Sat, 23 Oct 2010

Suryo Bambang Sulisto, the newly elected chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), sat down with Yanto Soegiarto to discuss his plan to help Indonesia compete with China and India, his longtime ties to controversial businessman and politician Aburizal Bakrie and the need for Indonesia to be self-sufficient in the production of food and energy.

What is your immediate plan after becoming the Kadin chairman?

I want to reorganize Kadin so that it will be ready to meet the challenges of today, which is quite daunting considering the tough global competition in the private sector, free trade and the fact that we [Indonesia] have been overtaken in many areas by our competitors.

We are no longer the number one LNG exporter, or a significant exporter of coffee or spices.

How do we catch up?

We need to shape up, find a new competitive spirit and get ready to face the tough challenges ahead.

In order to do this, we have to empower ourselves, build capacity, streamline, get more efficient and look into new areas to boost exports.

Indonesia is blessed with so many natural resources and there are plenty of opportunities that we are yet to explore.

I believe we have only scratched the surface.

There is a lot beneath that we could exploit that would generate significant exports and foreign exchange.

We should build downstream industries that create value-added products based on raw materials.

Let’s move on from being just an exporter of raw materials. Let’s become a value-added export country.

Should Kadin be a partner to the government?

We should be an effective government partner and initiate polices that will be more suitable, friendly and pro-business.

We know better than the government about business. We need to advise the government.

Let’s come up with regulations that really meet the expectations of businesses - that stimulate growth, create jobs and promote investment.

How will Kadin fight for the interests of small businesses?

Kadin will work with and lobby the government to come up with policies that back the development of small businesses at a national scale, making it easier for them to flourish.

One of the main themes of my campaign is developing the regional economy.

Our development should be spread out and more equitable so there will be many centers of growth, not just Jakarta.

My vision is that with 32 provinces developing, Indonesia can become a powerhouse.

We can easily be up there with China and India.

Please elaborate.

Asia’s high growth is led by China and India. Forget America and Europe. Now is the era of Asia.

We have every reason to be up there: huge reserves of natural resources, population and untapped potential. We have fertile lands that can grow almost anything.

What is needed though is to seriously get rid of all the impediments to business.

Kadin needs to work with the government to formulate policies that are business-friendly for both foreign and domestic investment.

We need certain fiscal and monetary incentives that will focus on a few sectors with the greatest potential for exports such as fisheries and agribusiness.

On top of all that, in order to make our country stronger, we have to be self-sufficient in food and energy.

You mean the people’s economy?

Food and energy must be our top priorities.

It is the ambition of every country to be self-sufficient in food and energy and there is no reason why we can’t be.

What is lacking is the willingness and seriousness to achieve those objectives. It’s doable, not difficult.

It is ironic to see what is happening now.

We are exporting 200 million tons of coal to supply utilities and power companies all over the world while at home we still lack electricity.

We have abundant fertile land yet we import corn and soybeans.

So what’s your stance?

Let’s stop this foolishness. Let’s do something about it. It’s a waste of foreign exchange.

We import so much meat, even salt and vegetables, to the tune of almost $1 billion a year.

For crying out loud, vegetables! We have to change now.

This is what we hope we can do with Kadin: formulate the right strategies and empower the economy.

A hard approach. Are you willing to advise the national leadership on this?

It’s a no-nonsense policy. Move over or we will move you over.

It’s the kind of management and leadership that we need to serve the interests of our country.

Your close association with Aburizal Bakrie is subject to criticism, especially as you are the president commissioner of Bumi Resources. In regard to the Kadin chairmanship, will you leave that post or retain it?

First of all, to become chairman of Kadin you have to be a businessman.

If I leave all my jobs I cannot be chairman because our bylaw requires that you be a businessman.

Of course being a commissioner is being a businessman, but you are not active on the supervisory board.

I spend only a few hours a month working at Bumi Resources.

As far as relations with Mr. Bakrie, I will not deny it because we have been friends for more than 50 years.

And the other thing people forget is, I have served in Kadin with Mr. Bakrie for more than 25 years.

I am an old hand at Kadin and not somebody that was just picked up from nowhere.

Half of my life has been with Kadin, so I don’t see anything improper in my candidacy.

Are you using Kadin as a stepping-stone to a ministerial position?

I would like to clarify that with a no.

I am not interested in being a minister for the simple reason that I want to get very involved with Kadin.

I am committed. I would like to be known as someone with a sound background in business who has experience in looking after the business sector.

I am not interested in politics and will stay out of it.

What do you expect Kadin will achieve in the next five years?

In economic terms, I would like to see Kadin help Indonesia get up there with China and India.

We have all the ingredients. It is just a matter of building capacity and producing a lot more entrepreneurs.

There is no point if we can’t make use of the opportunities. We need to train more entrepreneurs.

We definitely will take charge as the locomotive of the business sector.

Boosting investment and creating jobs are the tasks of Kadin.

I always say to people that we will have a business boom. We have the capacity for double-digit growth.

That should be no problem. I hope that during my five years as chairman we will achieve or even exceed that.