| Point of VIEW. |
A purely analytical perception...
STUDY IN NEPOTISM
Prosperity, historically definable
in national or regional terms, has taken on a more global definition.
Not too many years ago, it was enough to be relatively prosperous;
your prosperity was measured against that of your neighbors, and as long as the
guy next door didnt have a better car or a bigger house, you might have
felt comfortable. Prosperity can
be fleeting, though, if its foundations are not set in stone. In order to maintain their station,
people must analyze the frailties of their own system and correct its weaknesses,
or it will fail and they will fall behind their neighbors.
Yet, it isnt always failure
that breeds unrest. A bizarre example
of how prosperity caused riots, death, burning and looting is illustrated by recent
events in Indonesia, the worlds largest Muslim State and the fourth most
populated country on earth, with 210 million people, 13,700 islands, 350 dialects
and hundreds of ethnic groups. President
Suharto, who was in office for 32 years, brought 7% annual economic growth to
Indonesia, controlled inflation, dropping it from 600% when he assumed office
to 6.5% several years ago when he was asked to leave office.
He also increased per capita income from $70 to $1,300. ()
He set a global model for family
planning and insisted on his constituents getting a full education. For these and other innovations, he
became the darling of both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund,
both of which assisted him in opening Indonesia to foreign investment at the urging
of his cadre of American educated economic advisors. Most of his advisory team went to school or taught at Berkley,
and became known as the Berkley Mafia. Suharto was literally brought up by
a dukin, a spiritual leader who is one-half faith healer and one-half
fortuneteller. In Indonesia, this
is not such a bad thing, and it is rumored that he still consults these folks
on a regular basis to augment his wahyu.
However, this may have been his problem. ()
While in office he made great strides
at eliminating poverty in Indonesia and was able to unite an extremely diverse
ethnic population into a cohesive force. Indonesia, under Suharto, had become a global example
of how free markets can create jobs as well as infrastructure: Indonesia
has made remarkably steady and huge progress, says Ben Fisher of the World
Bank and formerly a member of Suhartos cheering section. Retrospectively,
Fisher was wrong as rain.
Moreover, there was a lot more to
Suharto than met the eye. He was a tough enemy as exemplified by the fact that
after he took office in 1965, a coup was attempted against him by a number of
his adversaries including the Indonesian Communist Party. In order to properly
punish them for their indiscretions against him, Suharto had them locked up in
the starkest of prison conditions for the next 24 years Interspersed with a bread
and water diet along with occasionally some random tortured.
When he determined that he had gotten all the satisfaction he could out
of these helpless souls, he had them executed at the end of Ramadan.
However, in case Suharto ever tires of the endless torture, he can always
drag a few more of these hapless souls out of his prison and execute a few more.
However, they are now elderly people and he may not get the same satisfaction
that he did when they were younger.
Nevertheless, torture aside, Suharto
gave the term crony capitalism new meaning. With the exception of Fidel Castro, he had administrated a
government longer than any other leader in the world today. His popularly elected parliament has
never rejected government proposed legislation, and equally amazing, until 1997
the parliament never proposed any legislation of its own.
Yet, the people were prosperous by
almost any standard, and unemployment until recently has been at a minimum.
The government had provided their people with an infrastructure that includes
all of the social amenities. The populous had become educated,
but ultimately came to the startling conclusion that their ability to succeed
had been limited by the cliquish power structure comprised of the Indonesian military
and indigenous ethnic Chinese. People
began to suspect that there was a conspiracy against them, and started to question
whether elections were really open enough.
The cry also rose to a crescendo from the people that, although they were
reasonably prosperous, their government was not representative.
The Chinese population of Indonesia
is only 8 million - four percent of the more than 200 million population of this
island country, yet this minority is estimated to control as much as 70 percent
of the nations wealth. The
Chinese, even those who are native born Indonesians, are exempt from military
service and are not allowed to be active in the government, which results in resentment
among the Muslim majority. Whenever something seems to go wrong in the country, the Chinese
are automatically picked out as having had something to do with it, and more often
than not, become a target for rioting crowds. Once the rioting starts, history has shown that things go from
bad to worse. When the Chinese called
for police help and rioters were arrested, the callers were imprisoned. In one case, the jail term was three
and a half years for expressing hatred against Islam. The Chinese are not in a good spot,
but the money is good, and until recently, that was a tremendous inducement for
them to put up with being a hated minority in the population.
In spite of leading the better life,
people didnt like the fact that Suharto ruled like a monarch, rather than
an elected president. He acquired
what he wanted, when he wanted it and from whom he wanted it. This got a little onerous after a
while, and some his constituents determined that they had enough.
Take the case of the Cimacan Golf Club, which was erected on land purchased
from the farmers who lived in around the property.
In 1989, the land was deeded to P. T. Bandugn Asri Mulya, one of Suhartos
close associates, for the princely sum of two cents per square meter, or a whopping
Now, we are talking about land that
had supported scores of families for the previous 30 years. Well, the farmers got their revenge
by taking over the golf club by force and then planting the despised cassava plant
on the greens, spelling out sayings like reform or We are taking
what is ours in cassava. Members
became incensed over the attitude the natives were showing and demanded police
action to restore the facility to its pre-cassava brilliance.
The police, who were also residents of the neighborhood, were well aware
of the Governments land grab and told the clubs members to take a
Suhartos wife, Madame Tien,
who died a short time ago in what some say was a shootout between two of her sons,
was a strong believer in the adage that charity begins at home. She made sure that her husband cut
the children in on all of the richest deals negotiated in the country.
In her own quiet way, she was extremely aggressive, to the degree that
she became known as Madam Tien Percent.
In spite of her greed, she did it with panache, so that when the pie was
divided up, it was done in unobtrusively.
When she died, her brood thought
that they could do even better than mom had done, and they immediately upped the
ante in their negotiations (shakedown) with those craving to do business in Indonesia. Their aggressiveness tainted with
large doses of innate greed, made the family look like two-bit politicians or
a sideshow at a circus. This was not what the Indonesians
thought their President ought to be showing to the world, and they became extremely
discontented. The nation had come to believe that
Suhartos wahyu had gone into free fall since his wife's death and that as a
leader, he just may have made himself replaceable.
The theory of free markets is based
on the fact that those who are best equipped
to compete should have substantial input into shaping a country's economic destiny.
Not surprisingly, in Indonesia, this cadre turned out to be primarily
comprised of confidants of the President. The top of the pyramid in Indonesia,
as in almost all other countries, has room for very few.
Among the anointed were Suhartos
three sons, but more particularly, his second son, Bambang Trihatmodjo.
Daddy gave the boys company, Bimantara, a license that granted it
a full partnership with PT Indosat, the state-owned international telephone carrier.
Equipped with that ownership, Bimantara requested bids for 25% of their
stake in the enterprise. When Deutsche Telekom paid Bimantara
$600 million, the lad became so overwhelmed with joy at his business acumen that
tears came to his eyes. Suharto himself exalted in his son's business acumen.
We find it refreshing that Bambang
could get so excited over a paltry couple of hundred million, when he is in fact,
partners with Hyatt Hotels in everything they own in the country, which is substantial
to say the least. You could start
to realize what a great deal the lad made when the people finally had enough of
the Suharto familys crony capitalism and graft and began burning everything
insight. A full revolt against the government
had broken out, and yet the first place the army went to protect was the Grand
Hyatt Hotel in downtown Jakarta, where they formed a barrier between the raging
mob and the hotel. The lad also has an important interest
in Hughes operations; he gets a piece of everything they collect on their
exclusive satellite network.
However, daddy Suharto really loved
his little girl. Suharto bequeathed
to his daughter, Siti Hardianti Rukmana, Chairperson of the ruling Golkar party,
was all of the toll roads in the country.
Siti has extracted substantial fees from motorists for using her roads. She was also first in line for the
contract to build a 59-mile long bridge, slated to be the worlds longest,
linking the island of Sumatra and Malaysia.
Sadly, this project was shelved on a permanent basis when Suharto gave
up the Presidency. Nevertheless, we should not to worry about Sitis well
being, since she also has a substantial interest in all of Lucents and General
Electrics operations in Indonesia, which brings her enough to keep her in
Siti's wealth has been estimated
to be in the billions of dollars, so it is illustrative of her chauvinistic nature
that during the country's recent currency crises she signaled a strong vote of
confidence in the Indonesian currency by offering to buy all of $50,000 in Rupiahs,
while at the same time selling dollars. This public relations farce, which seemed to be intended as
a gesture of good faith, totally backfired, and rebellious college students asked
for her head.
Bambangs brother, Hutomo Tommy
Mandal Putra, works behind five heavily guarded doors, the last with a combination
lock. He was overjoyed when he won
the countrys new National Car Project (named Timor) in partnership
with Kia (the South Korean Motor Car Company now in tatters). Tommy, possibly because he is always
seen amongst armed guards, is viewed as being a particularly pathetic hands on
manager. In spite of his lack of management
ability, Tommy was able to secure a $690 million lending package from a 16-bank
consortium to build an assembly plant near Jakarta for his ill-conceived National
Car Project. The state-owned banks joined the group
without a whimper, but the 12 private lenders who rounded out the coalition preferred
the obscurity of not being mentioned in the same breath as the scheme.
They had to be individually reminded in no uncertain terms by Tommys
father, the President, that, the car was an important national project,
before they reluctantly committed to its funding.
Of course, as other events occurred, this money went down the drain.
One of the reasons for such reluctance
could be the fact that while the most optimistic insiders projected annual sales
of only 40,000 vehicles, the plant will have a capacity to produce 70,000 cars.
Additional problems for all concerned have been protests by the World Trade
Organization, the United States, the European Union and Japan over all facets
of the governments handling of the matter. On the other hand, the Indonesian
Finance Ministry ordered that every government agency add the Timor to their car
fleets and simultaneously exempted the company from duties on Korean parts and
from paying taxes of any kind.
These benefits were estimated at
several thousand dollars a car, and with this kind of advantage, you would think
the project would be successful. Think
of a country with 200 million people and every major car manufacturer in the world
trying to set up facilities in the country to tap into this market, and lo and
behold, the Presidents son steps into the sweetest deal of the century by
being so smart. Well not exactly, Bunkie.
Kia motors tanked; down the drain,
as they say, and in a year and a
half, Tommys factory has produced only 41,000 Timor cars and sold 26,000,
most of them to very friendly government offices.
Then, the IMF came along and made Daddy issue the following order: effective
immediately, all special tax, customs and credit privileges for the national car
project will be revoked. The
World Trade Organization has stated that, the support being given by Indonesia
to its fledgling national car was discriminatory and breached rules
outlawing investment measures conditioned on domestic content.
Now that we can kiss the Timor a fond goodbye, what is daddy going to say
to all of those bankers whose heads he put a gun to made them cough up 700 big
ones. Maybe Tommy is going to need door-lock
number six, but he had better locate it on Mars.
With deals like this one, we are surprised the entire Suharto family has
not already fled the country.
Tommy, like his other siblings, probably
should have gone into some other line of work, because business is not always
fun. As Tommy always says, what is
life really about? Tommy was barely
shaving when he established the Humpuss Group with older brother Sigit. The kid was prepubescent and already
making important decisions, like which actress to date tonight or at which nightclub
to spend his unlimited allowance. In
any event, he prevailed upon Daddy Suharto to give him the monopoly on cloves,
which in Indonesia are mixed with cigarettes and 90% of the population find this
is an unbeatable combination. Sounds like a winner; well, not yet
Bunkie. The first move the kid made when he got the monopoly was to
raise prices. His brothers and sisters
applauded his business acumen and indicated that he was a chip off the old block.
Even without being an economist,
one can well imagine what happened next.
With cloves selling at a high price, farmers converted their crops to cloves
to get in on the action, thus creating what amounted to an economic black hole. Production increased while prices
rose, and then when the economy started rolling downhill, consumption dropped. Adam Smith would have been proud of
young Tommy. But wait, this cant go
on forever, said Tommys advisors, what are we going to do with
the excess cloves? Tommys
advisors asked. Tommy, still in control, said lets
burn half the crop and give those farmers a subsidy.
Bravo, said the siblings and the crop was destroyed.
$370 million later, the IMF has called for end to this uniquely unproductive
This may have been the first time
that anyone in known universe has owned the great majority of something that everyone
wanted and didnt have a clue on how to profit from it. Well, it didn't really matter as long
as Daddy was running the country. Well,
sonny, Daddy isn't running the country any longer, and Tommy increased his staff
of bodyguards substantially. One wonders what he might worried about.
Just like many of us, Tommy really
loves fast cars, but just like many of us, there arent a lot of places to
race them, especially in downtown Jakarta where Tommy lives. Lucky for Tommy though, he had a spare
square mile of property near downtown on which he could squeeze in a two-mile
international-standard Grand Prix racing track. Having done that in record time and at the minimal cost of,
give or take, $50 million, Tommy now became concerned that there were no racing
cars in the country. Noting that
the fabled Italian, Lamborghini Company was for sale at bargain basement prices,
Tommy hypothesized that this was the ticket that would assure a full race card.
Once coming up his brilliant conclusion
he plunked down $40 million to buy Lamborghini, a company that had been losing
money since it opened. The cars manufactured
by Lamborghini sell for about $200 thousand per copy. Now, thats all right maybe for
Italy, Germany, France or the rest of Europe where the average wage is over $20,000,
but for Indonesia at a little better than $1,000, people in the know considered
this deal a little iffy. As of this
date, we are unaware of any Lamborghinis being sold in Indonesia nor does Tommys
track get any use other than by a family of homing pigeons.
Tommy indicates that this is not the criteria by which the deal should
be judged, rather, it should be judged on how fast the car goes around his track,
and to that we have to say, right on Tommy!
Talk about conspicuous consumption,
Indonesia is a country where people on the outlying islands suffer from malnutrition
because they cant afford the right food, or sometimes, any food at all,
and there is Tommy being shown in all the leading Indonesian newspapers riding
around that silly track in his Lamborghini with no one to race with because first
they don't have the money for the cars and
second they couldn't even afford the gasoline.
Tommy was betting big that Daddy would never leave office.
Tough luck, Tommy.
Tommy also owns the countrys
largest airline, and sadly for him, it is already in default on lease payments
to creditors. Those lease payments
are made in hard currency and have effectively tripled since the Rupiahs
recent devaluation, and at the same time Tommy doesnt have an awful lot
cash flow between cloves, the racetrack, Timor and the airline.
Wrong, Bunkie, because you forgot Tommy owns the Four Seasons in Bali which
charges at least $650 a night and go skyward from there just to spend one night
at the place. On the other hand, it is a value because
each room has its own private swimming pool.
Tommy certainly gets cash flow from there.
Wrong again, Bunkie, because you
dont remember the terrible smog created by all those fires that were started
all over Indonesia when the farmers played Amazon Jungle in a race
to be first to clear the land. Well,
you can imagine that if those fires were bad enough to kill off the tourist industry
in Malaysia, thousands of miles away, it didnt do a lot of good for Bali,
which is right next-door. Tommy had
already planned the largest and most costly wedding in the history of Indonesia
before things started to go bad. Tommy
invited 3,500 of his closest friends and rented an entire theme park for the formalities. When things went bad, he did what
he does best: he stiffed the vendors.
You can readily believe that Tommy
was not overjoyed when the IMF told Daddy that he had to reign in his troops.
Tommy gave possibly his only press conference and said, We give our
best to the nation, if we were only thinking of ourselves and our family, we wouldnt
still be involved in business. But because we see ourselves as children
of the nation, who give added value to Indonesia, we continue to be involved in
business. Well, there we thought that the only
thing Tommy couldnt do right was run a business.
Instead of public speaking, Tommy, keep your day job.
The Presidents eldest grandson,
Ari Haryo Wilbowo Sigiit Harjojudanto, now 30 years old and overwhelmed by the
largesse awarded his aunts and uncles, embarked on his own mission in business,
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.
He also told Suharto that in keeping with the family tradition, the shoes
would be sold to these tikes at a substantial markup, which would be shared with
grandpa. Touched by the lads
offer and impressed with his entrepreneurial insight and his previous success
in a snakeskin trading business, Suharto saw no problem with forcing Indonesia
to become a one-style shoe country. Grandpa
indicated that it was a capital idea, but cooler heads prevailed when the currency
and stock market collapsed. Suhartos
progeny was requested to go back to the drawing board permanently.
But the boy wasnt 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.
Indonesians, who though the place where birds make their homes was not
fit food for a good Muslim, paid little attention to the cottage industry.
Not so first grandson.
Grandpa generously gave first grandson the rights to all of the nations
edible nests to encourage the lad. Aris cartel, Mr. Aris
Birds Nest Association, became the gatekeeper for taxes for exporters of
these luxury items, which sold for as much as $600 per pound.
Now, Ari wasnt 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 humidity in areas devoid of light.
Nest cultivators say that a cows head buried under the nests also
hastens the swiftlets nest building process. We are talking about
a high-tech enterprise here, and where Ari thought that anyone could step into
the slot, it just was not the case. Just one of those tactical errors we can chalk it up to youth.
Almost uniformly, people determined
that Aris association was illegal and would not pay the penalties initiated
by the association. Before too long,
"Birds Nests" became the prime contraband export of Indonesia
with literally everyone skirting the fees, while simultaneously waging a legal
battle in court questioning the Associations legal status.
Poor Ari; in a land where Suharto offspring never even lose a round, first
grandson lost the war. As 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 ()
a year in taxes. You have got
to love a kid like this, always thinking of his country first.
Young Ari's foray into bird droppings ended when no one would pay any taxes
at all and Ari's people decided against running through the jungle to collect
the nests instead the taxes. The desire for eating birds nests, while somewhat
bizarre by western standards is not the only strange epicurean delight that fascinates
the Indonesian palate. Bats too are a delicacy here, they are three inches long,
look like small rats and taste like beef jerky. ()
Undaunted, Ari bounced back in typical
family tradition and soon established cartels controlling beer and tropical-wood
and was even awarded the rights to build an adjunct to Jakartas water supply
which would sell the precious commodity at a rate 25% higher than people were
currently paying. This action was
not geared to engender a warm and fuzzy feeling from the general populous for
this precocious lad. Just envision the local laborer working
his normal 14-hour shift in downtown Jakarta, then coming home and getting his
water bill, knowing from whence the increase had come.
Other enterprises that were on the
lads drawing board before Grandpa's retirement were modeling and music academies,
all carrying Aris proprietary Sexy label. Also ready to roll was his chain of
Sexy restaurants, his Sexy beverages and his Sexy clothes, a cant 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 who 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.
As many in the family later remarked, this was not Aris shining hour.
Ari was not to be denied.
Growing on Sumatra and Irian Jaya is a resinous black root called gaharu
that matures in tropical Indonesian forests. This stuff when sold by the pound
goes for almost as much as a good birds nest. People in the Mideast are almost cult-like in their ravenous
demand for the product as a critical ingredient in incense. Ari saw an opportunity in the gaharu trade because it was first
grown, then shipped to Jakarta to middlemen and after that transshipped to the
Mideast. He first was able to tie
up the marketing rights in Jakarta, which certainly did not ingratiate him to
those people he had just put out of business. He next had Grandpa assign him the
exclusive collecting and marketing rights for the product in the states of Sumatra
and Irian Jaya, the only places where gaharu is cultivated.
Moreover, his very low bid surprisingly turned out to be the only one returned
when requests were made for tenders. You
can image that the lad is not on anyones Christmas list from these regions,
but so far so good, and the kid may just hit a home run on this one.
Couldnt you just see this boy as President of the country.
Fortunately, in Indonesia charity
does not end with close blood relatives.
Until the IMF stepped in, Suhartos cousin and foster brother was
in the midst of building the worlds tallest structure, a 1,841-foot tower
costing almost $600 million, aptly named the Jakarta Tower. The Tower would be slightly taller than Torontos
CN Tower, but would also be totally lacking in economic viability. Considering that Indonesias economy was in chaos, their
currency was in free fall and their markets were in collapse, most of these projects
hardly seem to be the types of things the International Monetary Fund would like
to see their money invested in.
Suhartos brother-in-law, Ibnu
Hartomom, was in the best business of all. According to the newspaper Republika, it seems that he issued $3 billion
worth of promissory notes in the name of the Indonesian Government. Apparently, these were zero coupon
notes carrying interest, and 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, he was not allowed
to step on the toes of the Finance Ministry, which already owned the exclusive
right to issue these kinds of securities.
Moreover, as surprising as it may seem, now that these notes are maturing
the lenders want to get paid. However, there no longer is
any money to meet these obligation, and Attorney-General Andi Muhammad Ghalib
announced the only thing he could. The
notes are illegal, he said.