Rupiah Politics

Article excerpt

It may lose something in translation, by Indonesian politics--not normally a rich

source of humor--has finally spawned its first joke. No matter which of the

country's 141 warring parties a politician belongs to, goes the gag, he or she will always end up voting for the KKN. In a land plagued by three-letter political infighting--parties include the PDI, MPR, etc., etc., etc.-the idea that Indonesian politicians should all rally to a common cause stretches credibility. In fact, KKN stand for korupsi, kolusi, and nepotisme: that is to say, corruption, collusion, and nepotism. Come to think of it, the joke may not be so funny.

Certainly, Indonesia's two most recent ex-presidents, Soeharto and Habibie, do not appear to be amused. Habibie, who decided not to stand in the country's October presidential elections, did so because a local newspaper churlishly pointed out that his campaign would be payrolled by the $70 million proceeds of an inter-bank loan scam. As to nepotism, Soeharto's son (known to a dwindling number of friends as "Tommy") was recently exposed as running up Indonesia's second largest bad debt, in the form of Timor Putra Nasional, the country's ailing car maker. TPN's $600 million worth of liabilities outstrip those of Habibie's aeroplane building company, PT IPTN: an even more improbable manifestation of the late-'80s high-tech investment policy dreamt up by Indonesia's FDI promotion agency, the BPIS. (Proprietor: Bj Habibie.)

It all seems a long way from the heady days of 10 years ago, when U.S. and European investors were beating a path to the BPIS's door, chivvied along by talk of a Pacific Rim technology corridor and promises of massive FDI handouts. As Habibie hoped, Indonesia's high-tech manufacturing sector took off like a rocket. In 1988, manufactured goods accounted for 15 percent of export earnings. By 1998, that figure stood at 71 percent.

But things were not quite as they seemed. For one thing, the apparently rapid growth in high-tech sales was exaggerated by the fact that Indonesia's other export earners were shrinking even more meteorically. Most notable of these was the country's oil industry, which the technology-mad Soeharto government spent 10 years carefully neglecting. In 1988, petroleum accounted for 82 percent of Indonesian exports; this year, it is likely to weigh in at around 16 percent. …