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A purely analytical perception...


INDONESIA

A STUDY IN NEPOTISM

 

Continued from page 2

A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK

The President’s eldest grandson, Ari Haryo Wilbowo Sigiit Harjojudanto now 27 years old, overwhelmed by the largesse awarded his aunts and uncles embarked on his own mission in "how to succeed without really trying", by asking grandpa for a concession that would make him sole supplier of shoes for all children of school age in Indonesia at a substantial markup. Touched by the lad’s entrepreneurial insight, his success in a snakeskin trading business and not perceiving any problem with the fact Indonesia would become a one-style shoe country, grandpa indicated that it was a capital idea. Cooler heads prevailed when the currency and stock market collapsed and Suharto’s progeny was requested to go back to the drawing board. But the lad was not done yet, known in the family as being a stickler for detail he noted that there was a strange characteristic of Indonesian bird nests; they were relished by the residents of Hong Kong as a delicacy.

An industrious group of Indonesian entrepreneurs of Chinese origin started to retrieve the nests and before you could blink an eye, believe it or not, it had become a nine-figure business. Indonesian’s not thinking that the place where birds make their homes was the kind of thing that a good Muslim would want to eat paid little attention to the cottage industry. Not first grandson. Grandpa generously gave first grandson the rights to all of the nations edible nests to encourage the lad . Ari, formed a cartel, "Mr. Ari’s birds Nest Association" and it became the gatekeeper for taxes for exporters of these luxury items which sold for as much as $600 per pound. Now Ari wasn’t all that aware of why the birds build their saliva nests where they do, but it is highly technical and requires the just the right blend of feces stench, dankness and moisture in areas devoid to light. Nest cultivators say that a cow’s head buried under the nests also hastens the swiftlets nest building process. We are talking high-tech here and where Ari thought that anyone could step into the slot, it just was not the case. Just one of those tactical errors that you just have to chalk it up to youth.

Almost uniformly people determined that Ari’s association was illegal and would not pay the penalties initiated by the association. Before too long, "Bird’s Nests" became the prime contraband export of Indonesia with literally everyone skirting the fees while simultaneously, a legal battle was waged in the court system questioning the Association’s legal status. Poor Ari, in a land where Suharto offspring never even lose a round, first grandson lost the war and the overzealous youth is loath to point out; "You should see those bird-nest farmers, they drive Mercedes-Benzes." Ever the patriot, Ari added; "We did this for the government, our studies showed Indonesia was losing 800 billion rupiah (9) a year in taxes." You have got to love a kid like this, always thinking of his country first. (10) Young Ari's foray into bird droppings ended when no one would pay any taxes at all and Ari's people not of a mind to go running through the jungle and collecting the nests.

Undaunted, Ari in typical family tradition bounced back and soon established cartels controlling beer and tropical-wood and was awarded the rights to build an adjunct to Jakarta’s water supply which would sell the precious commodity at a rate 25% higher than the people were currently paying. This action was not geared to engender a warm and fuzzy feeling from the general populous for the precocious grandson. I can just envision the local laborer after working his normal 14-hour shift in downtown Jakarta, coming home and getting his water bill and knowing from whence the increase had come. Other rip-offs, err I mean, other enterprises that were on the lad’s drawing board before Grandpa's retirement were modeling and music academies carrying Ari’s proprietary "Sexy" label. Also ready to roll is his chain of Sexy restaurants, his Sexy beverages and his Sexy clothes, a can’t miss deal because of the name of the designer involved, none other than Ari Haryo Wilbowo Sigit Harjojudanto himself. In the land where most have only one name, the lad has been five times blessed.

His beer concession on Bali also became the exclusive government agent for selling the required revenue stamps that must accompany the purchase of beer for resale. Ari, ever the business man, marked up the tax stamp to three times its face value, enraging almost everyone on the Island, including some of his relatives that owned the hotels where the beverages were sold. This action required Suharto himself to step into what had became a family war and the concession was voided on the spot.

Ari was not to be denied. Growing on Sumatra and Irian Jaya, is a resinous black root that grows in tropical Indonesian forests called gaharu, which by the pound goes for almost as much as a good birds nest. People in the Mideast are almost cult-like in the demand for this product as a critical ingredient in incense. Ari saw an opportunity with the product that is sold by the method of bringing it to the Jakarta market and getting bids from exporters. By tying up the marketing in Jakarta and by having the government of Sumatra and Irian Jaya give him exclusive collecting and marketing rights, the only bid has become his cartel’s rock bottom offer. You can image that the lad is not on anyone’s Christmas list from these regions and so far so good, the kid may just hit a home run on this one. Couldn’t you just see this boy as President of the country.

Charity does not end with close blood relatives. Until the IMF stepped in, Suharto’s cousin and foster brother was in the midst of building the world’s tallest structure, a 1,841-foot tower costing almost $600 million, aptly named the Jakarta Tower. The "Tower" will be slightly taller than Toronto’s CN Tower, but is totally lacking in economic viability. Considering Indonesia’s economy is in chaos, their currency in a free fall, and their markets in collapse, most of these projects hardly seem the products of fiscal responsibility.

Suharto’s brother-in-law, Ibnu Hartomo was in the best business of all. According to the paper, Republika, it seems that he issued "$3 billion worth of promissory notes in the name of the Indonesian Government’. Apparently these were zeros and with interest, today the notes are worth $4.5 billion. It seems that at that time, Hartomo was deputy head of the National Security and Defense Council and in spite of being in the government, was not allowed to step on the toes of the Finance Ministry who had that sole right. Of course now that the notes are maturing, people have a tendency of wanting to get paid and there no longer is any money to meet such an obligation. Attorney-General Andi Muhammad Ghalib announced the only thing he could, the notes are illegal, he said.

Suharto had a job for his Son-in-law as well, he made him a Lieutenant General in the army. As such, it seems that Prbaowo Subianto acted as his Suharto’s hit man. "Armed forces chief General Wiranto announced this week that a military board was investigating three high-ranking officers, including Suharto’s son-in-law Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, over their suspect involvement in political kidnappings."…Wiranto went on to say, "Suharto, who was highest commander at that time, may have given subtle signals to Prabowo. In the upper circle of the armed forces, instructions may not necessarily come in written form."

Human Rights Groups put the number of deaths at 1,200 and 150 women were raped, during a short period of several months between the end of 1997 and March of 1998.

INDONSIAN ENDNOTES

 

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