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Indonesia's Bank Restructuring Agency Wraps up Financial Crisis Management - 2004-01-30

Indonesia's bank restructuring agency soon wraps up its job of helping the country back to its feet after a devastating financial crisis in 1997. For some, this is a final chapter of a six-year reform effort, but others say the process is not yet over.

Indonesia's banking crisis, triggered by the collapse of the value of its currency in 1997, left the country's financial system in ruins.

The government was saddled with billions of dollars of debt that was owed the government by powerful tycoons and former President Suharto's children, who controlled most of the country's industries.

The International Monetary Fund stepped in to stabilize the situation, but on the condition that the government reform its economy, ending crony capitalism and nepotism.

The Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency was created to recover some $33 billion in loans owed by private companies. It had six years to sell off seized assets and collect unpaid bills.

In the next few weeks, IBRA wraps up its job, but some analysts say the agency never made the worst debtors pay up.

Political analysts say the fall of Mr. Suharto and the collapse of his family's businesses gave many Indonesians hope that things were changing. IBRA was expected to do its part in the process.

But many analysts say because of the huge amount of money involved and the personalities under scrutiny, IBRA itself became vulnerable to political influence and corruption.

Andi Mallarengeng is with the anti-corruption organization, Partnership for Governance Reform, and is an opposition politician.

"These big fish, big companies have all the access to people who are in power, the party who is in power," he said. "There's some political maneuvering and problems occur for IBRA."

Only 28 percent of bad loans have been recovered. The bulk is still owed by companies linked to the Suharto family, including the former president's daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, known as Tutut.

Soedradjad Djiwandono, a former Indonesian central bank governor, says the fact that IBRA had seven chairmen in six years indicates that there has been constant meddling in its affairs.

"The management of IBRA, even though they tried to be independent, their work has been constrained by interest groups, either political parties, or people in power or what have you," said Mr. Djiwandono. "In almost each step, the interests have been there such that the process has not been very smooth."

IBRA officials have said there were outside attempts to sway its decisions. In 1999 there were allegations that senior IBRA officials and President Suharto's allies colluded to skim money from an ailing bank. Police are investigating two former IBRA chairmen for other corruption cases.

Some analysts, however, say that despite its constraints, IBRA managed to make modest gains. Several bank experts say the financial sector is now in better health than it was before the crisis.

In its latest report, IBRA says it has contributed as much as $19 billion to the national budget since 1999.

The Indonesian government may ask the ministry of finance and other agencies to continue IBRA's duties - chasing down missing money and selling seized assets.

But Mr. Mallarengeng says the public has lost trust in the government's ability to finish the job.

"It's difficult for people to believe any state body can handle this," he commented. "There should be some kind of independent body with more transparent way of doing this. People are supportive as long as things are done according to the rules."

With national elections later this year, some analysts warn that economic reforms could be derailed, especially if Suharto allies return to power. Tutut Suharto is expected to be among the presidential candidates.