Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Short Note

It's been quite awhile. We, the baristas, are busy doing something else -- like twittering or discussing Indonesian public debt somewhere else. Kate, I believe, is planning to visit DC this summer. She wants to see The Phillips Collection.

Maybe it is time for Naryo to start delivering his kind of brew. But he said that he is not yet confident about it and still needs some time to master his skill on wit and rhetoric (and conspiracy theory) under tutelage of our friend Haryo Aswicahyono.

We'll be back with another economic serving soonish. I know Ape is working on something about the monopolistic nature of medical doctors' market in Indonesia.

In the meantime, why don't you spend some time in this long weekend pondering this Oxford University's All Souls College essay exam?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Day I Morosely Picked a Side (by Lynda Ibrahim)

Dear all,
We are sad that the country's top reformist is finally leaving us. Sri Mulyani Indrawati is our role model, as we believe she is to many of you, friends. While wishing her success in her new endeavor in Washington DC (Rizal, Ujang, please take care of Mbak there, will you?), Cafe Salemba would pay tribute to her. Today, Lynda Ibrahim share hers with us. Kate


-Lynda Ibrahim-

One rainy afternoon in November 2008, I attended a birthday soiree in a South Jakarta’s novelty patisserie-cum-café. The US credit crunch was fast snowballing into a global financial crisis, and everyone was bracing for the worst.

On domestic front, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati was persistently defying all kinds of pressure to bail out Bakrie-owned mining company Bumi who got itself into a mess by, in laymen’s term, having borrowed more than its assets could ever pay back for. She rightfully stood her ground, declaring that her main job was to manage or safeguard the country’s assets and created policies for market player, not to rush rescuing the assets of market players who got into trouble. Or as I unreservedly added—a player who got into trouble due to their own imprudent corporate practices and complete disregard of Corporate Finance 101, duh.

There were three male guests in the soiree that I found myself debating with amid lattes and piecrusts. A man who might know more than he could say, a man who wanted to know more than what he said, and a man who wanted to be known for knowing everything and everyone. Despite the psychodynamic sidebar, they shared an opinion that, after crusading against corruption and publicly taking an opposite stance from the Bakrie the Behemoth over Bumi, in addition to having previously refused to open the state’s coffers to compensate for Bakrie-owned Lapindo Brantas’ mudflow victims, Mulyani had garnered enough enemies that her Cabinet days were numbered.

Fueled by linear logic, trust of human intelligence, conviction of greater good, and perhaps too much caffeine, I ardently argued that our dear President certainly understood that not only his Finance Minister stood her ground for some valid, nation-serving, reasons, she was also a highly valuable asset on his Cabinet who was valiantly trying to reform deep-corrupted institutions under her ministry. An uphill battle that was long overdue, until she stepped up and shook down both Custom-Excise Office and Tax Office, Indonesia’s most notorious devil’s lairs of corruption. The boys called me over-optimistic, and I called them status-quo suckers.

SBY got reelected on a landslide about a year later. Indonesia was relatively shielded from the global crisis’ worst nightmares thanks to Mulyani’s rock-solid acumen and policies. Seemingly oblivious to the plentiful of accolades, Mulyani went tending to her business, riding the reform wagon further up and around. I thought about those three doomsayers from the birthday soiree and was seriously tempted to call and sing ‘nyah, nyah, nyah’—but resisted and danced to Mamma Mia tunes by my living room instead.

What a difference six months make! Last Wednesday, still limping from a podiatric procedure, I almost tripped when news broke that Mulyani stepped down to work as World Bank’s Managing Director. For two days it was all hazy for me, and it wasn’t the work of the painkiller prescribed for my left sole, but because I just couldn’t settle with the issue. I refused to believe that, after showing unwavering focus and unflagging spirit in carrying duties, even during months-long Centurygate that soon reshaped into a personal vendetta against her, she just went off to accept some job to enjoy a greener pasture, to spite the seemingly thankless stakeholders, or as insultingly suggested by some political potheads, to flee the country avoiding legal battle. Probably the same potheads who said that the prayer beads she was seen clutching under desk during Pansus hearing as a sign of fear—whereas I saw it plainly as a pacifier in dealing with loaded questions and hostile attitude served before her for 12 straight hours. Heck, there were some blatantly nasty moments then that, had I been her, and clearly this is why she’s the Minister and I’m not, I probably would’ve leapt off the desk in an ass-kicking, take-no-prisoner, Jennifer Garner’s Alias way.

The weekend prior to Mulyani’s resignation I just had watched Alejandro Amenabar’s latest epic, Agora, which starred Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, the fourth century’s renowned philosopher and astronomer who taught in a much-acclaimed science academy under the dome of the legendary Alexandrian library. As a remote Roman province, Alexandria was a melting pot that wasn’t spared from the embroiling conflict among the old guard of pagan belief-- mostly Roman-educated and Greek-influenced scholars such as Hypatia--, the fast-growing Christians coming off centuries of oppression and now armed with their FPI-like parabalani, and the struggling Jewish population.

Religion or realpolitik, Agora’s blood-curdling scenes that were eventually followed by blood-spilling kind showed that once a leader standing idly as a limited group’s vested interest was schemed as public issue and maneuvered onto public stage, bolts would unscrew sooner than Paris Hilton undress, and by then it would be too late to enforce any legitimate law and order unless, or even in spite of, a sacrificial lamb being served up the platter to appease the berserk beasts. Ancient Alexandria and modern Indonesia have so much in common I still have chills down my spine 10 days after I watched the movie.

This past week there have been so many rumor swirling around, ranging from the ‘hush-hush’ to the ‘you spill, we kill’ variety. Maybe this was the graceful exit for her, or the most amicable solution for many. Maybe she is being ‘safe-kept’ until sensibility returns. Maybe she retreats to regroup, so she can return for a bigger ticket in 2014. Everything and anything is possible at this point— but to me one thing is crystal clear. I grew up dancing and I can spot choreography, however subtle, when I see one. And this was one.

I started out objective when the whole Centurygate unfolded. I admittedly got disturbed by the Salem witch trial style that some Pansus members were demonstrating during the hearing week that I made my thoughts public, yet I still strived to remain fair. But somewhere along the way gloves have been off, claws are out. And although I didn’t draw the first blood, on the morose Wednesday May the 5th, I got to pick a side.

And as I understood, so did many previously non-committal, middle-ground mass.

Hence, for those of you dancing victory laps screaming ‘rah-rah’ around the bonfire, just thought you guys might want to know.

Jakarta, 10 May 2010

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

RIP: Hadi Soesastro (3)

I believe it was in 2002, in a discussion at the CSIS on, of all topics, Hayek, that I came to know Pak Hadi personally and I am grateful to have that opportunity for many reasons.

As a scholar and intellectual, no doubt he was among very few Indonesians that the world highly regards. The title of one of Asia's best minds is also of no exaggeration. In some international meetings and conferences I happened to join in, everybody seems to know Hadi Soesastro and want to talk to him.

He was also a very fine economist with a strong awareness for political constraints and context that made him an effective consensus maker. In particular, Pak Hadi was very well versed in trade and technology issues -- two hot topics in contemporary Indonesian economy; but he seemed to avoid (media) controversy and quietly worked in an unassuming way in trying to materialize the benefit of trade and technological progress to the country.

His passion to international cooperation also showed that he believed that the country can only move forward by getting along with the world's community -- a perspective that, alas, many of the country's leading figures tend to underestimate and dismiss, probably due to some inferiority complex. But he was no self-willed and this is why you might find him talking to the other discontented parties, sincerely listening to their concerns -- no matter how absurd they appeared to me.

Above all, Pak Hadi was a very good mentor and teacher. From friends at the CSIS, you would hear that Pak Hadi had put lots of confidence to his younger colleagues to present paper or attend prestigious meetings here or abroad. But his attention was not limited to his home-base. I am not working for the CSIS, but that was what he had done to me, too.

Pak Hadi sent me to one of the earliest conferences where I present paper -- the ASEAN Economist Forum. Probably little that Pak Hadi knew, I was nervous like hell. He also asked me to join the working group for manufacturing industry policy of the Indonesian Economist Association (ISEI). I still remember how I felt in awe sharing the same table with Thee Kian Wie and the likes prominent economists discussing (more accurately, listening to them talking about) what happened to our manufacturing industry.

For that, I sincerely thank Pak Hadi in believing in me as then a young economist to gain academic and policy-related experience. Those exposures mean a lot to me, Pak.

The last time I saw Pak Hadi was in the PECC meeting in DC in which he also asked me to join. Among other things, we talked about food. Pak Hadi knew good food and he suggested me to visit Central where the food is good and --this is important for student like me-- the price is affordable.

He was always modest. I was surprised to learn that Pak Hadi, after the meeting, continued his trip to New York City by taking Chinatown bus with his son late at night. The reason: for him it's comfortable enough and inexpensive. I am speechless. With his stature, taking Acela would not be too much, but his modesty was really admirable.

Last thing, I regret that I would not be able to fulfill my promise and take him to Ray's Hell Burger next time he visited DC, but I guess, Pak Hadi, you will always get the better burger up there. And the ice cream too.

So long, Pak Hadi. May you rest in peace.

RIP: Hadi Soesastro (2)

As a rejoinder to AP's obit, please allow me to copy-paste my twits from Twitter this morning.

  1. 1. I took his class, "Technological Progress and Economic Development".
    2. He tought us how you could push the production possibility frontier by advancement in technology
    3. Yet you should not pursue technology without considering the entire economic development stage
    4. He was a great teacher. Soft spoken, fatherly. At times we held the class in CSIS Tn Abang. He made us feel at home
    5. With Mari Pangestu and others he brought CSIS up to international calibre. He was respected as one of the leading economists in Asia
    6. Hal Hill (ANU) dubbed him as 1 of 4 economists saving Indonesia in the aftermath of 97/98 crisis. Others: M Sadli, Thee K Wie, Boediono
    7. Seeing him with his mastery of the topic, we were all proud. Of him, and of the country.
    8. Last September we went to Tokyo. He briefed the audience on the current geopolitical landscape of Asia and the rising Indonesia's role
    9. In that Tokyo event he looked so healthy, after having the cancer for quite some time
    10. Last March he attended a China-Indonesia event in Beijing. To my regret, I couldn't join (was in Incheon). His condition dropped again
    11. After Beijing conference his condition continuously worsened. He had to cancel many trips and schedules. Yet, he's a man of commitment
    12. He texted me Apr14 "Maaf Sdr Aco, saya krng sehat, tdk bisa hadir dlm Sadli Lecture bsk". I always protested the prefix "Sdr" :)
    13. He also emailed us "Maaf, sy tdk bs selesaikan chapter saya untuk buku Pak Emil". We understand, Pak.
    14. Then came the coma. As I visited, he was all tied up to machines and cables. Brain hemorrhage. My heart ached, eyes teary.
    15. April29 last week was his 65th birthday. Now he's gone. Selamat jalan, Pak Hadi

RIP: Hadi Soesastro

This morning I was shock when my wife Juli found out in Facebook that Hadi Soesastro passed away. We've been anticipating this when we heard pak Hadi was admitted to Pondok Indah hospital in a deep comma following a brain hemorrhage. But still, it was a sad sad news.

My last communication with him was in April 15th. I asked him if he could write an introduction for my 'book.' He replied shortly, "Please send me your draft. I'll see what I can write." Two days later he was admitted to Medistra Hospital because his Hb dropped. He left Medistra a few days later, and he was OK. But then in April 24th I heard he fell into a comma and rushed to Pondok Indah. He stayed unconscious until his last day.

Pak Hadi has been battling against his prostate cancer for the last few years. He's been back and forth to Melbourne for his treatment. In an email he sent in December last year, he mentioned that the cancer has been expanded to his bone. A radical approach is needed to remove the cells. I sensed an admission that he's done almost everything, and whatever comes next would be beyond what human can do. But at the same time, it was a very positive and inspiring email. Yes, anybody who knows him would say that Hadi Soesastro is one of the most positive thinking person.

Everybody can tell how a great economist and researcher pak Hadi is. But to me and all CSIS current and former staffs, and I believe to many other people outside CSIS, our interaction with pak Hadi is much more than a professional one. He's been a big brother or father (grandfater for some) figure for many of us. He was a senior, a mentor. But he preferred to be considered as friend or colleague. In 2001, in a seminar at CSIS, I addressed pak Hadi as 'my boss' to Julia Suryakusuma. Pak Hadi corrected me. "Colleague," he said.

You can see him during a session break in may CSIS seminars, even the international ones, wandering around with a bell, urging people to start the session. Yes, him, the Executive Director. He is also a warm figure in the office, and outside. As an Executive Director, he regularly come upstairs to meet us, his junior staffs. Sometimes with an information about a scholarships, a seminar, or even just to say hi, chat with us, and even... gossiping. In many occasions during my study abroad, he'd invite us to visit his place. As usual, he's always been a nice and entertaining host. His oxtail soup in Canberra (around 1999-2000), or his mushroom and salad in NYC (New Year's Eve 2006) are some example.

In autumn 2005 pak Hadi and bu Janti visited Harvard. Juli and I visited them in the hotel at breakfast -- we planned to take them around Boston. Then we learned the couple's habit of 'stealing' bread rolls from the hotel. "What for?" we asked. "To feed the birds in the park," they answered. So then we went to Boston Common and feed the birds with the bread they brought from the hotel. After that we invited them to spend a night in our small apartment. Pak Hadi agreed, in one condition: it didn't create any hassles for us.

I can go over a very long list on his accomplishment, on his warmth and greatness as a person, and so on. But still that won't be enough to describe him. In short, in many ways Hadi Soesastro is a person you'd want to be like.

One last thing. In 2006 when our daughter Rara just joined our family, he presented a Teddy Bear. We named him 'Teddy Hadi' or 'Hadi Bear' (now I wonder why it was not 'Teddy Soesastro'). Someday Rara will learn that it was a precious gift from a great person.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Don't Tell Kate

that three of her five full-time baristas just have had a rendezvous in a bistro and rather obscured cafe far away from Salemba.

It's labor day, for crying out loud.