People - Sparking Indonesia's 'big bang'

Indonesian minister Darmin Nasution: Straight-talking reformer who inspires respect and confidence

Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Darmin Nasution (centre) was appointed Director-General of Taxation at the Finance Ministry in 2006 during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's term. He became the central bank's senior deputy go
Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Darmin Nasution (centre) was appointed Director-General of Taxation at the Finance Ministry in 2006 during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's term. He became the central bank's senior deputy governor in 2009 and its governor from September 2010 to May 2013.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Indonesia last week announced what was touted as a "big bang" of reforms for the economy, opening up several sectors to foreign investors. The Straits Times takes a look at the two key economic ministers in President Joko Widodo's team.

After announcing Indonesia's latest economic policy package in meticulous detail last Thursday, the speaker's serious-looking face cracked into a wide smile and he let out a loud laugh.

Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Darmin Nasution then shook hands with his colleagues as they congratulated one another on "a package that the world has been waiting for".

"I can tell you that it is the biggest package yet of all the 10 economic policy packages delivered so far," the 67-year-old said in a live telecast on MetroTV news channel.

 

To Indonesians, the soft-spoken veteran financial bureaucrat was not only a familiar face, but one who commanded confidence, Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) chairman Hariyadi Sukamdani told The Straits Times.

"Frankly, the economy of Indonesia started showing signs of improvement only after Dr Darmin took over as the Coordinating Minister," he said.

"He's very experienced and willing to take in views from various stakeholders before formulating a policy that will benefit everybody," he added.

The widely-respected economist, with a PhD from Paris-Sorbonne University, was appointed Director-General of Taxation at the Finance Ministry in 2006 during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's term.

He took up the post of senior deputy governor at the central bank in 2009 and became its governor from September 2010 to May 2013.

Considered one of the former president's reformers, he shook up the corrupt tax department and implemented many other reforms.

In his typical straight-talking fashion, he compared the experience to growing orchids - his favourite pastime of 30 years.

"Caring for orchids is similar to leading Bank Indonesia. (Both) require patience and diligence," he wrote in his book titled A Central Bank Must be Down-To-Earth.

"I prefer growing orchids to playing golf as a hobby - it's more practical and simple," he told the Tribunnews.com website. "As long as we take care of them, they can live for a long time,"

He also enjoys exercising on a treadmill, swimming and watching football. Barcelona FC is his favourite team.

At work, he can be found in a mini orchid garden chatting with guests and ministers over coffee.

"He doesn't like to be cooped up in his office, preferring to talk in a casual, open setting," his personal secretary Karlina Aucia Agusta told The Straits Times.

"So, we spruced up the space, installed two little pools and brought in orchids."

Dr Darmin expects his staff to be well-prepared before going into a meeting with him, she said.

"When things go according to his plan, then all's good. But expect an earful otherwise.

"He is firm, direct and to the point. He will tell us exactly how he wants things to be done. That's a good thing as it means we don't have to guess what's on his mind."

To his wife Sally Manoppo Nasution and their two sons, Dr Darmin is someone to be proud of.

Younger son Ridwan told CNN Indonesia: "Our family hopes only that he stays healthy and patient in carrying out his duties."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2016, with the headline ' Straight-talking reformer who inspires respect and confidence'. Print Edition | Subscribe