Indonesia sees downside risks to Q1 economic growth

26 January, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Jakarta: Indonesia sees downside risks for economic growth in the first quarter as the government imposed more restrictions to curb a worsening coronavirus outbreak, said the finance minister.

The first quarter is “very tough”, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin on Saturday. “We hope in February and March we can still catch up despite January which is going to be very tough because of Covid and natural disasters.”

She expects the full-year 5 per cent growth target to still be achievable as the mass vaccination programme gives “hope and optimism”.

President Joko Widodo expected the economy to rebound as soon as the start of this year, calling 2021 as the year when the country can see a turnaround after last year plunging into its first recession in two decades. But surging numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths prompted the government to limit people’s movement in key economic centres of Java and Bali, report agencies.

The government also had to contend with a string of natural disasters, including recent floods in Kalimantan, earthquakes in Sulawesi and erupting volcanoes in Java, though the impact on the budget so far is still manageable, Indrawati said.

The country is grappling with the largest coronavirus outbreak in South-east Asia and is still reporting record-high numbers every few days. It’s banking on a mass inoculation programme that’s been slow to pick up.

Since the President kicked off the campaign on Jan 13, more than 132,000 people have received their first doses as at last Friday, about 22 per cent of the government’s target for January. Indonesia aims to vaccinate more than 180 million people by the end of the year.

Indonesia had to boost its budget deficit to 6.09per cent of gross domestic product last year, double the regulated ceiling of 3 per cent , to afford stimulus packages including cash handouts, free electricity and credit guarantees to buffer the impact of the pandemic. This year, the government expects to be able to narrow the gap to 5.7per cent as it can draw on unspent money from last year to buy vaccines and reallocate spending towards more urgent needs, Dr Sri Mulyani said.

After approving a massive overhaul of investment rules through the so-called omnibus law in 2020, the government now seeks to reform the financial sector. Many existing rules for banks and capital markets are outdated as they were set up in the early 2000s, after the Asian financial crisis, the finance minister said.

She is also focused on raising tax ratios, while improving the way capital flows toward actual investments in the country, such as through the new wealth fund.

Indonesia has a lot of potential to offer, “at the same time we also recognise we have a lot of homework to do to improve our investment climate”, Dr Sri Mulyani said. “In this very extraordinary situation we also communicate very clearly in the most credible way how we respond to that extraordinary situation with extraordinary policy.”