilitated the establishment of solar farm investment projects and the ratification of the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). We supported the convening of e-commerce solutions competitions among students from different institutions in Singapore and in Indonesia – Republic Polytechnic in Singapore, and Indonesia’s STIMLOG and POS Polytechnic,” says Mr Suryo Pratomo.

STIMLOG and POS Polytechnic are names of colleges in Indonesia – STIMLOG is Sekolah Tinggi Manajemen Logistik Indonesia or College of Logistics Management of Indonesia. POS Polytechnic affiliates with the country’s national post office, POS Indonesia.

BIT, which aims to promote stronger economic ties and cooperation between Singapore and Indonesia, went into force in March this year. It sets rules on the treatment of investors and investments from both countries. It also grants investors from both the countries additional protection on their investments.

“I will also continue to push forward cooperation in the education sector to spur research and development cooperation on green energy, health and pharmaceutical studies, as well as the sustainability related sector,” says Mr Suryo Pratomo.

Asked to share his priorities in the coming months as the new Indonesian Ambassador to Singapore, he tells BT: “As instructed by President Joko Widodo, my priorities as well as the Embassy of Indonesia here, will be on supporting Indonesia’s economic recovery.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted bilateral relations in divergent areas like trade and flow of people between the two countries.

“In terms of the depth and breadth, we can see that that there has been a decrease in trade volume in 2020, and even a sharp decrease in people flow between Indonesia and Singapore. Nonetheless, on the investment side, Singapore reached the highest record level in 2020. Investment in the digital sector also shows a very positive trend.

“So, I remain very confident, that the Covid-19 pandemic has not deteriorated the bilateral relations, it even brought the relations between the two countries closer. I can see myself how the Government of Singapore and friends of Indonesia here in Singapore are among the first entities who lent their hand to send some assistance to Indonesia.

“Of course, we have to adapt and continue to make adjustments according to the health protocol regulations – we used to have big events that involved so many people, now we scale down into more limited but apparently more intimate meetings. We bring out interactions with counterparts to online platform, etc,” says Mr Suryo Pratomo.

Turning to political contact between the two countries at the highest level, he hopes that Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be able to visit his country this year for bilateral talks with President Joko.

“Indonesia and Singapore have an annual Leaders’ Retreat, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Retreat has been postponed. Indonesia hopes to host this meeting sometime this year if the situation permits. This is a strategic bilateral cooperation mechanism that we have as the leaders discuss pertinent issues to both countries, from political to socio-cultural issues,” says the Indonesian envoy.

“We also have annual meetings between our Economic Ministers that was held last month in Singapore. Regular meetings and interactions between other ministers also continue to take place,” he adds.

Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto and Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, at the 11th Singapore-Indonesia Six Bilateral Economic Working Groups ministerial meeting in July, recognised the continued economic challenges posed by the pandemic and discussed key achievements as well as future economic activities.

The meeting is a key platform for economic cooperation between Singapore and Indonesia in six key areas: Batam-Bintan-Karimun and other special economic zones, investment, manpower, transport, agribusiness and tourism.

At the meeting in July, the co-chairmen of the working groups recognised the importance of deepening cooperation in emerging areas, such as the digital economy, technology and innovation, as well as sustainability.