Taxing Times in Indonesia: The Challenge of Restoring Competitiveness and the Search for Fiscal Space

Gunther Schulze, Natasha Hamilton-Hart

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Indonesia's economic growth picked up slightly in mid-2016 but remains below the level demanded by government and popular aspirations. Despite a plethora of reforms intended to increase efficiency and productivity, some policies are perverse and longstanding problems of implementation remain. The share of manufacturing has declined, the real exchange rate has appreciated, exports have dwindled, and growth has been trending downwards. The banking sector is stable but inefficient, with wide net interest margins and numerous barriers to competition. Trade protection, particularly in basic food commodities, has created high costs that weigh particularly heavily on the poor. Declining government revenues have placed increasing pressure on the public budget, even as the current administration aims to increase spending on infrastructure and welfare and to enhance productivity. In an effort to increase revenues, the government has announced a tax amnesty program and other measures. In addition, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the new finance minister, has taken steps to cut non-essential expenditure in order to secure high spending on infrastructure and at the same time keep within the 3% budget deficit limit stipulated by law. Although the overall debt situation is not yet alarming, declining revenues and budget cuts that do not fully reflect this decline are putting pressure on increasing debt levels. The government's high-profile tax amnesty program was the major policy initiative implemented in the second half of 2016 that aimed to relieve this pressure. Despite widespread criticism of, and scepticism about, the tax amnesty (both within and outside Indonesia), its first phase had a much higher participation rate than most independent accounts expected. Revenues raised so far through the amnesty are less than 60% of the official target, but this is actually a strong result for the short term. The bigger question, however, is whether the amnesty is a key element of a more encompassing strategy to overhaul the system of taxation and tax administration.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)265-295
    JournalBulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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