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Indonesia: A Free Press Can Promote Democracy

"Indonesia" (Asian Edition Cover Story, May 20) accurately presented the plight of the Indonesian business community after the fall of the Suharto regime. There was a time when the business community could count on the stability and certainty provided by the central government in Jakarta. The rest of the country had to toe the line or face the consequences: Jakarta's wrath was communicated more often than not via the barrel of a gun.

The "reformasi" era aimed to empower the people and the regions. But as this happened right after the fall of Suharto, the pendulum swung too far. The central government has almost no power or credibility to ensure that the process will still provide the basic stability or law and order necessary to conduct business.

Yet this course of events is inevitable in the journey to a modern and democratic Indonesia. Fortunately, we do still have a free press. As the people have gained more say in the political arena, corrupt officials (business or political) exposed by the press will face strong pressure from the public. When you can't rely on the law or the government to deter corruption, a free, balanced press will be the deterrent. BusinessWeek has done a service for my country, and I thank you for that effort.

Rahmad Desmi

Sangatta, East Kutai, Indonesia Regarding Gary Becker's Economic Viewpoint "Want to cut gasoline use? Raise taxes" (May 27): A 50 cents tax per gallon would be seen by Europeans as laughable. We would be envious of such a meager tax. The British live on a small overpopulated island with too many cars, small roads, inadequate public transport (compared to the rest of Europe), and booming car sales. London, which used to be a civilized city, now has road rage, and people have been known to fight over parking spaces. The North Sea provides Britain with a rich source of domestically produced oil, yet petrol prices are at 75 cents a liter or $4.37 for an imperial gallon. Most of the price is tax.

You could raise the tax even further and I promise you, besides protests by truckers and automotive enthusiasts as experienced just a year or so ago, people would continue to pay. At what price would they stop driving? People who pay tens of thousands for a car do not see a few thousand for fuel as a deterrent. Becker only has to look at petrol prices around the world to realize that taxing fuel just does not work.

Budd Margolis

London Your article on Russia "And the payback?" (European Business, May 27) could well have read "And the payback for Americans?" For almost eight years, we have petitioned U.S. Administrations to use the most powerful means of control over wildfire on the market today; the Ilyushin-76. With this summer's U.S. wildfires threatening to surpass records set in 2000 and the very real prospect of another [fire like that in] Los Alamos, N.M., one would have thought that more powerful (and less expensive) wildfire control would be a priority for the Administration. To date, a war of words is all that has resulted.

John Anderson

Calgary "The next oil frontier" (Cover Story, May 27) did not mention transporting oil from the Caspian region to Europe and world markets through Ukraine, a former Soviet republic and a friend of the U.S. Oil can move from Baku, Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea by pipeline to Supsa, Georgia, on the Black Sea, and from there by ship to the port of Odessa in Ukraine, and then by pipeline northwest across Ukraine to link with the existing pipeline, Druzhba, to Europe. This route avoids Chechnya and does not involve Iran. It avoids the costly construction of a pipeline across mountainous terrain in Turkey to the Mediterranean coast. It avoids the bottleneck of the Bosporus Straits. The Ukrainian route is available now, though it would need to be expanded to transport large quantities of oil.

Ukraine, with almost 50 million people, a literacy rate of 98%, and a history of industrialization, would benefit from the economic boost of trans-shipment of oil. In the years of independence since 1991, development has been elusive. This would be a cost-efficient way to support and encourage Ukrainians in their quest for greater participation in global market-based systems.

Catherine W. Cooper

Chevy Chase, Md.

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