Gaining the respect of the business and investment community is no easy task. The chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Suryo Bambang Sulisto, is fast becoming the voice of business for his strong and determined push for a greater role for the private sector in economic development.
It is near impossible to attend any major business or investment conference in Indonesia these days without bumping into Suryo Bambang Sulisto. The 63-year-old chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) is not only well connected, he is at the center of Indonesia’s rise on the global stage.
While political leaders have received much of the kudos for Indonesia’s impressive economic performance, it is well recognized amongst those in the know that in fact it is the private business community that is the beating heart of the economy. The country’s businesses, both the large conglomerates as well as the small- and medium-sized companies, are expanding and investing at a rapid pace. They are creating jobs and helping to raise the per capita income of the population, in turn driving the consumer spending boom.
Kadin, which represents private business concerns and voices those concerns to the government, acts as the critical bridge between the two sides. Suryo, who is close to many prominent economic ministers, makes certain that no major policy initiative that affects the business community is passed without input from Kadin. In essence, he has made Kadin an effective partner of the government.
“Being effective means we can provide input that helps influence the government and the business world. For that, the Chamber of Commerce also helps to implement policies that are pro-business and strengthen the national economy,” says Suryo.
He notes that his main challenge is changing government policies that are unsuitable for business and industry, especially when the government counterpart feels it already knows everything and issues policies, without consulting Kadin. This causes disruption on the ground and the policy ultimately fails to achieve what it was intended to leading to countless revisions and back-and-forth discussions.
Not only is such an approach a waste of time, it also uses up precious resources and funds and it should never be allowed to happen if the government and the chamber have effective communication channels, he argues adding: “This is what we often see and regret.”
His voice carries great weight due to his 40 years of experience in running his own business as well as in serving various organizations. Immediately after winning the race for the chairmanship of Kadin, Suryo declared that Kadin would take an active part in developing regional economies, in line with the government’s push to spread economic growth across the country.
These days, Suryo also acts as a gatekeeper for the large number of foreign investments flowing into the country. Many foreign businesses, recognizing Kadin’s importance, go to Suryo to seek his advice and blessing when looking for a project or a joint venture partner in Indonesia. This gives him enormous influence in determining the type of investments coming in as well as choosing which local companies get picked.
He works closely with the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) in both attracting investments to Indonesia as well as determining which investments are desirable. “In principle, BKPM and the Chamber of Commerce jointly maintain the heavy flow of investments into Indonesia.”
While Indonesia is currently the darling of international investors, Suryo notes that the window of opportunity will not stay open forever. With the situation in Europe now dire and the United States facing economic difficulties, emerging economies such as Brazil, India, China and Indonesia are attracting attention. Given its vast natural resources and strong domestic consumption, Indonesia is a prominent investment destination.
But it cannot be complacent as other economies in the region are developing fast. The biggest obstacles to both growth and investments are the lack of modern infrastructure, an inefficient bureaucracy and legal uncertainty. “These are very serious problems and because of them we have been handicapped for decades,” he notes. “It should be addressed and there must be real evidence that we are making an effort on these three fronts.”
To achieve this, the fragmentation between employers and the government, which prevents synergies, should be removed. The government must provide stimulus and incentives to prospective investors to keep them interested.
“Investing is a matter of incentives,” Suryo says. “We must keep the window of opportunity open in order to continue to attract investments and if we have to provide incentives than we must do so.”
“I keep trying to convince my friends in government, that this is a serious matter, do not take it lightly. If there is an outdated rule, we should revise it immediately. We must hurry up,” he adds.
Apart from the government, the Kadin chairman also wants domestic banks to be more creative in their lending while maintaining a level of prudence.
He points out that previously Vietnam lagged far behind Indonesia in terms of economic development. Now the country is a major exporter of coffee and has overtaken Indonesia because of its government’s support and policy initiatives. The Indonesian government can learn from this and take appropriate policy measures before the country loses out in other industries such as palm oil, oil and gas and mining.
He also laments the lack of government attention to domestic entrepreneurs, who he feels need support at this level of economic growth. He would like the government to make it clear where its priority lies – encouraging foreign investments or supporting national entrepreneurs, who he regards as heroes.
Because entrepreneurs create jobs, boost exports, generate foreign exchange, pay taxes and improve the quality of human resources, they should be supported and celebrated.
That is where Suryo is most influential in determining the nature of Indonesia’s future economic make-up. ”We must wake up to the perception that a true entrepreneur is a hero, and to the reality that the entrepreneur is still a rare commodity in Indonesia.” GA