Ex-trade minister upbeat about Indonesia's future

Mr Lembong is now chief of Indonesia's Investment Coordinating Board.
Mr Lembong is now chief of Indonesia's Investment Coordinating Board.

As Indonesia embarks on various investment reforms, its former trade minister, Mr Thomas Lembong, says he is "easily the most optimistic" he has been about Indonesia's growth story.

Mr Lembong, who was trade minister until the Cabinet reshuffle in July, is now chief of the Investment Coordinating Board. He was speaking in a session with Bloomberg on the second day of the Singapore Summit, attended by global political and business leaders, held at the Shangri-La Hotel yesterday.

Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said earlier this month that the economy would expand by 5.1 per cent next year, lower than the 5.3 per cent estimate of the central bank. The number is also lower than the 7 per cent growth target set by Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

But Mr Lembong insisted that the "numbers do not tell the whole story". He said that while Indonesia has had three years of slowing economic growth, investors should look at "the trend, not the snapshot".

"There are enough statistics that indicate that we are speeding up... The weaker exchange rate and deregulation reforms are facilitating this shift towards a more investment-led recovery," he added.

But he cautioned that Indonesia's reform process will not be in a straight line and that it will be "three steps forward, two steps back".

Yesterday, Mr Lembong maintained that Indonesia is on the right path, as it is "now starting to tackle the mindset in bureaucracy". He said that Indonesia was "5 to 10 per cent" in the reform process, and told investors to stay tuned.

"We are now working on the next batch of reforms... they are even more ambitious than everything that we've seen today," he declared.

In a separate panel, rival political strategists who managed the campaigns for United States President Barack Obama and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney discussed the upcoming presidential elections.

They agreed that social media has become a game changer in the political landscape.

Mr Jim Messina, Mr Obama's campaign manager, said that Mr Donald Trump is the "single best in the world" at social media.

Mr Matt Rhoades, who was behind Mr Romney's campaign, argued that one positive aspect of social media was its levelling of the playing field. "Social media is the first thing which actually provides real campaign-finance reform."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 18, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-trade minister upbeat about Indonesia's future'. Print Edition | Subscribe