TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The past few months have proven tough for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, with a barrage of criticism for some of her policies. Last January, Vice President Jusuf Kalla and Maritime Affairs Coordinating Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitanher boss asked her to stop blowing up illegal fishing boats and to focus instead on boosting fish production. Recently Fadli Zon, Deputy House of Representatives (DPR) Speaker from the opposition party Gerindra, lamented that fishermen had encountered difficulties with the ban on cantrang (trawl net).
Since her appointment by President Joko Widodo in 2014, Susi has used the shock therapy tactic of sinking illegal boats to deal with fish thievery. From thousands of illegal vessels caught, 363 are now at the bottom of the sea, while more than 7,000 illegal foreign boats have managed to flee. Susi also prohibited the use of cantrang-equipment made with thousands of meters of nets that trawl the seabed-via ministerial regulation No. 2/2015 on trawls and seine nets. However, last January, Jokowi extended the permit to use the gear after meeting with representatives from pro-cantrang demonstrators.
Susi, 53, said the pressure came from foreign fishing companies who had lost their golden goose. They, she said, want her ministry to loosen up the fight against illegal fishing, and are doing that through various maneuvers behind her back. "Meanwhile, I get very little support," the former fishing business owner from Pangandaran, West Java, pointed out.
In an interview with Tempo’s Arif Zulkifli, Reza Maulana, Andi Ibnu and Angelina Anjar at her official Jakarta resident last week, the grandmother of four talked candidly about the pressure she was feeling, going off-the-record for certain answers.
How is the situation now, after you have waged war for three years against illegal fishing?
What I feel now is that old players are closing in on us using different modus operandi.
Are they foreign companies?
Yes, from Thailand, China, Philippines, Vietnam. They rake in huge profits from our seas. They snoop around to see what’s going on in the ministry (KKP). They come through many doors and create conditions that make me feel hesitant or uneasy. It’s as if all we can do is sink ships. They want to create a perception that illegal fishing is no longer a threat. For example they say, ‘Now that the boats are destroyed, what next? Where is productivity? How is the industry doing?’ They want the public to forget about the increased fish supply, from 6.5 million tons in 2013 to 12.5 million tons in 2016. The captured fisheries production increased from four million to seven million tons. The one to two million tons increase was contributed solely by domestic vessels.
Maritime Affairs Coordinating Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said fish exports have declined...
That is not true. The coordinating minister used only the 20 HS Codes (good classification), whereas fishery products have more than 400 codes. Ours is the same as the Central Statistics Agency’s data. Imports decreased.
Did lobbying against you also come via political parties?
Yes, that has happened in the past. Ninety percent of agents who hold foreign vessels’ permits are politicians.
Including the PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle)?
No. Ibu Mega (Megawati Soekarnoputri, PDI-P Chair) could not be lobbied. She knows the problem very well as I often discussed illegal fishing with her. She knows even more than me.
Why does the KKP (the maritime affairs and fisheries ministry) often come in conflict with the maritime affairs coordinating ministry?
We have three pillars that oversee the President’s vision and mission about maritime affairs-sovereignty, sustainability and prosperity-and we carry out our duties in compliance.
You often criticize Minister Luhut, including about his meeting with fishing entrepreneurs end of last year. How disturbing was that to you?
In my opinion, technically, stakeholders should be the concern of the minister concerned (the fisheries minister). There shouldn’t be a fait accompli.
Under such pressure, can the anti-illegal fishing task force (Satgas 115) still work effectively?
Yes, it still does, albeit under huge pressure that creates subordination left and right. Minor violations began to occur, starting from apparatus that protect foreigner fish robbers. This is not acceptable at all. This is a psychological war to intimidate me. It’s as though I will be called offside if I sink ships. They are waiting to do that, but I won’t entertain them. I will continue to sink them. Rumors say that this is politically motivated: to hold back my rise in politics.
Is there a plan for such a rise?
They think so. But I don’t care.
There is nothing wrong with you becoming President or his deputy?
If the purpose is to defend the state and the seas, yes, I will.
Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine