From urban development initiatives to discussions on conflict reconciliation and gender equality, Belgium has been working actively with the Indonesian government. NOW! Jakarta spoke to H.E. Patrick Herman about these programmes and about his time as Ambassador to Indonesia.

NOW!JAKARTA publisher Alistair Speirs sit down with H.E. Patrick Herman, Ambassador of Belgium to Indonesia.
Photo by Raditya Fadilla/NOW!JAKARTA

Sustainability is at the heart of most Belgian investment initiatives. How does this translate into action and policy especially here in Indonesia? Can the Smart Cities initiatives gain any traction here?

The sustainability issue is something that we are indeed very proud to see growing here. When you visit the factories of Belgian companies in Indonesia, you can see that they have high standards for sustainability, that they apply the European standards in the production line here too. There are high buffers, which we are of course proud of, and this applies to our EU colleagues as well. Sustainability is a choice, and companies in Indonesia realise that they have genuine economic interests in bringing in sustainability standards that are found in Europe. It also makes perfect economic sense both from a social point of view and from an environment point of view.

We are also very glad, especially glad should I say, to notice that here in Indonesia the whole philosophy around urban management is slowly changing. And in some areas, actually changing very quickly. We have to differentiate between the many definitions of a smart city, but whatever benchmark you choose, we have seen the smart city narrative spreading fast. There is of course an image of the digital city with smart traffic lights, with smart street lighting, with smart transmission, smart controls and smart metres for energy efficiency, etc. But a city doesn’t have to be completely digitised and completely carbon-neutral to be a smart or a sustainable one.

We have, in the past, been talking with Indonesian decision-makers at the municipal level and had for instance in 2017 a smart city seminar with four ministers present, as well as our Princess Astrid if you remember, when she led a 300-strong economic mission to Bandung. We are working to exchange best practices and also attract the attention of municipalities here in Indonesia on a number of new technologies and processes that could actually involve both quick-wins and long-term gains as far as urban greening is concerned.

Coming back to traffic, safety is equally a concern, and something that we are very keen on helping improve, but of course this goes beyond the scope of the Smart City. There is smart lighting, smart flows-control, smart traffic management, but being smart is not merely something that should only be linked to the internet of the things – or the “city of things” as developed in Belgium, or even to technology. A city cannot in my view become a smart one just by investing heavily in computers or in intelligence-related technologies.

The Embassy met with the Institute for Peace and Democracy in Bali to seek cooperation on conflict resolution and related issues. What has been the result of this?

This year, my last in Indonesia, I would very much like to focus on diplomacy, peace and reconciliation, domains in which a lot of things have been happening in Indonesia. The Bali Institute for Peace and Democracy has been created ten years ago as implementing agency for the annual Bali Democracy Forum and has been also very much involved in the same issues, starting with good offices and mediation.

Peace and reconciliation happens to be one the main objectives of the Belgian diplomacy worldwide. Unfortunately, we are living in a time when the world is fast becoming more complex, certainly than it was 28 years ago or 40 years ago. There are also definitely worrying signs of major powers appearing more confrontational and less flexible toward finding lasting peaceful solutions to regional and national conflicts. This is at the core of Belgium’s campaign-framework to be elected a member of the United Nations Security Council for the 2019-2020 period.

Being elected to the UN Security Council for the same period is also one of Indonesia’s main diplomatic goals currently, but we are not in competition, because the election takes place on a regional basis. So we do very much hope that both Belgium and Indonesia will be in the UN Security Council together at a very crucial moment for peace and security. Belgium and Indonesia should then cooperate strongly on the issue of mediation in Asia, in Africa, in the Middle East on the basis of our own experiences. Indonesia has a very strong experience in mediation. There are thus a lot of common objectives, a lot of areas where we have common knowledge and common skills, and also a wider regional framework in which we could cooperate.

The massive Europalia Arts Festival has been running since the end of last year to a few weeks ago, how has this exposure helped Indonesia’s image in Belgium and surrounding countries?

The final tally of visitors for the more than 300 events under the umbrella of Europalia in Belgium (but also in the Netherlands, in the UK, in Germany and Poland) has reached around 600,000, much more for instance than the previous one dedicated to Turkey. But this is not only about numbers, thanks to Indonesia‘s wealth of culture and heritage sites, its organisers consider Europalia Indonesia as one of their best festivals ever, and Europalia has been going for 42 years and 26 editions.

We had two flagship exhibitions in Brussels on heritage and visual arts and one in Liège about Nusantara maritime culture. In Liège, there was a real-size traditional Bugis Pinisi built in Makassar and brought into the beautiful La Boverie Museum. It was also an occasion to showcase not only the “8 Arts”, but also creative industries, the cuisine of Indonesia and the fabrics, the fashion, the tourism, etc. It was a wonderful socialisation exercise for Indonesia in Belgium and Europe. Europalia ended on 21 January this year, three months after its opening by Vice-President Jusuf Kalla and King Philippe.

In addition to the exhibitions, we had literature and cinema and architecture and sculpture and graphic novels. We had musicians and dancers from Aceh, Sumba or Papua performing in a place that they would never even hoped to visit. The experience – and confidence – acquired by the Indonesian artists, creators and Ministry of Culture personnel working hand-in-hand with European counterparts was so important.

Belgian ambassador Patrick Herman and his wife Siobhan Herman. Photo by Raditya Fadilla/NOW!JAKARTA

I know Belgium has a strong position on gender equality, what is the position and how does supporting the “He For She Run” help gender equality?

The “He for She” campaign has been launched a few years ago in the UN framework and is now a major priority for us, because we do feel very strongly that gender equality must be a cornerstone for our foreign policy, the way it has become one for our society. The government is always very supportive of the “He for She” campaign, but it becomes even more important to us as a number of major countries in the world recently appeared to backtrack on women’s rights.

So, early last year, Belgium also decided to join forces with the Netherlands and other like-minded nations on a global campaign called “She Decides”. Participating countries from Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia-Oceania unite to mitigate the effect of the US and other countries defunding planned parenthood or restricting the availability of contraceptive options. We have to make sure that women all over the world enjoy their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Marine infrastructure is something at the heart of Belgium’s economy. Are we looking at any major projects?

The “Low Countries”, that is us Belgium and our friends and neighbours to the North, own the four largest dredging companies in the world. Part of Northern Belgium is made of reclamations and Antwerp has become Europe’s second largest seaport despite it not even being close to the sea. Here in Indonesia, there are exciting new harbour projects, and a lot of projects in maintaining or upgrading existing ports. One of our companies is for instance involved in building the new Makassar port. Through his vision of a Maritime Fulcrum, your president has initiated projects in the maritime industry to make this country actually enjoy the benefits of being the world’s largest archipelago. We are very happy that we can be involved from a technology point of view and from an economic point of view in this major development in Indonesia’s history.

My last question is not a happy question. I believe that you and your wonderful wife are going to be leaving Indonesia sometime this year. What are the plans for the future and what are your thoughts heading Indonesia after a very busy four years?

It is indeed genuine sadness for us. We absolutely fell in love with this country. We have met the most wonderful, friendly, welcoming people we could ever have met. Also from a professional point of view, I do believe we were here in a privileged period, at a crucial juncture for Indonesia’s economy, for Indonesian society, for Indonesia’s place in the world. So we will be leaving in a few months with great sorrow. But we are very excited as well because we will be posted to another wonderful place, this time in Latin America, as Brazil recently consented to my designation as ambassador of Belgium there. We started in Zimbabwe, moved to China, back to Europe, Washington D.C., then Indonesia.

This means we have done basically the five continents over the last 20 years, but South America is a place we almost do not know, so we look forward even more to the challenge. Again, we literally fell in love with this country. We will forever remember its rain forest, its most amazing heritage sites and the most surprising animals we discovered here. We have seen the Komodo dragon, we have seen the marvelous orang utan, the proboscis, tarsier and macaque monkeys, whales and manta rays. I think we are ready to move on to another challenge, but Siobhan and I leave so many friends behind who will always occupy a very special place in our hearts.


 This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine April 2018 issue “Money and Finance”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.

Alistair Speirs

Alistair Speirs

Alistair has been in the publishing, advertising and PR business for 25 years. He started NOW! Magazines as the region’s preferred community magazine.