Hashim Talks Business, Politics and Crisis
Hashim Djojohadikusumo, 54, may be better known outside Indonesia than he is at home.
A prominent international businessman, in the wake of the East Asian financial crisis, he shifted his focus to Europe, where he controls stakes in international companies, as well as maintains his interests in Indonesia.
The son of the late Indonesian economic guru Prof. Sumitro Djojohadikusumo and grandson of banking pioneer Margono Djojohadikusumo, Hashim shuttles between London, Singapore and Jakarta, looking after an empire heavy on agribusiness after he sold out of Canada-based Nations Energy for about $1.9 billion (Rp 17 trillion) in 2006.
In a rare exclusive interview with Globe Asia magazine, a sister publication of the Jakarta Globe, Hashim talked about the economy, his business interests and the political ambitions of his famous brother, former Gen. Prabowo Subianto.
After selling your overseas oil assets, what are your existing business interests?
I am in pulp and paper, palm oil and mainly in agribusiness — jatropha and maize. I indirectly have a 50-percent stake in PT Kertas Nusantara, with the rest owned by my brother, Prabowo Subianto.
We focus on downstream industries. We are at the stage of consolidating the companies and investing more in Indonesia.
What is the combined estimated value of these business assets?
I’m not going to tell you, even if I could and wanted to tell you, I really don’t know. The values have changed. There’s so much uncertainty. It is very difficult to plan long-term investments.
How do you see the US-exported financial crisis affecting the country?
There’s so much uncertainty, the national banks won’t give credit, they won’t extend letters of credit, interest rates are unpredictable, the national banking system is in a state of flux, exports have declined. But it’s not only in Indonesia, even in the US, they are affected.
Which sectors will be affected the worst?
The worst affected will be the manufacturing industry. Letters of credits for export-oriented companies can’t be issued. Some garment, textile and footwear producers have closed.
What do you think of government and central bank policies that deal with the crisis?
Frankly, I haven’t had the time to analyze them well, since I have been abroad for a while.
I had better not make any comment, but one of the biggest problems is the labor law, which was promulgated in 1999, but has not been reformed. It’s a big impediment to direct foreign investments.
What do you see as the biggest problems in our economy?
Bad policies in labor, economics, agriculture, forestry and the environment.
Farmers have been angry for the past four years. They worked hard to harvest rice and cane sugar but the government allowed imports. Fertilizer is also hard to get.
Infrastructure is bad and 40 percent of our irrigation system is damaged. The forests are bald. As for the environment, look at Raja Ampat in Papua. Can you imagine the environmental damage? Seventeen nickel mining companies are located there. It’s a sin!
You are facing trial in Surakarta for allegedly buying stolen ancient artifacts. How much
will that hurt you?
I was tricked. I am convinced I am not guilty. I got them from Dutch collectors Hugo Kreijger and Ibu Ipung, the wife of a prominent Indonesian journalist. Hugo said the artifacts were not illegal. I am sad and very angry. I brought in Queen Elizabeth’s experts to clean the artifacts, to preserve them at a very high cost, but it turned out like this. In Europe, in France, someone who cares so much for preserving cultural heritage is highly appreciated. I will fight and face the charges. It’s for the sake of the good name of the Djojohadikusumo family. I don’t want to jump to conclusions that other motivations are behind it. I want to prove that the truth will surface.
Why are you in politics now?
Because of conditions in Indonesia now. We need to see changes. My older brother [Prabowo] is a businessman and now he is in politics. I might as well support him.
How do you explain your underlying philosophy?
I come from a family which played an important role in shaping the well-being of Indonesia ever since independence. My relatives sacrificed their lives. Their struggle and sacrifice must be honored. I don’t want to see them die for nothing. I must continue that fight for a good cause and the welfare of Indonesia.
What is your role in your brother’s Gerindra Party?
I am a member of the Dewan Pembina, a sort of a supervisory board. In English it’s a board of patrons or trustees.
Are there any businessmen joining Gerindra?
Yes, but not that many. Mostly there are small-scale businessmen, the traditional market traders who share a similar idealism, in large numbers. They are the real supporters who inspired us to advance.
Are you active in the party? Do you have the time?
Well, I am pretty active. I named the party Gerindra, short for Gerakan Indonesia Raya. Prabowo designed the party symbol.
What are the characteristics of the party?
It’s a nationalist, secular party that is inclusive, not exclusive. The party welcomes people from all walks of life, religions and races, which I think is important.
Its ideology remains Pancasila [the state ideology]. It’s a party for everybody. I am a Christian, Prabowo is Muslim, my sister is Catholic. We don’t have problems with that.
How do you see the party’s prospects?
We are strong, third or fourth in the polls. Many people are disillusioned but we are polling at 13 percent to 17 percent. we are tracking supporters from the big parties — Golkar, PDI-P, Hanura. We know their aspirations.
Many believe you are Prabowo’s financial backer. Where is the money coming from?
I am one financial backer. There are many more who are not poor. We have 3.6 million registered members and growing. Our party is unique. Unlike other parties, we don’t ask people for upeti [tribute]. We let them decide what’s best.
How do you see your brother’s chances and how do you see his vision?
People want to see changes, new faces. He has the support of millions and millions of farmers who feel they have been less than well represented.
My brother was No. 3, behind, but pretty close, to Megawati Sukarnoputri in four polls. We still have nine months before the presidential elections.
At this stage, Prabowo is doing better than Barack Obama nine months before the US elections. We must forge coalitions with other parties with the same ideology as well as moderate Islamic parties. We’ll see in April.
What are the priorities of the party? Will it be economics first?
Two things. First, economic and social issues. Second is preserving the unity of the country. The
government has been very complacent in doing this. Nationalism is fading.
The younger generation no longer believes in Pancasila. They are losing their Indonesian-ness.
I will give you an example; the bill on pornography which was passed recently. I was shocked that the initiators of the pornography bill were the ruling Democratic Party and Golkar. Dayaks, Toradjans, Papuans and the Central Javanese resent the outcome because they were not given a voice in the issue. The former rector of UGM [a state university], Sofyan Effendi, asked what this nation would be without Pancasila.
What happens if each of the ethnic groups wants to secede?
Also, only two political parties are bringing up the issue of the environment, the National Mandate Party, or PAN, and Gerindra.
Do you see education as an important part of the campaign?
Of course it’s important. History and morality are no longer taught properly in schools.
What is the education minister doing?
We have a very strong platform on education.
Will there be a “black” campaign against Prabowo?
Educated people know that black campaigns just won’t work. I’ve seen it in 1998, when they [human rights activists] launched a black campaign against Prabowo. He was accused of being anti-Christian and anti-Chinese.
That’s not true. The foreign media also attacked Prabowo. I was amazed how John McBeth believed Prabowo was in Kupang in 1999 and was behind the militia in East Timor. That’s not true. Prabowo was sacked by Gus Dur in 1998, then he left for Jordan where his friend, now King Abdullah, lives. All the facts must be straightened out.
As one of Prabowo’s financial backers, how much has been allocated to his campaign?
More than enough to make him president.
The interview is excerpted from Globe Asia magazine’s December issue, due out on Saturday.