Wed, 03 Aug 1994

Mar'ie's country road show

There are, we think, several factors which contributed to the success of what Minister of Finance Mar'ie Muhammad called his "two-week country road show" to the international financial and business centers in the United States, Britain and Hong Kong last month. First, of course, were the preparations for the target audience Mar'ie and his small team would address. The assignment of such well-known investment banks and financial service groups as Merill Lynch and Lehman Brothers to prepare the series of discussion meetings obviously contributed to the effectiveness of the mission. These financial service groups are naturally best apprised of which of the local businessmen are greatly interested in getting briefings on Indonesia's economic policies and economic prospects. Moreover, major financial service groups, including banks, usually act as influential opinion leaders for investors partly because their interests are inter-linked.

The second and most important factor is Mar'ie himself. He is not only a key figure in the fiscal and monetary policy making process in Indonesia, but is also well known and respected as the minister who speaks out on what is on his mind most of the time. Mar'ie minces no words, preferring to talk in nuts and bolts. All of this has helped build up his image of integrity in communicating Indonesia's economic policies, opportunities, prospects and problems to international investors within a reasonable, logical perspective.

Many Indonesian business and government leaders often take the wrong approach by talking only about the rosy, promising side of the business scheme of things in the country. They apparently do not realize that foreign businessmen or investors prefer honest, frank briefings on the opportunities and the challenges as well. After all, all kinds of business contains risks. Good, balanced briefings enable potential investors to better calculate their risks. That, we think, was, by and large, what Mar'ie and the small team of experts from his ministry provided for his audience. As a key figure in the policy-making machinery he is also able to chart out the future direction of Indonesia's fiscal and monetary policies.

The timing of the road show also was quite opportune as the mission was conducted immediately after the government launched another massive package of deregulation measures in the trade and investment sectors, including what is seen as the most liberal policies ever regarding direct foreign investment, in June. Given the normally scant attention paid by the foreign press to Indonesia, businessmen in the U.S., Britain and Hong Kong presumably knew very little about the reform package. Mar'ie and his team were naturally well-positioned to provide the technical details on the opportunities created by the new policies and to answer pertinent questions regarding their implementation.

In view of the accelerated process of economic globalization and the increasingly keener competition to attract foreign investment, Indonesia should launch more promotion missions like Mar'ie's country road show.

What is crucial, though, for making such missions effective are the right preparations in the countries of destination, and leaders and members of delegations, who are competent and articulate enough to communicate with foreign investors in reasonable and, most important, believable manners.